N Waziristan offensive may see further delays

Published: December 28, 2010

Washington has of late been pushing Pakistan to send troops into the region.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Army’s embryonic plans to launch a full-scale offensive in North Waziristan may hit further delays after an apparent resurge of Taliban attacks in some other tribal regions.

A top army official said on Monday that the weekend terror strikes in Mohmand and Bajaur have indicated that areas already ‘cleared’ by the military were still to be consolidated.

“And before we have done that, it is impossible to rush into another campaign,” military spokesperson Major General Athar Abbas told The Express Tribune.

The administration in Washington has of late been pushing Pakistan to send troops into North Waziristan, a tribal badland Americans believe is the main source of trouble for international forces that are fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But Islamabad has so far been resisting pressures to go against the Haqqani network, a group of Afghan jihad veterans based in North Waziristan that allegedly has strong ties with the Pakistani security establishment.

At least 80 people were killed in a couple of separate incidents on Saturday in Bajaur and Mohmand – two of the seven tribal districts the military had earlier claimed to have cleared of militants. A burqa-clad female suicide bomber struck outside a United Nations food distribution centre in Bajaur, killing more than 45 people in the latest of attacks in the region claimed by the Taliban.

Separately in Mohmand, at least 150 insurgents attempted to overrun half a dozen checkposts of paramilitary Frontier Constabulary in coordinated attacks in which 11 troops and 40 militants were killed.

“We have always been emphasising on consolidation in these regions … we have been saying let’s first secure our trail before going for something else,” Abbas said, referring to a ‘pending’ operation in North Waziristan.

After resisting calls from Washington initially, there were indications recently that the Pakistani army might have made up its mind to send troops into what is known as one of the hardest battlefields in the world.

Abbas said that fresh threats to Mohmand and Bajaur emanate from Afghanistan’s Nuristan and Kunar provinces where the Pakistani Taliban have their hideouts.

He said Maulvi Fazlullah or Radio Mullah of Swat, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad of Bajaur and Commander Omar Khalid of Mohmand were leading their groups between Kunar River and the Pakistan border.

Besides these insurgency leaders from Pakistan, al Qaeda commander like Qari Ziaur Rehman and Mufti Misbahuddin were also supporting militants with manpower and arms from their stronghold of Nuristan, Abbas added.

But an operation in North Waziristan doesn’t seem imminent now, remarked a Peshawar-based defence analyst. “One would have thought two weeks ago it was about to happen … but now things seem to have changed a lot,” said Brig. (retd) Muhammad Saad.

Saad appeared to be backing Abbas’ views and feared that Taliban might try to make a comeback in Swat as well – although he didn’t see any significant chance for them to regain the valley the Pakistani military lost in the summer of 2009.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2010.

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