Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Human Rights

/CORRECTED REPEAT*/POLITICS: Pakistan’s Offensive, Afghanistan’s Risk

KABUL, Oct 13 2009 (IPS) - For generations, Pakistan’s southern Waziristan region has been a launching pad for insurgent military operations in Afghanistan

During the Soviet invasion of this country, Mujahiddin used the area as a staging ground for attacks on Russian soldiers. Now, the region is a strategic base of Taliban and Al Qaeda operations as well as a keystone in the insurgent supply line.

This region is also the staging area for operations against the Pakistani government itself and that army has suffered massive losses in Waziristan. And it’s not just Waziristan. Western Pakistan’s Swat, Dir, Bonir, Bajour and Mohmand valleys are all remote, mountainous areas, cut off from the government in Islamabad, and teeming with fighters ready for a fight in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Now, the army of Pakistan has vowed to cleanse these insurgent-hospitable regions of insurgent elements. Recently, a Pakistan army spokesman announced that in the next three months, military operations would commence in western Pakistan; operations that would root-out these anti-government insurgents and hopefully crush the threat to Pakistan’s sitting government.

Pakistan will bring 60,000 soldiers – already deployed in the region – to the fight, in what would soon become Central Asia’s fiercest battleground. The once scenic district of Swat will devolve further into the miasma of war, as its crystalline streams run red with blood.

This operation will benefit Afghanistan in that many of the insurgents who meet their deaths in Pakistan would otherwise soon be fighting here. But it could also have a potentially catastrophic effect on the civilian population on this side of the Durand Line.


Simply put, when the Pakistani army begins to push the insurgents in its western tribal region, it will be pushing them into Afghanistan. This will expand the war here exponentially and drive the most hardened jihadi’s and their leadership structure into areas of this country where the Kabul government, to say nothing of the NATO coalition, has a weak or tenuous presence and little loyalty from the local population.

It’s worth mentioning that the Pakistani government and army are not the only ones with an operational strategy.

Mullah Mohammad Omar, head of the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan asked his foot-soldiers to turn their guns west, toward the foreign forces in Afghanistan. If a recent video of Hakimullah Mehsud, broadcasted on Al Jazeera, is to be believed, that charismatic leader of hard-core insurgents is alive and well.

Just a month ago, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence reportedly killed Mehsud in a drone-borne missile strike. But last week, he appeared on television and radio reports, having recently given an audience to five journalists who broadcast his wish to expand the war in Afghanistan. He also voiced his support of and allegiance to Mullah Omar.

The Pakistani government has already stepped up operations against these men, killing one of Osama bin Laden’s top aides, the Uzbek Tahir Yaldish and arresting Muslim Khan, a spokesman for the Taliban in Swat Valley. Mahmood Khan, another Taliban leader in Swat, was also arrested there, barely one month ago.

And the pressure is on Pakistan to keep up the fight. Top representatives of the U.S. government are forcing the Pakistani military’s hand, trying to persuade Pakistan to continue confronting the insurgents within the Pakistan border. In the past three months, both Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the highest ranking NATO commander in Afghanistan and U.S. Ambassador to Kabul, retired Gen. Karl Eikenberry, have visited Islamabad, pressuring the government there to crack down on militants in the western tribal regions.

Richard C. Holbrooke, U.S. President Barak Obama’s personal envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan also made the trip to Islamabad to reinforce the message.

These emissaries brought more than just tough talk to Pakistan’s capital. Last week, the U.S. congress approved 1.5 billion dollars of annual, non-military aid to Pakistan, through the year 2011. The money would be used to build roads, schools and other infrastructure resources that might help prevent future generations from turning to violent Jihad.

But the assaults by the Pakistani army, while moderately successful for Pakistan, have already helped push Taliban and other insurgent groups into new areas in northern Afghanistan, turning places like normally peaceful Mazar-e-Sharif, into a fierce battleground.

As the interminable election process drags on in Kabul – further subtracting from whatever legitimacy the Karzai government will have when it eventually takes power -this new injection of insurgents comes at a particularly vulnerable time.

The U.S. is considering a new infusion of tens-of-thousands of soldiers into Afghanistan, and this might go a long way toward combating the rising insurgent threat from Pakistan, but the arrival of these fresh forces is far from a foregone conclusion. There are many in the U.S. who are against any further involvement in Afghanistan. After eight years of war on two fronts, Americans are wary of sending more of their sons and daughters into the line of fire.

If these military initiatives by the Pakistani army do push more insurgents into Afghanistan, it will be up to Afghans to confront and deal with this new threat. But with a weakened central government and a hesitant NATO coalition, the challenge will be far from easy to meet.

*The commentary is by correspondents of Killid, an independent Afghan media group. IPS and Killid have been partners since 2004. (*The story moved Oct. 12 contained an error. The video broadcasted by Al Jazeera was of Hakimullah and not Baitullah Mehsud.)

 
Republish | | Print |


intro to music theory pdf