KARACHI - Cash-strapped Pakistan, after the failure of operations against
militants in Bajaur Agency and the Swat Valley, has had to call off an
offensive in the North Waziristan tribal area, and instead negotiate ceasefire
Nevertheless, relentless pressure from the United States will not allow
Islamabad to remain inactive for too long. This would have been the message
relayed by US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who made an
unscheduled visit to Pakistan at the weekend. The US is all too aware how
militant strongholds in Pakistan's tribal areas fuel the Taliban-led insurgency
across the border in Afghanistan.
Pakistan is in a deep financial hole, however, and the best it can
do is buy time with the militants until the crisis eases.
Both China and the United States appear reluctant to bail out Pakistan, which
is in danger of defaulting on debt worth US$3 billion in the next few months.
Saudi Arabia, too, has not offered deferred payment on oil or any cash relief
and at the weekend Pakistan said it might have to seek assistance from the
unpopular International Monetary Fund.
Troops stop in their tracks Last week, Pakistan mobilized troops for an
offensive in North Waziristan, forcing hundreds of residents to flee to the
city of Bannu as they feared a mass ground and air onslaught of the kind that
had earlier forced thousands to flee from Bajaur.
But Pakistan suddenly approached the militants and urged a ceasefire. Two
militants leaders - Hafiz Gul Bahadur from North Waziristan and Moulvi Nazir of
neighboring South Waziristan, both rivals of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah
Mehsud - agreed to implement ceasefire agreements.
Bahadur issued a statement in which he said that fighting against Pakistani
forces damaged the cause for support of the Afghan national resistance and
hence it had been decided that if the Pakistani security forces did not
advance, the tribes would observe a ceasefire.
For militants elsewhere, though, the ceasefire agreements play into their hands
as they can consolidate their bases in Pakistan in preparation for more action
in Afghanistan, where they have already achieved unprecedented success in their
seven-year battle against foreign forces. Indeed, the Taliban are as resilient
as ever in the Pakistani tribal areas, where they have reinforced their
Qari Ziaur Rahman, who recently emerged as the regional commander-in-chief of
all pro-Taliban groups in Kunar and Nooristan provinces in Afghanistan and the
Pakistani Bajaur and Mohmmand Agency areas, spoke to Asia Times Online in a
"The mujahideen have completely gained control on the ground [in Bajaur]. The
American agenda to destroy the mujahideen and all the [Pakistan] government
options have failed to defeat us."
Rahman spoke on a land line from Bajaur, which makes a mockery of the
government claim that he had been forced to flee to Afghanistan after being
Rahman is an Afghan national, first introduced by Asia Times Online as the most
important regional commander of the future (see
A fighter and a financier May 23, 2008). He is leading all local,
foreign and Afghan Taliban fighting against Pakistani troops in Bajaur.
"I am completely healthy and in Bajaur. I never retreated into Afghanistan nor
sustained any injury. It is the propaganda of the Pakistan army to demoralize
the mujahideen," Rahman said.
"Initially, Pakistan succeeded in instigating the local tribes against us and
there were a few incidents of setting the property of the Taliban on fire, but
now all the tribes have pulled out from the government-led militias and except
for a few areas like Khar, the Taliban command complete ground control.
"The Pakistan army does not have any option but to send gunship helicopters
three to four times a day to fire shells, or send aircraft once a day for
indiscriminate bombing for half an hour. In such operations, the mujahideen
sustain no losses," Rahman said.
Rahman maintained that the Taliban are now in a position to put up resistance
to the Pakistani security forces as well as to initiate successful attacks
against US forces in the Kunar Valley.
"We have started our operations in the Kunar Valley and, except for
interruptions of a few weeks, these are as normal as they were before the
Bajaur operations [began two months ago]," Rahman said.
He was adamant that the ceasefire agreements in North Waziristan would not
create any rifts. "It was a strategic decision by the Taliban in North
Waziristan. At the end of the day we will all be one in our broader
Pakistan may have bought itself some time with the ceasefires, but the battle -
let alone the war - is a long way from over, even as US unmanned Predator
drones begin sorties in the skies of North Waziristan.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
be reached at email@example.com