Pakistan, US look across the border By Syed Saleem Shahzad
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's ongoing cooperation in the "war on terror" in the past
few months has played a part in it being granted an additional loan of US$3.2
billion from the International Monetary Fund, raising the total loan to $11.3
billion, or 6.3% of the country's gross domestic product. 
At the same time, the United States special representative for Pakistan and
Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, is due to visit Pakistan from August 15-18 to
press for Islamabad's further cooperation in tackling the Tehrik-i-Taliban
Pakistan, the main Taliban militant umbrella group in Pakistan primarily in
conflict with the central government. Its leader Baitullah Mehsud is reported
to have been killed in a US Predator drone attack last
week, and many other militants have died in subsequent such raids.
The US wants Pakistan to help bring the conflict in Pakistan and Afghanistan to
an end through mediation by soliciting the Taliban for talks with the aim of
incorporating them into the Afghan political mainstream.
"The real plan is not the elimination of any individual, rather it is to root
out al-Qaeda's headquarters, situated at the crossroads of the South Waziristan
and North Waziristan [tribal areas in Pakistan], which is causing massive
instability in the whole region of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Iraq," an
Islamabad-based senior Pakistani security official told Asia Times Online on
the condition of anonymity.
The officer showed ATol highly secret documents which reveal how
al-Qaeda-linked groups have been involved in several high-profile robberies,
assassinations and other activities in a network that has been broadened from
North Waziristan all the way to Mumbai in India, where a massive attack was
launched on that city last year by 10 Pakistani-linked militants. More than 150
people were killed.
Pakistan is not believed to have given the US specific information on
Baitullah, who has a $5 million bounty on his head, but they have shared
detailed maps of the region where the drone attack took place in South
Waziristan last week.
An active network based in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, comprising several
senior Pakistan police officials, intelligence officials with a military
background and members of the American intelligence community, now meet daily
to discuss targets and to asses the results of strikes.
On Tuesday, drones acting on information supplied by Pakistan targeted Maaskar,
a militant training facility in the Kaniguram area of South Waziristan, run by
Arab militants. Several people were killed.
That morning, militants carried out an intense rocket attack on Peshawar, the
capital of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Almost a dozen rockets were
fired, killing two civilians. The attack appeared random and without a specific
target, indicating a touch of desperation on the part of the militants in the
face of the bombardment they are taking from drones.
Also on Tuesday, militants destroyed 10 schools and a health center in Buner,
in Malakand Division. This came as the government claimed that everything had
returned to normal in Dir and Swat in NWFP and also in Buner.
Despite Tuesday's militant attacks, the security forces do appear to have
stabilized the situation that a few months ago saw the Taliban seemingly on the
march to Islamabad.
The Pakistani security official added, "This is the ideal situation [for the
government] as the so-called Taliban emirates in Bajaur [Agency] and Mohmand
[Agency] and Swat have been abandoned and they [Taliban] are on the run in
North Waziristan and South Waziristan. The situation would be even better if
things were back to normal in Afghanistan as this [militancy in Pakistan] is a
spillover of the Afghan war."
Top US commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McCrystal on Tuesday vowed that
coalition forces would prevail in the war, but re-affirmed he was open to
reconciling with rank-and-file insurgents.
"I would absolutely be comfortable with fighters and lower-level commanders
making the decision to re-integrate into the Afghan political process under the
Afghan constitution," McCrystal said. As for reconciling with higher-level
insurgent leaders, McCrystal said, "That's clearly up to [Afghan President
Karzai made his intentions public Tuesday by saying he would double the size of
Afghanistan's security forces and push for peace talks with the Taliban if he
is elected for a second term in polls due this month.
Meanwhile, Taliban leader Mullah Omar has urged the Afghan Taliban shura
(council), believed to operate from around Quetta in southwestern Pakistan, to
intervene to protect vital South Waziristan militant assets. This it could do
by installing a new chief of the Taliban in the Mehsud area in South
Waziristan. This is regardless of whether Baitullah is alive or dead, the aim
being to prevent any internecine conflict between various factions.
The shura includes Mullah Bradar, the Taliban's supreme commander in
Afghanistan; Mullah Hasan Rahmani, a close aide of Mullah Omar and a governor
of Kandahar province in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime in the late
1990s; and other prominent figures of the Afghan Taliban from the Kandahari
Should it be decided to install a low-profile Taliban chief - as opposed to the
aggressive and uncompromising Baitullah - the road towards an end game in the
region would be made considerably smoother.