Militants ready for a war without borders
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - From thinly disguised insinuations against Pakistan following the
suicide attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul this month to outright
accusations against Islamabad by the Afghan government over the unrelenting
Taliban-led insurgency, the blame game has entered a critical time: a major
regional battle could erupt in a matter of days.
Last week, US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen paid a sudden
visit to Pakistan during which he revealed to Pakistani leaders and military
officials the possibility of surgical strikes on Taliban and al-Qaeda networks
operating in the border regions and that coalition forces in Afghanistan would
to conduct hot-pursuit raids into Pakistan.
Mullen urged Pakistani leaders to play their part from their side. He
pin-pointed the North and South Waziristan tribal areas as a focal point, along
with the areas of Razmak, Shawal, Ghulam Khan and Angor Ada along the border
with Afghanistan. Across the divide, Khost province is considered a likely
target for carpet bombing and an offensive by the Afghan National Army.
Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani was quick to call in senior
strategic analysts, who pointed out that the military would only follow the
directions of the civilian government. Yet just days earlier, Prime Minister
Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani had announced that all decisions concerning military
operations would be decided by the army chief. This does not bode well for
Pakistan's whole-hearted cooperation.
But regardless of how sincerely the Pakistani army fights against the Taliban,
the fact is that the Taliban have already staged a virtual coup in North-West
Frontier Province (NWFP) bordering Afghanistan.
They have established a reign of terror against which the state writ is
powerless. In all districts, the Taliban have taken security officials hostage
to press their demands that a strict Islamic code be enforced. Many officials
have been killed when the Taliban's wishes have not been granted.
As a result, the middle and lower members of the security forces are
effectively non-functional and answer to the Taliban's call across NWFP.
This has left the secular and relatively liberal government of the province,
led by the Awami National Party, with no choice but to form "defense
committees" at the district level to organize civilians against a complete
Across the border, a similar situation exists in Ghazni province, close to the
capital Kabul, where, apart from the provincial headquarters, the Taliban call
the shots in all districts once dusk descends - the district administrations
and the police simply give up control, giving the Taliban freedom of movement.
In Kunar and Nooristan provinces, the Taliban are fighting for similar
dominance and already most security checkpoints have been abandoned out of fear
of the Taliban.
On Monday, a high-level al-Qaeda shura (council) concluded in Miramshah
in North Waziristan with instructions to all members with families to retreat
to safe locations in expectation of the Afghan war spreading into Pakistan's
Not that this alarms al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. They reason that
should coalition forces seriously enter into Pakistan (they have in the past
sent unmanned Predator drones on raids into Pakistan), the reaction in
Pakistan, even among liberals, would be so fierce that the Pakistani army would
not dare to follow up with action of its own. This would leave the militants
with a free hand to launch operations inside Afghanistan.
The shura also noted that militant ranks in the region had received
their biggest boost since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, including growing
numbers from Muslim countries.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at[email protected]