As Pakistan continues to rely on aerial strikes against Taliban in Waziristan, it has launched a ground and aerial operation in Khyber Agency and has carried air strikes against Taliban camps in Orakzai Agency. Orakzai Agency is also the home turf for the new TTP Chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, who had recently vowed to continue Baituallah’s mission against the state of Pakistan. To date more than 100 Taliban belonging to Mangal Bagh’s Lashker-e-Islam Taliban group have been killed in the Bara and Tirah areas of Khyber Agency. This article examines the emerging ground situation in the Tribal Areas.
The Pakistan Army has initiated significant operations in Khyber and Orakzai Agencies during the lull of Labor Day holiday weekend in the US and Defense Day in Pakistan. There had been reports that some Taliban who may may have escaped from Swat, had made their way to the Khyber Agency. The September 27th suicide attack on the security forces located at the border town of Torkham killed 22. The responsibility for the attack was claimed by ‘Abdullah Azam Brigade’ reported to be located in Orakzai Agency. The motive, as stated by the TTP Spokesman, was to avenge the death of Baitullah Mehsud.
Khyber Agency has a particular significance for Pakistan; the most important trade route between Pakistan and Afghanistan pass through it via the Khyber Pass. Furthermore, this route is also an essential for NATO and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and containers carrying supplies are frequently attacked. The security of Peshawar which borders Khyber Agency, and is also the capital of North West Frontier Province, is interlinked to the law and order situation in Bara and the adjacent tribal areas.
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In the post Musharraf environment the tactics and strategy of Pakistan Army have gone through a complete transformation. Since the Swat operation the Army has continued to enjoy considerable public support, and thus it has acted quickly to deal with threats emanating from the tribal areas while maintaining pressure on extremists. This pressure on Taliban on Pakistan’s side of the border is critical for the success of operations on the Afghan side of the border.
The lesson of recent history suggests that given ample time and space a credible leadership to replace Baitullah will emerge with similar deadly consequences. The emerging strategy also suggests isolating the Waziristan region from the support it gets from other parts of the tribal areas. This will help the ground operation in Waziristan, when and if such an operation is carried out there.
Meanwhile, in the backdrop of the controversial NATO air strikes in Kunduz, Germans and the French are getting anxious about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The public opinion is shifting against the Afghan war in the US, and the presence of foreign troops is becoming increasingly unpopular in Afghanistan as civilian casualties mount. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have called for a U.N. conference to discuss transferring security responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghan government thus allowing for reducing their presence there, Reuters reported Sept. 6. According to this report French President Nicolas Sarkozy would assist in launching this initiative.
United States is unlikely to consider this an appropriate time, as it is considering increasing the size of its troops in Afghanistan, to discuss issues related to the size of troops or transferring of security responsibilities to the Afghans. This, according to the US, conveys a wrong message to the Taliban and other stake holders at this critical juncture of the conflict.
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