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Afghan offensive: Grand plans hit rugged reality
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - The plan to eradicate the Afghan resistance was straightforward: US-led coalition forces would drive from inside Afghanistan into the last real sanctuary of the insurgents, and meet the Pakistani military driving from the opposite direction. There would then be no safe place left to hide for the Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants, or, presumably, for Osama bin Laden himself. The plan's implementation began with the launch of operation "Mountain Storm" around March 15.

But the insurgents have a plan of their own, which they have revealed to Asia Times Online. Conceived by foreign resistance fighters of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Arab origin, it is a classic guerrilla stratagem that involves enmeshing the mighty military forces of the United States and its allies in numerous local conflicts, diverting them from their real goal and dissipating their strength.

The insurgents' plan, too, has been put into effect, and the fierce fighting in Pakistan's tribal agency of South Waziristan last Tuesday, when resistance fighters and their tribal sympathizers took on the Pakistani military and routed it, was an early manifestation. Now Pakistan must quell its own rebel tribespeople before it continues to help the US with Mountain Storm. Indeed, Pakistan is attempting just that, on Thursday launching a "full force" operation in South Waziristan, using artillery and helicopter gunships. At the same time, tribal opposition to the Pakistani military has spread to North Waziristan - all according to plan, it seems.

In an exclusive meeting with Asia Times Online, a prominent planner of the Afghan resistance spelled out the strategy. Pointing to a hand-drawn map, the insurgent indicated an area he called "Shawal". Technically speaking, "Shawal" falls on the Afghan side of the Durand Line that divides Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Editor's note: The border area inside North Waziristan is also called Shawal.) In reality, "Shawal" is a no-man's land, a place no one would want to go to unless he were as tough as the local tribespeople, a guerrilla fighter taking on the US, or, perhaps, Osama bin Laden. Shawal is a deep and most dangerous maze. The insurgent described it thus:

"One crosses the first mountain and sees a similar mountain emerge and after crossing another mountain he feels a spin in his head and thinks the whole world in this area is the same and leads the way nowhere."

This is the last safe haven for the Afghan resistance, from which they launch attacks on coalition forces and the Afghan government, and to which they return to regroup and receive sustenance from the locals. And this is the kind of terrain the US and its allies will encounter in their drive to occupy "Shawal" whether they come in from the Afghan side via Bermal, or from the Pakistan side via South or North Waziristan.

Those who are masters of this maze can raid the Afghan provinces of Ghazni, Paktia, and Paktika. The only masters are people of the Data Khail and Zaka Khail tribes and the insurgents who base themselves there.

The Data Khail and Zaka Khail have a long history of defiance and have never capitulated to any intruder. The tribesmen are as tough as the terrain, and they have been known for centuries for their strong bonds of loyalty, such that "even an enemy who requests shelter would be given it". These two tribes are now the protectors of the Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters based in "Shawal". By occupying the area, the US hopes to deprive the insurgents of the tribes' crucial support. Forced to flee, the insurgents would eventually fall into the hands of the United States' local proxy networks of anti-Taliban tribes and warlords. Such is the plan.

In response, the insurgents have decided that instead of avoiding confrontation with the coalition forces as they have previously, they will meet them head-on in this unforgiving landscape, while diverting their attention with attacks and harassment in other areas.

The Pakistanis, under intense US pressure to help out, and as of this week's visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell the recipients of even more US military largess (see Pakistan as key non-NATO ally), are already bogged down in South Waziristan. Sources in Wana, headquarters of South Waziristan agency, tell Asia Times Online that a full brigade of the Pakistani army, along with paramilitary troops and backed by artillery, helicopters and two other aircraft, is now attacking tribal positions in Kaloo Shah, Sheen Warsak and Azam Warsak. Sources say that the targeted Wazir tribes have asked neighboring tribes to join the fray.

And as predicted by Asia Times Online (How the US set Pakistan aflame, March 18), the South Waziristan fighting has spread to other areas. According to latest information, an attack on Pakistani troops in North Waziristan has killed a major and several soldiers. The incident, near the "Shawal" area, means the Pakistani army has a new, simultaneous problem to deal with, and their advance has been stopped. The operation that began as a hunt for Osama bin Laden has already degenerated into sideshows against rebel Pakistani tribespeople.

In Afghanistan, US-led forces can expect increasing hit-and-run attacks by local Taliban, who will then melt back into the local population. While the troops engage in house-to-house searches for the perpetrators, the drive for "Shawal" is dissipated and slowed.

It seems the insurgents' plan is already paying off. How they go about building on their initial success will become clear in the coming weeks.

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Mar 20, 2004

Pakistani tribes await 'full force' offensive
(Mar 19, '04)

How the US set Pakistan aflame
(Mar 18, '04)

Afghanistan: Dogs of war in full cry
(Mar 16, '04)

Afghanistan: The spring trap is sprung
(Mar 11, '04)


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