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Pakistani army launching an operation — File Photo
Pakistani army launching an operation — File Photo

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani Taliban's brazen attack on a major air force base near the capital underscores the need for the Pakistani army's planned offensive against the group in its last major sanctuary along the Afghan border. 

But the operation in the remote, mountainous North Waziristan tribal area is fraught with danger, both in terms of battling the Taliban and avoiding combat with other militants who are not viewed by the state as a threat because they have focused their attacks on Nato and Afghan forces inside neighbouring Afghanistan.

The United States has repeatedly pressed Pakistan to attack this latter group of militants in North Waziristan, especially the so-called Haqqani network. But the offensive is likely to disappoint on that front and is shaping up to be much less dramatic than the type Washington has long wanted.

The major perceived threat for Islamabad is definitely the Taliban's Pakistani branch, which has waged a bloody insurgency in the country for years that has killed over 30,000 people.

A team of nine Taliban militants armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked a Pakistani air force base near Islamabad with possible links to the country's nuclear program before dawn Thursday, killing two security officials. Security forces managed to retake the base after two hours of heavy fighting in which all nine militants were killed.

Asad Munir, a retired army brigadier who served as an intelligence officer in Pakistan's tribal region, said the attack reinforced the need for an operation against the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan.

''They should not be allowed to have any territory under their control,'' said Munir. ''That enhances their ability to plan and send people to attack.''

Pakistan long refused US demands to launch an offensive in North Waziristan, saying its forces were stretched too thin by fighting in other parts of the tribal region.

Many analysts believe Pakistan's stance was also driven by its reluctance to upset the Afghan Haqqani network, because of its historical ties to the group and the possibility that the Haqqanis could be a useful ally in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

But North Waziristan — the only part of the tribal region where the army has not carried out an offensive — has become an increasing problem for Pakistan as the Taliban and their allies, including al Qaeda and other foreign fighters, have migrated there to escape fighting elsewhere.

Mahmood Shah, a retired Pakistani army brigadier and former head of security in the tribal region, said intelligence briefings indicate more than 5,000 militants are based in North Waziristan, 3,000 of whom are enemies of the Pakistani state.

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told The Associated Press this week that Pakistan has informed US military officials that it plans to launch an operation against the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan in the ''near future.''

Reports of possible offensives in North Waziristan have arisen in the past without action, but Panetta said he was more confident this time.

''They've talked about it for a long time. Frankly, I'd lost hope that they were going do anything about it. But it does appear that they in fact are going to take that step,'' Panetta said.

The top US commander in the region, Gen James Mattis, met with Pakistani army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and other senior officials in the country Thursday. It's unclear if they discussed the North Waziristan operation.

Pakistani military officials downplayed Panetta's comments, with one saying ''you will see a slow ratcheting up over many months, even a year,'' not a swift, sweeping campaign as implied by the defense secretary.

Pakistani Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani seemed to rally public support for the new push in speech on the country's independence day Tuesday.

''The fight against extremism and terrorism is not just the army's, but the whole nation's,'' said Kayani.

The crackdown in North Waziristan started in recent months as the army increased its forces in the area, said a Pakistani military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the plan publicly.

But local residents said they haven't seen any unusual military activity.

''We have been seeing these media reports of an operation since 2010,'' said Safeer Ullah Dawar, a resident in Mir Ali, one of North Waziristan's main towns and a key area for the Pakistani Taliban and their allies.

''Why should I worry when I know there is no unusual movement of security forces?''

Pakistan has long had more than 30,000 troops stationed in North Waziristan, but their operations have been limited.

The army boosted that force over the past three months by adding an additional brigade — about 4,000 soldiers —  and plans to add another in the coming months, said the Pakistani military official.

"Some minor operations are happening, but I believe it's going to disappoint the West completely because it has nothing to do with the Haqqani network," said Moeed Yusuf, the South Asia adviser at the United States Institute of Peace.

The US would welcome action against the Pakistani Taliban and their allies, especially al Qaeda, because they do pose a threat. The Pakistani Taliban were linked to a suicide attack in Afghanistan in 2009 that killed seven CIA employees and a failed car bombing in New York's Times Square in 2010.

But the US has been intensely focused on the Haqqani network.

Washington views the group as one of the most dangerous fighting in Afghanistan, partly because of its record of carrying out high-profile attacks in Kabul.

Any Pakistani operation in North Waziristan would likely be coordinated with the Haqqani network to avoid drawing them into the fight, said Pakistani analysts and retired military officers.

The army would also likely negotiate with Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the most powerful local warlord in North Waziristan, who has also focused on fighting inside Afghanistan.

He is widely believed to have a nonaggression pact with the army, an accord which the generals have never officially acknowledged. But he has also clashed with the army in the past and could feel threatened by operations on his home turf.

Mansur Mahsud, director of administration and research at the Islamabad-based Fata Research Center, believes Pakistan can successfully carry out a targeted operation against the Pakistani Taliban and their allies without drawing in the Haqqanis or Bahadur.

"If Pakistan says 'I'm going to target only those groups that are targeting me,' then I don't think they would be foolish enough to fight against Pakistan because it would weaken them a lot," said Mahsud.

Pakistan would be helped somewhat by geography. Most of the Pakistani Taliban militants and their allies are based in and around Mir Ali. Many of the fighters loyal to the Haqqani network and Bahadur are in and around Miran Shah, a town about six miles away, said Mahsud.

But there is some geographic overlap, and the groups have common allies. Both the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani network are closely aligned with al Qaeda and other foreign fighters.

"I don't think the operation will be feasible beyond a point because they do coexist geographically, and the army doesn't want to force Haqqani's hand into saving the Pakistani Taliban," said Yusuf, the South Asia expert.

"But I think they will do enough against the Arabs, Uzbeks and other foreign fighters and some Pakistani Taliban just to show they have done something there."

Comments (29) Closed

Muhib Aug 17, 2012 04:20pm
yes send pakistani army jawans and officers to fight in N.Waziristan and destroy the enemy. This is the need of the hour. The sons of the soil are ready to defend it.
ali Aug 17, 2012 04:22pm
An indiscriminate across the board action in North Wazirastaom along with annihilation of all these lashkars who operate from our cities is the only way out of this mess.
sikandar Aug 17, 2012 04:28pm
yes looks like conspiracy to make ground for operation in waziristan because you see in media today that operation become must. but operation will give nothing only blast to civlians, specially people of khyber puktoon khwa.
Akram Aug 17, 2012 11:09am
which planet do you live on? You see conspiracies theories everywhere.
ali khawaja Aug 18, 2012 03:07pm
I am not sure who the actual players are, but the whole thing is a setup, I do agree with that. just like someone planted this story in AP as well.
annas Aug 17, 2012 03:25pm
All the actions and counter actions are basically planned for a major offensive against the country. My sincere appeal to all the Pakistanis is to Unite in this time of need and identify our common enemy.
A Khan Aug 17, 2012 11:25am
Agee with your comments. It is $ game. Pakistani General and Politicians are serving their Masters very well (Product of NRO). They do not care about North Waziristan
abdulaziz Aug 20, 2012 12:58am
Identify our common enemy? Don't you know what it is by now? It people like you - the ordinary citizens of Pakistan, who have turned this nation into a battleground. All this crap about foreign hand will take you nowhere.
Cyrus Howell Aug 22, 2012 12:43pm
If that is true then the Taliban are trying to bluff. To look strong. The Pakistan military would overwhelm them. Bandits fight and run. Fight and run. An army does something else, they pursue. Fire and maneuver. Fire and maneuver. Fire and maneuver with fighter jets over head. It is a war against rats.
Cyrus Howell Aug 22, 2012 12:18pm
As you have seen, it would take a full scale army operation just to get them out of Karachi.
World Citizen Aug 17, 2012 01:43pm
Here we go again with yet another conspiracty theory! Pakistanis are suffering from a complex which says that they are OK. It is the rest of the world which is against them! no wonder there is no national will to do anything. Everything is a outside conspiracy for them. Any nation which does not have the courage to admit its own weaknesses and faults is doomed to failure. Wake up Pakistan before you become tribal and start living in caves!
World Citizen Aug 17, 2012 01:39pm
Pakistan is in a dire state because of the mindset and the thinking of people like Shahid! They are a gutless lot. They still fail to understand that it is not only the tribal areas but the heartland of Pakistan which has been infiltrated with extremist thru the madrassah education and mullah brainwashing. Crush them with force or be prepared to live under them. Act like a determined nation and not as a coward offering one excuse after another for inaction.
shahid Aug 17, 2012 07:24am
Pakistan is facing a very and tormenting challenge at the hands of Pakistani Talibans, whose strings are may be in the hands of the enemies of Pakistan. It is wisdom to see the national benefit first. if we make a proper laison with those tribals in North waziristan, who are loyal to pakistan, we can make them realise the grimness of the situation and get beneficial result from it. instad of an armed conflict with our favourites, we can get alot through dilpomacy and intelligence. Now the choice is ours war or peace.
siddhu Aug 17, 2012 07:33am
The attack on airbase in pakistan is a conspiracy to attack north waziristan.The attackers were hired by intelligence agencies,so that sentiments of pakistani people would grow against peaceful people of waziristan .Pakistan government wants to get more dollars from America in return for an offensive in north waziristan.
Mahmood Aug 17, 2012 08:39am
It will be insane for Pakistan to differentiate between one type of Taliban vs the other (TTP vs. Haqqani). Both are lawless and heartless bandits. They need to be anihilated by Pakistan state if it is to survive in the long run as a lawful and peaceful country. So, Pakistanis don't dilly-dally on this issue. Your very survival as a progressive Muslim state is at stake!
ashwani dogra Aug 17, 2012 09:29am
Fascinating, balanced article, which does seem to show the way to securing peace at least within our country. The average man has enough burdens of poverty, illiteract, etc without the added threat of bombs or violence in our streets. Another interesting aspect was the tacit admission that we were allowing our sovereign territory to be used by at least 2000 militants, to wage war in Afghanistan or elsewhere. This is what the US has been saying and we have officially denied
John Aug 17, 2012 07:29pm
Pakistan can have the cake and eat it too, there is nothing like good terrorist and bad terrorist.
Aamir Nawaid Aug 17, 2012 08:32pm
If Haqqanis are really "good Talibans" then why are they not fighting TTP and stopping them from attacking Pakistanis. We must clear our vision and start knowing our enemy. Pull all the troops and civilians out of North Waziristan, acquire some "Daisy Cutters" and then light up some dark minds entrenched in North Waziristan. If "Daisy Cutters" are not available then low intensity tactical nukes can do the job for sure. Its either us or them. There is no coexistance.
LH1 Aug 18, 2012 12:20am
It is a shameless leadership that allows its territory to be controlled by its enemies......Armed forces need new leadership worthy of the uniforms they wear.
Sajjad Aug 18, 2012 01:20am
Pakistan shall declare FATA as its province and start development works.Taliban earn their money from growing opium in Afghansitan and then criminal activities (kidnap , forced taxes and killings) in Pakistan.They need to be eradicated with full force.As people we need to put all our weight behind Pakistan Army to help them defeat Taliban.Their days are already numbered and their top leaders have been killed in drone attacks.They are already fighting a lost war
Moiz Aug 18, 2012 02:32am
if you think that the operation of N.Waziristan operation will bring peace, you live in fools' paradise, they couldn't control S.Waziristan even yet after so many years. What will after that Afganistan ?
Jamil Ahmed Aug 18, 2012 04:22am
I can't understand why "Talibans" would attack Pakistani Army to provoke retaliation. Specially when Pakistan is resisting US pressure to attack North Waziristan. It could be possible that attack was planned to force Pakistan to invade North Waziristan.
khan Aug 18, 2012 04:46am
You make a lot of sense brother.
Saadia Aug 18, 2012 06:33am
Some days ago there were stories in US papers about joint attack of PK-US on Waziristan, and it could be possible that Taliban became angry and attacked before they were being attacked.
Patriot Aug 18, 2012 07:27am
Same game the govt played after Mehran base. This pattern is becoming GLARINGLY obvious now, please stop playing the "sensible" public!
I Love Pakistan Aug 18, 2012 09:01am
My dear , it is suggest that don't post your comments without in knowledge or depth of information.
Adil Jadoon Aug 19, 2012 02:16am
What have the previous operations achieved. 10 years of war for money is enough. No more Pakistani blood for American money. Lets secure our country first and then we will take on the tribal area rogues.
Adil Jadoon Aug 19, 2012 02:18am
I have to agree with Siddhu I am afraid. There is no point in attacking Waziristan when we have no law and order in Baluchistan, Punjab, Sindh or KP. Time to get our priorities right.
Adil Jadoon Aug 19, 2012 02:20am
Act like a determined nation for what? Dollars? enough of this war. First we must get our house in order.