Monday, September 29, 2008

Update on the Bajaur Operation

Al Jazeera Reports on the Bajaur Operation

Also, Talat Hussain of AAJ TV reports from Bajaur in Urdu. Talat re-emphasizes the military establishment line that militants are pouring in from outside. The report also talks about the promise of cooperation by the local tribes for the military operations against the Taliban. However, exactly what kind of financial and territorial promises the establishment has made in return, we don't know. Local development of infrastructure might be part of it, but the most important thing for the locals is their territorial sovereignty. They don't like 'outsiders' on their soil - whether foreign militias or Pakistani forces. The territorial state boundaries are seen as arbitrary and fictitious. The Pashtun bonds are more real, and as one tribal elder is quoted in the report, the Durand Line cannot divide the Pashtun people living on both sides of the border. An important questions here is that would the tribes fight against the local, Pashtun insurgents, who are unhappy with military's incursions into their lands, and, to many locals, reacting for just reasons? How durable is this cooperation, it's difficult to say anything conclusively.

Militants pouring in from Afghanistan, says Pakistan
By Zeeshan Haider, Reuters India, September 29, 2008

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Militants battling Pakistani forces are getting weapons and reinforcements from Afghanistan, security officials said on Monday, vowing no let-up in their offensive in the northwest.

Government forces launched an offensive in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border in August after years of complaints from U.S. and Afghan officials that Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan were getting help from Pakistani border areas such as Bajaur.

Now the tables have turned and the militants locked in heavy fighting with Pakistani forces are getting help from the Afghan side of the border, officials said.

"The Pakistan-Afghan border is porous and is now causing trouble for us in Bajaur," a senior security source in the military told a news briefing.

"Now movement is taking place to Pakistan from Afghanistan," said the official, who along with a colleague at the briefing, declined to be identified.

The officials did not blame the Afghan government for sending militants across the border but called on Kabul and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan forces to stop the flow.

Bajaur is the smallest of Pakistan's seven so-called tribal agencies, semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun tribal regions.

U.S. officials say Taliban and al Qaeda-linked fighters, financed by drug money, use the tribal regions as an operating base to launch attacks into Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been under pressure from the United States to block cross-border militant incursions into Afghanistan.

But in a sign of growing frustration with Pakistan's efforts to stem the flow, U.S. forces have carried out six cross-border missile strikes by pilotless drones and a commando raid on a border village this month.

The Pakistani offensive had made Bajaur a "centre of gravity" and "magnet", and even though up to 1,000 had been killed, the region was drawing militants from as far as Central Asia via Afghanistan, the officials said.

"Stop the reverse flow in Bajaur. It's coming. Heavy weapons are coming. The militants are coming," a second Pakistani official said.

In the latest fighting, jets hit militant hideouts after the Taliban announced a ceasefire for the Muslim festival of Eid-al-Fitr, killing 10 militants, a paramilitary officer said.


The fighting has displaced several hundred thousand people and about 20,000 had sought refuge across the border in Afghanistan, the United Nations said [nISL56342]

Security forces launched the offensive in Bajaur after a year of deteriorating security with militants carrying out 88 suicide attacks across the country since July last year in which nearly 1,200 people were killed. A suicide truck bomber attacked a hotel in capital Islamabad on Sept. 20 killing 55 people.

Worsening security has coincided with a widening current account deficit, an unsustainable fiscal deficit and inflation running at more than 25 percent.

An economist serving on the prime minister's economic advisory council said on Monday Pakistan needed a capital infusion of $3 billion to $4 billion "up front" to stabilise its economy and bolster rapidly dwindling foreign reserves.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan's support is crucial for the U.S. war against terrorism and for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

The security officials said they were not sure if any top al Qaeda member was in Bajaur. Pakistani intelligence officers have said al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al Zawahri was believed to have visited in recent years. In 2006, a U.S. drone fired missiles at a house in Bajaur in the belief he was there.

The officials said tribesmen there were raising a militia to expel foreign militants from the Mamund district even though some Arabs linked to al Qaeda had family links with the valley.

"The Mamund valley is likely to erupt, in our view, in about 48 to 72 hours," one of the officials said.

The officials said could not say how long the offensive would last but said it should be followed with reconciliation efforts and aid. (Editing by Robert Birsel and Valerie Lee)

Also See

Some 20,000 refugees flee Pakistan fighting (BBC)

The UN says 20,000 people have fled Pakistan's tribal area of Bajaur for Afghanistan amid fighting between troops and militants in recent months.

The UN's refugee agency says almost 4,000 families have crossed north-west into Afghanistan's Kunar province.

The army began a sustained campaign against militants in Bajaur nearly two months ago.

Some 300,000 others have fled east within Pakistan in recent weeks with many of them living in temporary camps.

For a contrasting perspective on the situation in Fata, see the below report on Geo TV's Hamid Mir's recent briefing in Karachi. Mir talks in his typical sensational tone, and I highly doubt the 78% figure that he presents (how did he estimate it??), yet I believe that there is some truth in what he is saying about the local reaction to the incursions by the US and Pakistani military.

'Most militants fighting to avenge military actions’
The News, September 29, 2008

KARACHI: When Corps Commander Ali Jan Orakzai had deployed troops for the first time in Mohmand Agency in 2003, he gave an impression that the military intended to build schools, hospitals and roads there but he rather launched an operation against the militants that ultimately created further problems for civilians, as a result separatist tendency increased there. And this was the beginning of the conflict there.

Senior journalist Hamid Mir said this while speaking at a seminar “Military action in Fata, reality, myths and implications”, held at Justice Cornelius Library of the newly built National Law University, Clifton, on Sunday.

“The concept of Pakistan has almost ended there as the insurgency is taking shape of separatism,” he added.

According to him, there exist around 10-15 militant groups, which are not Taliban and they are not well organized. “They lack command structure and sometimes they also fight with each other. They are insurgents and separatists,” he claimed.

“Mohmand Agency is the biggest hub of separatist tendency,” Hamid Mir believed, adding that it was being led by Abdul Wali who originally belongs to “Shab Qadr” and who operates with the cover name of Omer Khalid.

“His men search for victims’ families and pick youths aged between 14 to 15 years and train them for carrying out terrorist activities,” he said.

These militants sometimes also deliver instant “justice” to thieves, etc. and impress the locals but they have successfully hidden their terrorist activities to deceive the common men, he said. Initially, youths trained at Abdul Wali’s camp only fought against Pakistan Army but now they have started killing civilians also, he added.

Hamid Mir said that US spy drones never target Wali’s camp but they target Shah Khalid because he was allegedly involved in attacking US troops in Kunar province of Afghanistan by crossing border.

Referring to the detention of “suicide bomber” in Khyber Agency by “Moral Brigade” the other day, Mir said they were also militant outfits but Pakistan Army did not take action against them since they fight against USA and were not against Pak Army.

He said Pakistan has to change its policy of “good Taliban and bad Taliban, good militant and bad militant”.

He claimed that 78 per cent of the militants were involved in avenging military actions, saying: “If you talk to them, they don’t know much about Islam and some even do not perform prayers; there are only 30pc militants who have some ideological agenda and want to achieve the same through guns”.

He said Baitullah Mehsood turned anti-Pakistan only one-and-a-half years ago after the government did not fulfill promises made with him in 2005.

Mir claimed that Baitullah gets support from Afghanistan and whenever Pakistan informed US about his presence, the US never targeted him.

He said another outfit led by Moulvi Nazir did not fight against Pak troops but his men fight in Afghanistan.

He said it was because of him that the US recently targetted Angoor Ada.

Mir said that the root cause of the conflict was the presence of US troops in Afghanistan and added that we must also condemn the militants who were creating problems.

“The army action was bringing miseries for civilians while Taliban across the border are also creating problems,” he said, adding that a new thinking was being developed among influential tribal leaders there that they should take action against those Taliban who cross border and carry out acts in Afghanistan.

Recently, the politicians of NWFP had clearly told the army chief during his briefing to take action against all Taliban and do not differentiate between good and bad Taliban or else wind up the military operation, he added.

Hamid Mir further said that the Bajaur militants tended to help militants in Kunar province, while militants from Kunar were coming to Bajaur in reciprocation.

He said the problem has become complicated and it was high time that civil society should come forward and its first priority should be the displaced civilians who were living in miserable condition at camps.

He said the government could pacify the situation in Fata by announcing general amnesty for militants on the pattern of Balochistan, adding, the government should also initiate political dialogue, focus on development of tribal areas, end FCR and allow parliament to play vibrant role.

To a question, he claimed that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was supporting separatist elements in Fata.

He said that Baitullah Mehsood was being supported by Afghanistan, while Pakistan supports Moulvi Nazir.

Mir said Moulvi Nasir originally belongs to Khyber Agency and he was running a training camp in Khost province of Afghanistan where he trains militants and later sell them for five to 10 lakh rupees to Baitullah Mehsood.

The Geo anchorman said that drug money was also compounding the problem and asked as to why the government was not taking action against 300 shops which openly sell heroin in Bara.

Speaking on the occasion, Ms Uzma Aslam and Abila Ashfaq of People’s Resistance and relatives of displaced persons Ali Hasan and Badshahzada said that human miseries were multiplying in the affected areas.

Badshahzada said that the remaining people in Bajaur have developed tunnels inside their homes and live there in fear.

He said people did not know who their enemies are - Taliban or security forces. Ali Hasan said the ordinary people in tribal areas did not support the army because they were the victims of military operations. —IA

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