Pakistan’s military has begun a long-awaited ground offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan.
Earlier Saturday, ahead of the planned offensive, Pakistani authorities imposed a curfew in the region, an insurgent stronghold near the Afghan border.
Pakistan’s army operation in South Waziristan follows a string of attacks, believed to be part of a Taliban campaign, that killed more than 150 people in the last two weeks.
Three suicide bombers attacked a government site in Peshawar Friday, killing at least 13 people, including three police officers, two women and one child.
A Pakistani policeman and bystanders remove an injured suicide car bomb blast victim after an attack on a police building in Peshawar, 16 Oct 2009
Top Pakistani military and political leaders met in Islamabad Friday to discuss the wave of violence, the ground offensive in South Waziristan, and the displacement of people in the region.
The U.N. refugee agency reports thousands of people are fleeing South Waziristan to escape anticipated violence. U.N. agencies estimate more than 100,000 people in the region have been displaced since May.
A spokesman for the refugee agency says it is working with local partners to distribute relief supplies, including sheets, sleeping mats and kitchen sets to those now fleeing South Waziristan.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.
Pakistan army begins ground assault on Taliban in South Waziristan
Pakistan’s army has begun a ground operation against Taliban militants in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border after weeks of air and artillery strikes.
Published: 7:59AM BST 17 Oct 2009
A senior government official said that the government and party leaders gave the military full backing on Friday, vowing to weed out militants and restore the writ of the state.
“The ground operation has begun,” said Tariq Hayat Khan, the secretary of Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun tribal regions. The army has said about 28,000 soldiers are in place to take on an estimated 10,000 hard-core Taliban. About 500 commandos arrived in the region on Friday, security officials said.
The army has stepped up its air and artillery attacks in recent days to soften up the militants’ defences while civilians have been fleeing.
The militants have launched a series of brazen attacks in the past 12 days, striking at the United Nations, the army headquarters, police and the general public, killing more than 150 people and apparently trying to stave off the army assault.
The head of the army, General Ashfaq Kayani briefed government and party leaders on Friday and they all agreed that the militants posed a serious threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the state.
“The national consensus is reaffirmed to establish and maintain the writ of the state to weed out these elements,” said a statement issued by the office of Yusuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister.
More than 80,000 civilians had fled from South Waziristan in anticipation of the offensive and the UN refugee agency said more people had left this week.
Earlier, a government official said authorities had imposed a curfew along roads in South Waziristan to protect forces moving towards militant strongholds.
Jag utha he sara watan, sathio, mujahido
Attacking South Waziristan
A gathering representing all the political parties in government and opposition has given Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Kayani the formal go-ahead to attack terrorist bases in South Waziristan. The decision to attack was taken by the politicians after a briefing by General Kayani in which he explained that the terrorists attacking in various parts of the country were sourced in South Waziristan and that their desperation was clearly owed to their weakened position.
General Kayani was of the opinion that this was the right moment to strike in the stronghold of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but the army needed complete support from the civilian government and the opposition to give its soldiers the kind of moral backing they needed to operate in their own territory. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani presided over the meeting that gave the general the clearance to launch the attack.
This is strategically the right time to go into South Waziristan where the state has in the past tried to parley the local warlords into peace. It first talked to a Wazir leader called Nek Muhammad but the peace accord did not last long, and Nek Muhammad was killed in 2004; it then negotiated peace with Baitullah Mehsud in 2005 but once again the agreement broke down, and Baitullah Mehsud was killed in 2009. Wary of talking peace from a position of weakness, the state waited till its position was strengthened on the ground by Operation Rah-e-Rast in Malakand.
South Waziristan is supposed to be the toughest terrain on which to fight any enemy. Its area is the largest among the FATA agencies, but its population is barely half a million compared to Malakand where it is 3 million. The population of South Waziristan has either fled the area in anticipation of the attack – which they have repeatedly but silently recommended to the army – or are in the process of doing so by moving towards Dera Ismail Khan in the NWFP.
For once the army is not responding in a knee-jerk manner to desperate initiatives taken by the terrorists; it is deciding what it will do and where and the TTP will have to respond to the choices the army will make on the battlefield. Also, the Pakistan Army will not be facing the enemy from a position of weakness, including a total lack of experience in fighting an irregular war. It will act based on the insights gained from operations in Malakand and Bajaur and will not be stricken by doubts about where it stood vis-à-vis the people of Pakistan.
The politicians may be divided over other matters but are united over the need for a military operation against the terrorists. There was a time when the opposition in parliament was actually not convinced by a military briefing and still recommended “talking” to the Taliban instead of taking them on in Malakand. The Pakistan Army sees no disadvantage in international disapproval of what it does but rightly concerns itself about the consent of the people of Pakistan as represented in parliament. The consensus expressed on Friday therefore will be the most certain guarantee for an operation “with full national conviction”.
Across the border, in Afghanistan, the Unites States and its NATO allies are wondering if they should continue their war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. President Barack Obama is wavering over whether to send in ten to sixty thousand additional troops to Afghanistan or think of formulating a strategy of exit by 2011. The South Waziristan operation will help the US decide not to leave Pakistan in the lurch again. It is the operation in Malakand – and its remarkable success in a short time – that has encouraged the West to think that it is possible to defeat terrorism.
The Kerry-Lugar legislation has emanated from a feeling of confidence in the ability of Pakistan to defeat the terrorists – despite the ill-advised language it used in the “conditionalities” set down in it, which actually communicated a lack of it. The operation in South Waziristan will decide a lot of things on the other side of the Durand Line. The US and its allies will have to take a close look at the new situation arising from the operation, they will have to respond to the possible relocation of the “foreign” terrorists back into Afghanistan and address Pakistan’s concerns about its security. (Daily Times)