Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
U.S. defence officials, in a ringing vote of confidence, said over the weekend that Pakistan had the forces and equipment to launch a long-awaited ground offensive in South Waziristan. It could mount this assault without seeking more reinforcements, a U.S. official said, according to this Reuters report. Yet Pakistan had cited in recent months shortages of helicopters, armoured vehicles and precision weapons in putting off a Waziristan assault.So what has changed? Has the United States, desperate to turn around a faltering war in Afghanistan, got ahead of itself in nudging Pakistan toward “the mother-of-all battles”? Some people are asking if the Pakistan Army is really ready to start what must be its bigest test yet since the militants turned on the Pakistani state. If the idea is to go in and linflict casualties on the Taliban in the hope of killing senior leaders, then it will be another punitive strike for which the force levels may well be adequate.But if the Pakistan Army plans to go into the Mehsud strongholds and occupy the region then the numbers are a bit worrying, says Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal. A Pakistan Army spokesman has said that two divisions, or up to 28,000 soldiers, are in place to take on an estimated 10,000 hard-core Taliban. But Roggio says Waliur Rehman Mehsud, who heads the Mehsud Taliban forces in Waziristan, (Hakimullah Mehsud who surfaced at the weekend is the overall head of the Pakistani Taliban) is estimated to command anything between 10,000 to 30,000 forces. If the army were to wage a full-scale counter-insurgency they and the Frontier Corps “would need to throw multiple divisions against a Taliban force of this size,” he argues. And then there is the Haqqani network, as well as a sizeable contingent of Uzbek and other non-Pakistani fighters in the area. They may well join the fight, according to the Dawn newspaper. (more…)
The first big suicide bombing in Pakistan this week since the slaying of Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S.-missile strike had a particularly nasty edge to it.
The attack in Torkham, a post on the main route for moving supplies to NATO and American forces in Afghanistan, took place just before dusk, as a group of tribal police officers prepared to break the Ramadan fast on the lawn outside their barracks.
Bruce Riedel, who led a review of the “Af-Pak” strategy for the Obama administration, says the United States must now target Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, following the apparent death of the chief of the Pakistani Taliban this month.
The one-eyed, intensely secretive founder of the Afghan Taliban is a much more elusive and important player in the “terror syndicate” attacking Pakistan, Afghanistan and the NATO mission in Afghanistan than Baitullah Mehsud, reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike, Riedel says.
Who is Pakistan’s biggest threat? Not the Taliban, not even India, but the United States, according to an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis surveyed in a poll just out.
On the eve of the 62nd anniversary of Pakistan’s creation, the Gallup Pakistan poll offers a window into the mind of a troubled, victimised nation. And it surely must make for some equally uncomfortable reading in the United States, led at this time by a president who has sought to reach out to the Muslim world and distance himself from the foreign policy adventurism of his predecessor.
The death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. Predator strike last week – now considered a certainty by U.S. and Pakistani security officials – and subsequent reports of fighting among potential successors would seem to justify the strategy of taking out top insurgent leaders
The Taliban are looking in disarray and fighting among themselves to find a successor to Mehsud, the powerful leader of the Tehrik-e- Taliban Pakistan, the umbrella group of militant groups in the northwest, if Pakistani intelligence reports are any indication. Top Taliban commanders have since sought to deny any rift, but they certainly look more on the defensive than at any time in recent months.
The obvious question to ask about the apparent death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone attack (apart from the question of proving his death) is what, or who, is next? Does the Pakistan Army still go into South Waziristan to fight the Taliban, or does it consider it “mission accomplished”? And after apparently eliminating a militant leader who had focused on targetting Pakistan, will it now go after other militants whose main area of operation is Afghanistan?
As discussed in my last post, Pakistan’s military offensive in South Waziristan was framed in the context of a punitive mission against Mehsud based on Raj-era notions of retribution, and was therefore quite different from its operation in Swat, which aimed to re-occupy territory seized by the Taliban and restore the writ of the state. So if Mehsud is indeed dead, the Pakistan Army may already have met its objective.
Pakistan’s military campaign against Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan has been seen very much as a punitive mission - and that has just been forcefully highlighted by reports that the Pakistani Taliban leader’s wife was killed in a missile strike. A relative said that Mehsud’s second wife had been killed when a U.S. drone fired missiles into her father’s house in the village of Makeen. He said four children were among the wounded.
The Pakistan government in June ordered an offensive in South Waziristan after Mehsud was accused of masterminding a string of attacks inside Pakistan, including the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. So far though, that offensive has been dominated by bombardments with air raids and medium-range artillery, while a full-blown ground offensive has yet to materialise. Attacks by U.S. drones have also increased, fuelling speculation that the CIA-operated missile strikes, though condemned by Islamabad, are being coordinated with Pakistan’s own military operations.
The suicide bomb attack on the Pakistan Army in Pakistani Kashmir on Friday was not only unprecedented; it also raised questions about the state of militancy in Pakistan.
At its simplest level, the first suicide bombing in Pakistan’s side of Kashmir was seen as a reaction by the Pakistani Taliban to Pakistan’s military campaign against them in South Waziristan. “The militants are hurting and they are reacting. And this is a reaction to the successful operations we’ve had in Waziristan and we’ve had in the Malakand division,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told Reuters.
In a world used to watching war played out on television, and more recently to following protests in Iran via Twitter and YouTube, the Pakistan Army’s impending military offensive in South Waziristan on the Afghan border is probably not getting the attention it deserves — not least but because the operation is shrouded in secrecy.
Yet the offensive has the potential to be a turning point in the battle against the Taliban which began with the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Many Taliban and their al Qaeda allies fled Afghanistan to Pakistan’s tribal areas after the U.S. invasion – the CIA said this month it believed Osama bin Laden was still hiding in Pakistan. The offensive in South Waziristan, designed to target Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, would if successful deprive the Taliban and al Qaeda of what has been until now one of their safest boltholes.