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Pakistani tribes await 'full force' offensive
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - The fighting between Pakistani forces and tribespeople in the country's South Waziristan agency may have come to an end, but the silence isn't expected to last long, with Pakistani troops set to launch a "full force" offensive in the area on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to flush out supporters of the Afghan resistance. But the failure of the present operation in the tribal areas has not only destroyed the writ of the Pakistani security forces and the state of Pakistan there, but also the proxy network of the United States.

South Waziristan is a natural hotbed and a focal point of the Afghan resistance. Asia Times Online was the first publication to point this out, in January 2003 (A bloody destiny for South Waziristan Jan 10, 2003), recognizing that South Waziristan would play the most significant role in the future of the Afghan resistance. South Waziristan is one of seven federally administered tribal agencies where fiercely independent tribes have been allowed to govern their own affairs.

Fighting erupted on Tuesday in South Waziristan as US-led forces began a spring offensive to eradicate Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants in Afganistan. Under intense US pressure, the Pakistani military is supposed to be doing its bit on the Pakistan side of the border. At least 15 Pakistani military personnel and 24 "suspects"

Further clashes similar to the New Year's Day gun battle in which two Pakistanis died and at least one US soldier was wounded are only a matter of time.

A bloody destiny for South Waziristan
(Jan 10, '03)

Asia Times Online

were reported killed in Tuesday's battle, most of the latter said to be tribespeople suspected of sheltering militants. Well-placed sources in South Waziristan agency's headquarters in Wana tell Asia Times Online that at the fighting has stopped, but there is a large mobilization of Pakistani troops underway, an indication that another big operation is looming.

"Five army helicopters carrying army personnel landed in Wana Wednesday evening ... three helicopters left the area while two are still in Wana. [Wednesday] was spent in the Scout camp for funeral prayers and arrangements to send the bodies of the personnel to their ancestral lands. But it seems another operation is in the cards either tomorrow or the day after ... but whenever it comes it would emerge with full force," said one source who wished to remain unnamed.

The area is so tense at the moment that in many areas, from Azam Warsak to the Afghan border, villagers are migrating to safer places. The villages in Kaloo Shah and Chugantai are now completely empty. Since Asia Times Online reported on Wednesday that about 250 hostages had been taken by the tribespeople, several have since been released, including some junior personnel who belong to the Khasa Dar force - a local police force - on the condition that they would not participate in any action in the future. But a large number remain captive, including the few non-commissioned officers of the Scout Force.

The handling of Tuesday's situation by Pakistan authorities was so crude and abrupt that there is little hope of anything developing other than all-out war. Previously, Pakistani authorities dealt with the tribal leaders with carrots and sticks sometimes threats, sometimes additional privy purses. This time, however, officials chose to ignore the tribespeople altogether and simply intrude. As a result, tribal fighters and all tribal leaders (now wanted by the government of Pakistan) like Naik Mohammed, Sharif, and Islam Maulvi Abbas - all belonging to the Zali Khail Ahmed Zai Wazir tribe - have taken refuge in the local mountains.

A break for the Afghan resistance
The most troublesome areas in Afghanistan, including Ghazni, Argon, Shakin, and Paktia, are situated near South Waziristan. The mountains and thick jungles of the border areas are the places where first the Afghan resistance and now the Pakistani tribal fighters have taken refuge.

High-level sources in Wana maintain that the manner in which Pakistani forces retreated after the tribals challenged them indicate that Pakistani authorities will not be able to control the tribals without the use of air bombing - an event that would have a lasting political impact and cause much unrest in the Pakistan army, given that at least 30 percent of its officers and soldiers come from North West Frontier Province.

Considering the limitations facing the Pakistan troops, the anarchy prevailing in the area will play into the hands of extremists on both sides of the border.

There are already 50,000 Afghan refugees living in South Waziristan - some of whom took refuge in Pakistan when the former USSR attacked Afganistan. It is difficult to tell the rebel Afghans from the non-rebel Afghans, as both come from the same areas, like Ghazni and Argon.

Meanwhile, the present situation has wreaked havoc on the US's proxy network in the area, which was established with painstakingly thorough efforts. There are some tribes in South Waziristan which are anti-Taliban. The US cultivated them and they became the coalition's main human resource in the area, as they used to spy on the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and their proteges. The present operation, however, has caught all of these anti-Taliban forces on the back foot. The tribal lashkar (tribal army) that was established with the support of the Pakistani administration in South Waziristan to fight insurgent tribals, Taliban and al-Qaeda, was besieged in Tuesday's fighting. Six hundred lashkar troops were taken hostage and only freed after they laid down their weapons and vowed not to cooperate with the government of Pakistan. Culturally speaking, this situation highlights the values of tribal society. Once a commitment or apology is made, a person must always keep his word or leave his native village forever.

After Tuesday's chaos, it is likely that pro-Taliban forces will now rule over affairs in the tribal areas. The pro-US forces - on whom a lot of money was spent to buy their loyalty - have now vanished..

At the same time, the writ of the state of Pakistan was the real casualty in the South Waziristan operation, as the other tribal areas are also likely to adopt a rebellious stance and will rise against the presence of the Pakistan army in the tribal lands.

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Mar 19, 2004

Deathly silence descends on South Waziristan (Mar 18, '04)

How the US set Pakistan aflame (Mar 18, '04)
US's foes set to pounce (Mar 17, '04)


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