Under intensive US pressure, Pakistan army is poised to launch a fresh all out operation in Pakistan’s tribal belt along its border with Afghanistan.
In a major shift in its policy of peace deals with the militants, the government of Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, on Wednesday authorized the Chief of the Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, to launch fresh military operations in tribal areas.
The North West Frontier Province (NWFP) government, that has concluded at least two peace agreements with the militants while it was negotiating peace deals with other militants, will be out of loop in dealing with the militancy in the province. The ANP led NWFP government, soon after taking power in April, had announced that it prefers a peaceful settlement of the militancy in tribal territories.
The government’s decision has prompted immediate criticism in the National Assembly where parliamentarians warned that the government would further aggravate the situation through the use of force. Even a prominent political leader of North West Frontier Province, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, cautioned that it was a matter of months when the NWFP was no longer part of the country.
Pakistan’s decision to launch fresh military operations in the tribal region coincides with reports from Washington that insurgent activity is increasing sharply in Afghanistan and has spread into once stable areas, with attacks up almost 40 percent in the eastern provinces alone.
Afghanistan has been gripped by the bloodiest spate of violence since the US-led invasion of the country in 2001. A series of firefights in the past six months has seen the emergence of an insurgency that is highly motivated, organized and well armed. Attacks have included troop ambushes and roadside bombs.
According to Mustafa Alani, director of security and terrorism studies at the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, fighting was escalating because of stepped-up military operations by the more than 60,000 foreign troops and the Taliban were exploiting anger at reports of civilian casualties in military operations and successes such as a mass jailbreak in Kandahar to recruit new fighters. The insurgents have become more adept at Iraq-style guerrilla tactics, including roadside bombs, he said.
American and Afghan officials blame Pakistan for the surging violence in Afghanistan. They say that hundreds, perhaps thousands Taliban, have taken refuge in Pakistan, most of them in the area along the remote and mountainous frontier where the government exercises no authority.
Interestingly, last week President Karzai of Afghanistan, whose writ does not extend beyond his presidential palace, threatened that Afghan troops would cross the border into Pakistan to pursue and kill anyone who had been fighting against Afghan or "coalition" forces. This would be a very serious threat were it not for the fact that the US Government Accounting Office has observed that "only two of 105 Afghan army units are considered operationally capable," with a third of them able to perform "only with routine international support" – for which read massive bombing strikes such as of June 11 that killed Pakistan army Major and ten of his soldiers.
It can hardly be argued that the routine depiction of the Afghan insurgency as simply comprising the Taliban and drug barons obscures the increasing numbers of young fighters drawn from rural areas far from Kabul that have witnessed no improvement in their living conditions since the US-led invasion — with many areas experiencing a decline since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. Also unreported is the still larger segment of the population throughout the south that harbors the fighters out of a deep-seated mistrust of the continued presence of foreign troops which are seen as occupation forces.
The refugee problem and the villages that have sprung on the Afghan side of the border have been largely ignored. The efforts made by Pakistan in the past to fence and mine the border were met with strong resistance from Kabul for it feared the action to be tantamount to recognition of the border. Pakistan has again renewed its offer to fence the border.
On the other hand, after a lull in militancy in Pakistan in the wake of peace negotiations, the volatile tribal region is again seeing increase in violence.
In the troubled Kurram Agency, eight drivers who had been kidnapped several days ago after a convoy attempted to move foodstuff up to Parachinar have been found gruesomely murdered, their heads removed from their bodies. It is assumed the action comes in revenge for an aerial assault by security forces following the abduction, in which at least three militants were killed.
Elsewhere, the men of the Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud had briefly seized the town of Jandola, which lies at the entrance to South Waziristan, after clashes with local tribesmen. The move to seize the strategically important town was obviously well-planned, with Mehsud's forces unexpectedly arriving within it. The militants, who pulled out from the town, executed 28 members of a pro-government peace jirga (committee). Negotiations with Mehsud for a peace agreement were reportedly shelved after the US voiced concern.
And in the Khyber Agency, 17 guards, manning check posts were apparently taken unaware during a midnight raid by militants, have been abducted.
In the first gun battle between security forces and Swat militants since the signing of a peace agreement in May, one security man and nine militants were killed and 14 others were injured.
The military and Taliban blamed each other for the attack. A Taliban spokesman accused the security forces of igniting the situation but said that the Taliban will continue to honor peace agreement.