MORE than 200 militants who had been driven out of Bajaur by the military operation there crossed back from Afghanistan's Kunar province on Thursday to launch an attack. The incident was worryingly reminiscent of the June 1 attack in Upper Dir by Taliban who had been driven out of Swat and sought refuge in Afghanistan. Over 200 of them crossed over from Kunar and managed to engage Pakistani security forces for several days. The most obvious message from these incidents is that while Pakistan continues to be accused of providing safe havens to militants launching strikes in Afghanistan, the movement is increasingly taking place in both directions. Coalition and Afghan security forces are failing to capture those fleeing operations in Pakistan or to prevent them from returning across the border. The joint 'hammer and anvil' strategy of driving militants out of sanctuaries into the arms of troops on the other side has not worked.
The Pakistan military has been objecting to the redeployment of coalition troops away from Kunar province in recent months, which was carried out in line with the new American strategy of prioritising the protection of more heavily populated areas. Although claims were made from the other side that border security would not be sacrificed, these recent incidents have supported Pakistani objections. Aside from the obvious threat to Pakistani lives, they will also impact the military's ability to focus on North Waziristan, from where the US is concerned militants are launching strikes in the opposite direction. On his visit to Pakistan last week, President Karzai said he was willing to take action to stop cross-border incidents, as long as evidence was provided and Pakistan did the same. This is a moment for both sides to accept that they have work to do. Pakistan needs to clamp down on militants based here launching attacks in Afghanistan, and coalition and Afghan forces must accept that they have also failed to keep up their end of the deal.
The incident also highlights that our own military operation in Bajaur was only partially successful. Despite the military's claims that the majority of the agency had been cleared, matters are slipping back into militant control. Even as IDPs make their way back, commanders Qari Ziaur Rahman and Maulvi Faqir Mohammad have re-emerged. The latter has once again launched his FM radio station in Bajaur. Reportedly pamphlets are being distributed, journalists are being threatened and targeted killings have been carried out. Combined with Thursday's raid, these are deeply worrying signs that the situation in the agency is once again taking a turn for the worse.
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