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Pakistan faces Taliban resurgence

Guest columnist Ahmed Rashid on how Pakistan's long term counter insurgency strategy could begin to unravel as the Pakistani Taliban return with a vengeance.

Pakistani Taliban militants
Taliban fighters are moving back into Swat

The local Taliban are back in the seven tribal agencies that make up the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and in Swat, where the Pakistani army has cleared militants with large-scale offensives.

In some areas those who fled the fighting have returned.

The situation in the region has once again become the focus of international attention - this time because of the recent failed car bomb attack in New York.

The alleged perpetrator, Faisal Shahzad, is reported to have trained with the Taliban in the Waziristan region.

Once again the Pakistani Taliban have begun to murder local leaders, intimidate the population, pose a risk to the security forces, prevent development projects and threaten wider violence.

Pakistan 'lacks a coherent strategy' to deal with the Taliban

A suicide bomber killed five people in the Swat valley on 1 May, while in April at least six prominent tribal elders were killed outside their homes in the district capital, Mingora, and other towns.

Heavily-armed militants drive through villages on motor-bikes to intimidate the population, burn down girls schools and threaten anyone co-operating with the army - often in plain sight of police or army sentries.

Comeback

Such tactics are well-known signs that the Taliban are preparing to make a dramatic comeback in Swat.

Maulana Fazlullah, the Pakistani Taliban leader there, is still alive and in hiding and could reappear at any moment.

Pakistan's army chief, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, has made several trips to the valley to assess the situation.

Swat and adjoining valleys were declared cleared of militants a year ago after heavy fighting and the deployment of some 50,000 troops.

Pakistani soldier in tank making victory salute
The Pakistani army had claimed victory in Swat

And the militants also want revenge on the army.

According to Western and Pakistani officials, the army is holding some 2,500 suspected militants in indefinite detention, because the civil justice system cannot deal with them.

Many of the detainees are from Swat, where Human Rights Watch has also documented some 300 alleged extra-judicial killings by the military over the past year.

Meanwhile in the tribal agencies, the army has announced that it has cleared most areas of militants, with several offensives over the past 18 months.

However, thousands of fighters and their commanders have regrouped in North Waziristan, which the army has left alone.

Offensive

North Waziristan is controlled by the Afghan Taliban leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani, and a Pakistani Taliban leader, Gul Bahadur.

Both claim to attack US forces across the border in Afghanistan but not the Pakistan army.

The US and Nato have urged the army to launch an offensive in North Waziristan but so far it has declined, saying it is over-stretched already.

All but two of some 30 drone missile strikes launched by the US so far this year have been aimed at North Waziristan .

It is here that Faisal Shahzad - who's accused of planting a car bomb to explode in New York last week - is alleged to have received his training in bomb making.

Over the past few months militants in North Waziristan have been infiltrating the other tribal areas and are launching dramatic attacks on army convoys and outposts, as well as suicide attacks and targeted killings of local elders who provide information to the army.

In one of the worst attacks militants ambushed an army convoy near Miranshah in North Waziristan on 23 April killing seven soldiers, wounding 25 and destroying six trucks.

In other attacks, convoys carrying oil and other goods for US bases in Afghanistan have been attacked. There has been fighting in Orakzai, South Waziristan and in the Bajaur tribal agencies.

Pakistani soldier beside burning truck
The army is struggling to protect fragile supply lines from ambush

Meanwhile North Waziristan has become the biggest haven for militant groups.

Groups resident there include Central Asians, Chechens, Arabs, Kashmiris and numerous Punjabi groups from southern Pakistan as well as the more regular Pakistani Taliban made up of Pashtun tribesmen.

The local Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, who was presumed killed on January in a drone strike, re-emerged last week alive and well, after apparently hiding out in North Waziristan.

There is increasing anarchy in North Waziristan as the authority of Haqqani and others seems to be ignored by the plethora of groups and splinter factions now operating there, especially the ruthless Punjabi militants.

The truth is that there is still no coherent counter-insurgency strategy or doctrine that by now should have been jointly formulated by the Pakistani army and civilian government and should be guiding their actions.

Limbo

In modern counter-insurgency warfare now being pursued by the US and Nato in Afghanistan, there is a phased ''clear, hold, build and transfer'' strategy.

In Pakistan, the army works to clear an area of the insurgents and then hold it.

It is also conducting the reconstruction and never transfers the region to civilian authority. The army is not trained or equipped to carry out the latter two tasks.

In the tribal agencies and Swat the army is dealing with a quarter of a million internal refugees, humanitarian relief, reconstruction, administration, road building and maintaining the food supply lines along routes that are regularly ambushed by militants.

While the government has not offered to take over these civilian tasks, the army has yet to put together a plan to encourage the civilians to do so.

Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud
Hakimullah: alive and at large in North Waziristan

While Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani has handed over all internal security matters to Gen Kayani, the army has not constituted plans which would encourage civilians to work alongside it while the army offers them protection.

This leaves much of the population in limbo - they dislike the presence of the army but have no choice but to accept their help because there is no civil administration to look after them.

The deteriorating security in North Waziristan is now having a global impact and creating a vast and multi-faceted militant hub. Meanwhile other areas are on the verge of falling back into the hands of the Taliban.

Pakistan's civil and military need to formulate a coherent counter-insurgency strategy to provide security and an administration, so that development can reach the people and the militants can be isolated.

Without such a strategy, an ad hoc approach is leading to an ever-worsening security situation.

Ahmed Rashid is the author of the best-selling book Taliban and, most recently, of Descent into Chaos: How the war against Islamic extremism is being lost in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The following are some of your comments on this article.


Pakistan and its army do not enjoy complete freedom from financial woes to concentrate on the offensive against the insurgents. The nation has suffered almost a loss of $35bn in collateral damage since the Afghan offensive began and what we get in return is petty aid of $1bn of aid per year. Is this a joke? The nation's economy has slumped due to the offensive by the US - frequent power outages are testimony to that. You can't expect to defeat the Taliban when Pakistan's people are empty handed and have empty stomachs.
Faizan Abdul Khaliq, Pakistan

The guerrilla warfare with the Taliban will continue for another decade or so but that does NOT mean that the Taliban are back in any governable sense in Swat. The army will never let that happen. This will be a struggle similar to the Tamil Tigers fight but we should put the hysteria about a Taliban takeover to rest. This only serves the propaganda goals and bravado which the militants want to project.
Saleem H Ali, Pakistan

Pakistan's state institutions - especially the army and its intelligence services - have to realise two things: the world has shifted rapidly towards democratic way of governance and it must learn to live and co-operate with its powerful, fast growing and democratic neighbour India. This is the only way they will be able to pay result-oriented attention to the Taliban issue. Western governments on the other hand also must realise that throwing money at Pakistan is wrong and serves no concrete purposes.
Dinesh Sampat, USA

Ahmed Rashid tries to make a story out of nonsense. Instead of comparing the facts about the region he just spells out absurd doomsday predictions for Pakistan. He forgets to mention that the Pakistan Army has taken back all of Malakand division out of the hands of the militants in less than an year and he seems to ignore the considerable drop in suicide and bomb attacks compared to the previous two years. This clearly demonstrates the reduced capability of the militants to launch such attacks.
Humayun Pervez, Pakistan

Another beautifully written article by Ahmed Rashid. The Taliban is a group where evil minds converge. They are the worst enemy of humanity - whether in the West or the East. I see no future of them after 2012, because coalition forces and Pakistan will defeat them and they will lose public support. But the number one priority should be to maintain public support because that is key to success.
Imran, Pakistan

Pakistan is a country in search of a vision. There seems to be a collective schizophrenia in the country. The Pakistan Taliban are a logical by-product of military ruler Gen Zia's policies. He changed the national psyche away from Jinnah's intentions towards what you now see in the Fata. They have all enjoyed "riding the tiger" of Islamic terrorism directed against India. Now they want to get off. Once they're off the tiger, they will be consumed.
Anil, Canada

The Pakistani army and the government has put in efforts to clear the northern areas of the Taliban and other related insurgent groups But the Taliban are moving around openly in the presence of the army and the police. That forces us to believe that the Taliban have beaten the Americans and Pakistanis. Overall it is a very grim picture for the future.
Nischal, India

It was quite evident that this would happen. The area cannot be ruled or occupied by the army forever. The army has to return. The people of the area have to be integrated into the the rest of the nation. The US has to leave it to Pakistan to solve its problems. The best it can do is to stop intervening - especially with the drones that have killed too many civilians. No explanation can justify the drones. How can you go and kill innocent people in someone's country which you say is your ally? History has shown time and again that the present policy of the US will not succeed. If anything it will aggravate an already volatile situation. And Pakistan will be left to deal with it for the coming decades.
Hamid Khawaja, Pakistan

Personally I don't agree with what the Taliban are doing in Pakistan or Afghanistan - they excel only at making other people suffer. However approaching Taliban fighters with military action will just anger them ever more. I really think the US government and Pakistani government need to re-think their strategy, because I see this war being as being totally pointless.
Ahmed Nawaz, England

After years of war on terrorism, it is interesting to see that Taliban is armed to defeat the US and Nato forces very easily. Where are they getting the weapons from? Nobody seems to be able to stop the guns flowing from the Pakistani military to the Taliban.
Sam, South Africa

I think Pakistan is more effective in tackling the Taliban then America. At least it did not spend around eight years trying to defeat them - and yet America is still losing.
Saif, England



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