Pakistan’s Waziristan fight tougher than Kashmir ?

November 10, 2009

The Pakistani Taliban are warning the Pakistani military that it faces a fight in Waziristan tougher than Kashmir where the Indian army has struggled to quell a 20-year armed revolt.

It must be a rather bitter irony for the Pakistani army to be dealt such a warning from an umbrella militant group, several of whose members it once nurtured to fight the Indian army in Kashmir.

War by a thousand cuts, the Pakistan strategic establishment said, referring to the strategy to bleed India’s much larger army and ensure parity. So militants were given material support to take on the Indian army which was then forced to throw in more and more troops in to the conflict zone, until there were almost – and to this day remain –  anything around 400,000 to 500,000 troops in the area.  Such a large military presence by itself deepens the people’s alienation and perpetuates the insurgency.

Is it going to be the same for the Pakistani army as Pakistan Taliban spokesman  Azam Tariq told Reuters on Tuesday just as suspected militants carried out the third attack near the frontier city of Peshawar in as many days ?

Waziristan as Kashmir does seem a stretch. One, the Pakistani Taliban don’t have the cross border backing that the militants operating in Kashmir had, beginning with helping them cross over, to training, to  giving them arms and then pushing them back across the Kashmir frontier. Leave alone state support, it’s not even certain that their brothers-in-arms, the Afghan Taliban, are backing them to the hilt in what must be their toughest battle yet since they turned against the Pakistani state.

For what it’s worth an Afghan  Taliban commander on Tuesday distanced himself from the Pakistani Taliban, saying it didn’t support targeting innocent people.  The Afghan Taliban’s target were only the foreign forces in Afghanistan, Afghan Taliban commander Abdul Mannan alias Mullah Toor told Pakistan’s GEO TV.

Two, the Pakistani army has deployed about 30,000 troops in the South Waziristan operation, a drop for an army with a size of over 520,000 troops.  The Taliban will have to do much more to draw the Pakistani army deeper into their lair and in  greater numbers before it can really begin to bleed them.

Third, there doesn’t seem to be any people’s support for the Taliban,  at least not in the open and not in the sense that the Indian army faces in Kashmir.

In such circumstances, can the Pakistani Taliban really go the distance, fight a 20-year war? Perhaps they will target Pakistan’s cities and towns to weaken the state’s resolve as they have done in the run-up and aftermath of the offensive.

{Reuters picture of people fleeing south Waziristan]

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