The Taliban have Kabul in their
sights By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - As Pakistani politicians
scramble to form a coalition government following
last week's parliamentary elections, there has
been a surge in violence in the Swat Valley and in
other parts of North-West Frontier Province, and
on Monday a senior army officer was assassinated.
The indications are that whoever takes
power in Islamabad - be it the Pakistan People's
Party or the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz
Sharif or a combination of both - the real battle
will be in Afghanistan between the Taliban and
al-Qaeda-led militants and the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) and its allies.
Army surgeon general Lieutenant General
Muhammad Mushtaq Baig and seven other people were
killed in a suicide attack in the
garrison city of Rawalpindi.
It was the most high-profile killing since the
death of former premier Benazir Bhutto in the same
city last December.
Apart from the Swat
Valley, there has been an increase in violence,
including bomb blasts, in the North Waziristan
tribal area and Bajaur and Manshera agencies,
after a brief lull in the runup to the elections.
More than a dozen incidents have been reported.
The trigger for this appears to have been
planned joint Pakistan-NATO operations in the
region against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The
militants aim to open up several fronts in
Pakistan to dissuade the military from cooperating
This situation is an
embarrassment to the security apparatus as it was
believed that following recent countrywide
operations that uncovered militant cells in
Karachi, Rawalpindi, Mianwali, Bannu and Dera
Ismail Khan that the problem was being contained.
The regional war Asia Times
Online investigations show that the Taliban's
three-pronged plan for their spring offensive
comprises cutting off NATO's supply lines running
from Pakistan to Afghanistan, recruiting fresh
volunteers and, most importantly, the creation of
a strategic corridor running from Pakistan all the
way to the capital Kabul.
ousted in 2001 and waging annual spring
offensives, this is the first time the Taliban
have come up with the idea of creating such a
The long road to
Kabul As things stand, the Taliban have
established pockets of resistance all around
Kabul, in addition to more settled pockets across
the country. The Taliban roam around freely in the
eastern province of Wardak, just 30 kilometers
But now the Taliban want to
connect the dots, as it were, to ensure a quick
and steady supply of arms and men to reinforce the
pockets sufficiently for attacks on the capital.
It is envisaged that the corridor
initially starts in Mohmand Agency and Bajaur
Agency in Pakistan and then passes through Kunar
and Nooristan provinces all the way to the Taghab
Valley in Kapisa province in the northeast about
100 kilometers from the capital.
the Taliban seized the strategic Taghab Valley -
as well as the Musayab Valley to the south of
Kabul - with the goal of an assault on the
capital, but because of limited supply lines they
were only able to maintain their positions for a
This year, the Taliban aim to
retake these positions, while having in place
secure supply lines starting in the Pakistani
tribal areas to maintain a steady stream of men
Over the past year, the
Taliban have increased the number of their
fighters in Mohmand Agency to 18,000 and to
between 20,000 to 25,000 in Bajaur Agency. Taliban
quarters believe this will provide sufficient
strength to ensure operation, which is due to run
from April to September.
counter-strategy This steady gathering of
forces in the two agencies did not go unnoticed by
NATO. So, with Pakistani assistance, NATO will
increase military operations aimed at nipping the
corridor idea in the bud.
ground troops have escalated their activities in
Kunar and Nooristan provinces and a US base in
Kunar, just three kilometers from Bajaur Agency,
is now fully operational. Once the operations are
in full swing, Pakistan will provide assistance
through its air base in Peshawar for attacks on
militant bases in the agencies.
operation has to start in the month of March as
the Taliban have to launch their operation in
April," a Pakistani security official told Asia
However, Pakistan's plans
could still be derailed. A powerful lawyers'
movement is scheduled to launch protests on March
9 to pressure the new government into ousting
President Pervez Musharraf. This would certainly
delay any decision on Pakistan taking on the
militants in a big way.
The lawyers are
agitating for the reinstatement of members of the
higher judiciary "who ceased to be judges" after
Musharraf imposed emergency rule on November 3.
Musharraf also suspended chief justice Iftikhar
Chaudhry last March,a move that set off
meanwhile, will be doing its best to fuel these
flames to force Pakistan to back off and leave the
way clear for the Taliban's corridor.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia
Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be
reached at email@example.com