Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Waziristan: "a long haul"

As a part of the Pakistani army prepares to launch what may -- or may not -- be an imminent assault on Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud's forces in South Waziristan, and as a separate Taliban faction in North Waziristan announces its withdrawal from a 2007 peace deal, Pamela Constable reports in yesterday's Wash Post ("Pakistan Treads Warily as New Fight Looms," WP, 6/29, p.A8) that some observers are beginning to raise questions about the operation.

A retired Pakistani government official named Roedad Khan, writing in The News International paper, "recalled [a] 1930s operation in which 40,000 British and Indian forces failed to crush Mirza Ali Khan, known as the Fakir of Ipi, a religious and tribal leader in North Waziristan... [Roedad Khan] warned that by attacking next-door South Waziristan, the army could open a 'massive, self-inflicted wound.'"

Interviewed by Constable, a Pakistani army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, brushed aside such concerns, insisting that Mehsud is no longer seen "as a Robin Hood figure" by the public and that the terrain in S. Waziristan is more hospitable for an anti-militant campaign than the terrain in Swat, where the Pakistani army recently completed an operation against the Taliban and re-took the city of Mingora, albeit at the cost of creating some two million internally displaced people.

But the army spokesman conceded that problems will remain even if Mehsud is defeated. "'The tribal areas have been neglected for 50 years,' [Abbas] said. 'We will do our part, but there has to be follow-up by the civilian administration, better governance, more development. This is going to be a long haul.'"

That much seems pretty certain.

P.S. The continuing U.S. reliance on drone strikes in the border regions continues to raise controversy. More on this later.

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