The Taliban Consolidates Power in Pakistan as Violence Increases in Afghanistan
Yesterday's rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy and NATO's International Security Assistance Force compound in Kabul, Afghanistan highlights the increased level of violence throughout the country. Coalition and Afghan troop have seen a marked increase in suicide bombings, IED (roadside bombing) attacks and platoon and company-sized attacks from Taliban fighters over the past year. The Taliban's latest springtime offensive is now in full swing.
In the latest attempt to stem the violence, Coalition and Afghan troops launched Operation Mountain Lion in the Pech River Valley in Kunar Province, which borders Pakistan's Bajaur agency. Over forty Taliban were killed during the operation. The Pakistani Army reportedly has deployed paramilitary troops "along the border stretching from Dir Lower to Dir Upper and Chitral districts" to halt the flow of Taliban across the border during the operation. The Bajaur tribal agency hosts al Qaeda and Taliban infiltration routes into Afghanistan. The agency is also the scene of air strikes in the village of Damadola, where U.S. Predator drones struck at a meeting of al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. Ayman al-Zawahiri was thought to be in attendance but missed the dinner. Five senior commanders, including Abu Khabab al-Masri, the head of al Qaeda WMD committee are believed to have been killed in the strike.
A segment of the violence can be attributed to Coalition and Afghan Army's push into previously uncharted territories within Kandahar, Urguzan, Kunar and Helmand Provinces. The Coalition and Afghan forces are now making contact with the enemy. The Taliban are attempting to fracture the Coalition, and believe they can run up the body count and force the Canadians to withdraw. "We think that when we kill enough Canadians, they will quit war and return home," said Taliban spokesman Qari Yuosaf Ahmedi. The narcotics trade is also a major source of conflict, as Robert Charles noted last January. The drug lords are finding common cause with the Taliban as the Coalition and Afghan government seek to eradicate the poppy crops.
But the increased violence and regeneration of the Taliban in Afghanistan cannot be viewed as a strictly Afghan problem. The Taliban is reconstituting in Pakistan's lawless North West Frontier Province. The Taliban have been massing in large formations and have essentially taken control of the North and South Waziristan agencies, while consolidating power in the Tank, Khyber and Peshawar agencies. The Pakistani Army is essentially confined to the two garrisons in Miranshah (North Waziristan) and Wana (South Waziristan). The Taliban has openly declared Shariah law in North and South Waziristan and usurped power from the local tribes. Two tribesmen have been beheaded, Zarqawi-style, for "working as US spies." Eight Pakistani paramilitary troops were killed and twenty-two wounded in an ambush near Miranshah, and eight 'miscreants' [Taliban/al Qaeda] were killed in the ensuing firefight.
The Pakistani Army has been conducting air strikes against al Qaeda and Taliban camps, and has claimed the Taliban and al Qaeda have taken heavy casualties. While these accounts are likely true, Pakistan has gone to great lengths to hide their own casualties. Pakistan's Daily Times indicates "Taliban forces have so far killed 150 pro-government tribal Maliks in the North and South Waziristan Agencies and are openly challenging the writ of the government by engaging a number of security forces' personnel in the area." A source supposedly privy to a high level Cabinet meeting also indicates "the 'Talibnisation' of Waziristan was damaging other parts of the NWFP and that the local 'Maliks' and political administration had been limited to their houses and offices..."
"The Taliban's sphere of influence has expanded to [the tribal agencies of] DI Khan [Dera Ismail Khan], Tank and the Khyber Agency, where clerks of the area have started to join them. There has been a sharp increase in attacks on heavily-defended military targets in these areas as well," according to Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao.
Steven Emerson aptly explained the status of Pakistan in the Global War on Terror, "[Pakistan] is both an ally and it's an "anti-ally," so to speak. It has been helpful. It's also been detrimental." The Taliban's consolidation of power in the tribal belt is a major detriment, and a problem the Musharraf government can no longer ignore.