Pakistan : Dangerous Diversions From FATA
That the terror attack on Mumbai was launched with multiple objectives has been evident for some time now. While the principal aim was to undermine India's growing regional and global clout and keep ambitions of the PPP leadership led by Zardari and Gillani under check, a lesser known facet of this military commando terrorist raid is diversion of international attention from the deteriorating situation in Pakistan's FATA or Federally Administered Tribal Area. The spreading influence of terrorism under state patronage cum neglect is thus likely to impact not just India but soon Europe and the United States. It is in the interest of the international community to ensure that Pakistan gives up its policy of using terrorism as an instrument of state policy and not insist on nominal actions to neutralize odd groups.
Examine the record of dangers from FATA over the past one month. 'Large areas of Bajaur and Mohmand agencies have been cleared. The writ of the state will be restored by the end of this month, and both the agencies will come under complete control of the government,' said Frontier Corps (FC) Inspector General Maj Gen Tariq Khan. However reports from the ground denoted otherwise.
The Taliban have found a new pressure point to contain NATO counter militancy efforts in Afghanistan. This was the supply convoys. On 1 Dec militants attacked trucks ferrying supplies for NATO, killing two people and destroying a dozen vehicles. The destruction reached an apogee when 150 vehicles carrying supplies for Afghanistan were attacked on 7 Dec on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar. Another attack followed the very next day where 100 vehicles were torched. The Taliban has been targeting NATO convoys over the past many months and these strikes have been the most brazen, which was not contemplated as it has happened in what could be called as a reasonably secured zone. This indicates that the Taliban and the Al Qaeda continue to have a strong presence despite the operations being carried out by the army.
The strikes on vehicles continued throughout the month and on 13 December a NATO supply depot in northwest Pakistan, was attacked destroying 11 trucks and 13 containers bound for Afghanistan. A local police officer, Mohammad, said it was difficult to protect the whole area around Peshawar, where 13 supply terminals used by the NATO and US-led forces are located. 'This time they came secretly, taking advantage of the darkness, without firing rockets or gunshots,' he said. On 17 December militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at NATO oil tankers carrying supplies for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Pakistani truckers association have said many truck drivers are refusing to carry supplies into Afghanistan because of the sharp rise in attacks along the route.
One of the key problems in Pakistan's relations with NATO is likely to be the supply chain which has been disrupted and would face further interruptions. While there is an alternative route from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, it will have to be endorsed by Russia. This would considerably reduce the leverage enjoyed by Pakistan. The focus of support for NATO could well shift from the South to the North to Central Asia. But the loss of revenue for Pakistan would also be quite significant and this may cause some concerns in Islamabad, leading to better security for the supply convoys in the days ahead.
The Awami National Party (ANP) government in the North West Frontier Province stated that the Taliban are building up in Jamrud in Khyber Agency, a territory not under its jurisdiction but which affects the city of Peshawar. There are fears that the Taliban based in tribal areas which are beyond the control of the ANP government will strike from their hides in Peshawar and retract to safe sanctuaries. The Federal government far removed from the situation finds itself helpless under these circumstances. Finally on 30 December Pakistani forces launched an offensive in Jamrud to target the terrorists using helicopter gun ships, tanks and artillery. Once stabilization of the route of supply takes place, convoy movement will be resumed.
The violence across the region also spread a pall of gloom. At least 22 people, including three children, were killed and 40 others injured in a powerful bomb blast targeting a prayer hall of the minority Shias in Peshawar on 5 December. The blast took place outside an Imambargah in the congested Kucha Risaldar area of the walled city. Five people were killed on 13 December when a roadside bomb exploded in the scenic Swat valley. 'It was a powerful blast, the car was badly damaged,' said an official.
In continuing violence, a suicide bomber pretending to need help with his car killed 34 people on 28 December in Buner, a district bordering Swat at a polling station during a bye election. The bombing of the polling station near Swat highlights the double dealing by Taliban groups in Pakistan which had professed to provide the army with fighters to combat India. Mehsud as well as Maulana Fazlullah had offered suicide bombers to the Pakistan army after the Mumbai attacks but were exposed with continued violence in FATA and Swat. The Taliban had also impressed the local population as patriots who may now see their real face as vile terrorists.
Pakistani forces counter Taliban strategy is now based on kinetic army operations with assistance from tribal lashkars. Operations by Pakistani security forces targeted the Taliban killing twenty-three people, including 15 Taliban and eight civilians, in Safi tehsil of Mohmand Agency on 3 December.
Pakistan has recruited tribesmen to become part of the Lashkar (tribal militia) to fight the militants. This would enable them to tackle the high level of violence effectively and also make up for deficiency of troops and their lack of training. However this is not likely to yield long term results as large parts of the frontier agencies in Pakistan are under the sway of the Taliban.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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