More fuel to Pakistan's simmering
fire By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - Even though it has approximately 5,000
troops in the area, the Pakistani army has been moved
into seeking a ceasefire with tribal fighters in South
Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan.
calls for a truce have already fallen on deaf ears, and
the unrest that has followed the Pakistan army's
entrance into the semi-autonomous tribal region in
pursuit of al-Qaeda and Afghan resistance figures over a
week ago can be expected to intensify, and spread to the
other tribal areas, as well as other parts of the
Recent developments bode ill for any
hopes for a peaceful and quick resolution to the current
crisis that pits the Pakistani army on one side of the
border and United States-led troops on the other side in
Afghanistan in an operation designed to flush out
al-Qaeda and Afghan resistance fighters who enjoy
widespread support and shelter in the tribal regions.
Both the South and North Waziristan regions are
inhabited by Wazir tribes, which have roots in
Afghanistan. Indeed, the Mehsood and the Afridi are the
only Pakistani tribes not to have ties with Afghan
tribes. Yet the Mehsood have now warned Pakistani
authorities to withdraw their forces immediately, or
they will join hands with the Wazir currently fighting
Pakistani troops. And already, Mehsood tribals in
Pakistan's paramilitary forces have refused to fight
against the Wazir.
The army has declined to give
casualty figures, although local officials have said
that about 30 soldiers and almost as many militants may
have been killed since last Tuesday. Asia Times Online
sources put the military's casualties as high as 70,
with many captives.
As the rebel tribesmen have
limited ammunition, they have restricted their shooting
over the past few days, instead using "no-go" areas
beyond which they will open fire on troops. They are
also using prisoners as human shields to prevent
Pakistani air assaults.
The growing insurgency
as well as the number of casualties in the Pakistani
camp forced the authorities to seek the ceasefire.
Reports coming from the region on Monday, however, say
that rockets were fired at an army camp in Wana, which
resulted in a gunfight between the army and militants.
Flames of war loom large The present
offensive in South Waziristan is not merely a hunt for a
few fugitive guerrilla fighters (including Osama bin
Laden and his number two, Ayman al-Zawahri). It is a
fight to control their bases in the whole eastern tribal
belt that borders Afghanistan. Any ceasefire, therefore,
assuming even that it holds, will be temporary at best,
and a prelude to the next battle.
significant development on Sunday, 70 of the country's
most popular religious clerics, in a religious ruling
issued from the federal capital Islamabad, called the
Wana operation (Wana is the headquarters of South
Waziristan agency) an "unjustified war" by the Pakistan
army on their Muslim brothers. The clerics said that
since the war had been unleashed on the mujahideen in
support of the US cause in the region, anyone who died
resisting the Pakistani forces would be a martyr, and
any Pakistani soldiers killed would die "Motul Haram" -
in other words, they would go to hell. The ruling also
prohibits funeral prayers for soldiers killed in the
This declaration gives supporters of
al-Qaeda in Pakistan even stronger reason to wage both
political and guerrilla wars against the Pakistani
authorities. The ruling is a major setback for the
Pakistani ruling class, and even information minister
Sheikh Rasheed, who is famous for his outspoken nature,
has refused to comment.
The Wana operation now
has the potential to give liberal political groups as
well as religious groups the opportunity to jump onto
the anti-government bandwagon, and even to accentuate
splits within the establishment.
therefore, as an operation to force al-Qaeda and the
Afghan resistance from their base in Shawal - a no man's
land on both sides of the border - where they are in
protection of the Data Khali and Mada Khail tribes (not
Zaka Khail as this scribe mentioned in a recent report)
is rapidly escalating into a major crisis for the whole
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