Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
It’s the kind of language, or perhaps more accurately the tone, that can test the patience of any nation.
You have had eight years, you should have been able to catch Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is reported to have said about Pakistan in an interview with the BBC following a conversation with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari over the weekend.
“We have got to ask ourselves why, eight years after September 11, nobody has been able to spot or detain or get close to Osama bin Laden. Nobody has been able to get close to Zawahiri, the No 2 in al-Qaeda. And we have got to ask the Pakistan authorities and security services, army and politicians, to join us in the major effort the world is committing resources to, not only to isolate al-Qaeda, but to break them in Pakistan,” he said.
Quite apart from the fact Brown chose to go public with his frustration with Pakistan just days after a U.S. senate report said that U.S. forces had bin Laden “within their grasp” in Afghanistan back in 2001, it comes when Pakistan is in the middle of an offensive in South Waziristan which has triggered a wave of retaliatory attacks on its towns killing hundreds.
Pakistan’s military offensive in South Waziristan appears to be showing considerably more success than earlier attempts to take control of the tribal region on the Afghan border, at least according to army accounts which are the only real source of information.
But will it turn the tide in Pakistan’s battle against Islamist militants? A few articles which have appeared over the last few days give pause for thought.
Pakistan’s militants have unleashed a guerrilla war in cities across the country in retaliation for a military offensive against them in their South Waziristan stronghold. But while they have seized all the attention with their massive bomb and gun attacks, what about the offensive itself in their mountain redoubt ?
Nearly two weeks into Operation Rah-e-Nijat, or Path of Salvation, it is hard to make a firm assessment of which way the war is going, given that information is hard to come by and this may yet be still the opening stages of a long and difficult campaign.
A spate of gun and bomb attacks seen as a response to the Pakistan Army’s offensive in South Waziristan has sent jitters across Pakistan, including in the normally peaceful capital Islamabad.
Conventional wisdom would have it that the attacks on both security services and civilians would eventually turn the people against Islamist militants rather as happened in Iraq at the height of the violence there. But as yet, there is no sign of a clear and coherent leadership emerging that might be able to forge a consensus against the militants.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have questioned before the value of the “AfPak” label, which implies that an incredibly complicated situation involving many different countries can be reduced to a five-letter word.
Having spent the last couple of days trying to make sense of the suicide bomb attack in Iran which Tehran blamed on Jundollah, an ethnic Baluchi, Sunni insurgent group it says has bases in Pakistan, I’m more inclined than ever to believe the “AfPak” label blinds us to the broader regional context. Analysts argue that Jundollah has been heavily influenced by hardline Sunni sectarian Islamist thinking within Pakistan which is itself the product of 30 years of proxy wars in the region dating back to the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan towards the end of the same year.
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 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.
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.
Pakistani officials say U.S.-led helicopter-borne troops launched a ground assault on a Pakistani village near the Afghan border on Wednesday, killing 20 people. The raid, in the South Waziristan tribal area, was the first known incursion into Pakistan by U.S.-led troops since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.