Pakistan, US raise militant
tempo By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - With the United States missile
attack on an important Taliban compound in Azam
Warsak village in the South Waziristan tribal area
in the early hours of Thursday, a new phase in the
regional "war on terror" - joint Pakistan-North
Atlantic Treaty Organization strikes - has begun.
The attack is also a stark reminder to the
newly elected Pakistani politicians who recently
put their weight firmly in favor of dialogue
rather than military operations against militants.
This underscores their limited role in the coming
months in concentrating on domestic issues while
the bigger battles are dealt with by NATO and the
Pakistani military command.
strike by an unmanned US Predator drone demolished
a building, killing up to 12 suspected militants.
Asia Times Online contacts in the area claim that
the drone took off
from Peshawar airfield, making it
the first Pakistan-NATO military strike.
came as a big surprise to militants as it was a
most secret and highly important militant
compound: it was disguised as a madrassa
Pakistan sifts through
election aftermath that NATO and
Pakistan have agreed on joint offensives.
Two days after the ATol report, the New
York Times ran a similar story, saying that US
officials had reached an understanding last month
with Pakistan's leaders, including President
Pervez Musharraf, of the need to intensify strikes
against suspected militants using pilotless
aircraft launched in Pakistan. Previously, such
raids originated across the border in Afghanistan.
Officially, Pakistan says it does not allow the US
to operate on its territory.
Learning to fight
Madrassas like the one struck
in Azam Warsak are spread all over the border area
and nothing is really taught - they are used as a
cover by militants.
The tradition of such
madrassas is as old as the Afghan
resistance against the Soviets in the 1980s. They
are portrayed as local centers of basic Islamic
learning, and, indeed, youngsters attend them to
recite the Koran in the mornings, and people
gather five times a day to prayer in adjacent
But in reality they are used by
militants for the transfer of weapons and for
hit on Thursday was, according to ATol contacts,
used several weeks ago by Baitullah Mehsud -
accused of masterminding the assassination of
Benazir Bhutto last December - and Sirajuddin
Haqqani, a senior Taliban commander. It is also
said to have been used by Tahir Yuldashev, head of
the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and al-Qaeda
number two Ayman al-Zawahiri.
madrassas rarely feature on the radars of
US intelligence as they are only used for short
meetings, stays or transfers. They are never used
for training purposes or for prolonged stays or as
Azam Warsak madrassa was also used for
launching guerrilla operations in Paktika province
across the border, hence it was stocked with
missiles and rockets. It is believed that a fresh
group of militants had gathered at the
madrassa on Wednesday for such an
The regional theater There has been widespread
speculation that since Pakistan's newly elected
politicians have resolved to seek Musharraf's
dismissal for his role in the "war on terror" and
because of their call for dialogue with militants,
operations to preempt the Taliban's spring
offensive might be put on hold.
does not appear to be the case and preparations
are in full swing for coordinated offensives in
On Tuesday, General Sir
Richard Dannatt, chief of the General Staff of the
British army, called on the Corps Commander
Peshawar, Lieutenant General Muhammad Masood
Aslam, at his headquarters.
According to a Pakistani
military press release, Aslam apprised Dannatt of
the Pakistani army's role in fighting against
militancy and terrorism. He was also briefed on
development activities undertaken by the army in
the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Dannatt
also visited Peshawar airfield, which will play a
central role in the coming months.
Thursday's strike therefore serves as
a reminder to militants that, despite what
politicians might say, they can expect no
breathing space and that a ceasefire is not an
option. That is, the changing of the government in
Islamabad has nothing to do with the "war on
A top al-Qaeda member of
Pakistani origin summed it up in commenting to
ATol on condition of anonymity, "We were eyeing
developments in Islamabad after the elections
[last week] but it seems that nothing is going to
change and our new strategy will surface like
broad daylight in the coming few days."
Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's
Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at