Taliban insurgency expands into Punjab

Click map for full view. Taliban presence, by district and tribal agency, the Northwest Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies. Information on Taliban presence obtained from open source and derived by The Long War Journal based on the presence of Taliban shadow governments, levels of fighting, and reports from the region. Map created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal.

The Pakistani Taliban has expanded its insurgency beyond the Northwest Frontier Province after its forces assaulted a police checkpoint in a district in Punjab province.

Seven policemen were killed in the complex attack on a police checkpoint in the district of Mianwali in Punjab. The attack took place in the early morning when Taliban fighters detonated a bomb outside of what was described as an "an important checkpoint" in the region. The Taliban assault force then opened fire on the policemen, killing all seven manning the outpost. The police checkpoint "was completely shattered in the offensive," Geo News reported.

The Mianwali district borders the district of Lakki Marwat in the Northwest Frontier Province. Taliban forces loyal to Baitullah Mehsud are active in Lakki Marwat and control most of the region.

The attack in Mianwali took place just two days after a suicide bomber killed more than 30 civilians and wounded more than 50 in Dera Ghazi Khan, also in Punjab province. The attack took place outside a mosque during a Shia religious procession. The bombing sparked riots in the district.

Dera Ghazi Khan borders the district of Dera Ismail Khan, which borders the Taliban controlled districts of South Waziristan, Tank, and Lakki Marwat.

Last year, Baitullah Mehsud had threatened to wage "jihad" and turn the provinces of Sindh and Punjab "into a furnace" if the operations in northwestern Pakistan did not cease.

The Taliban have also stepped up attacks along NATO's supply route through the northwest for its forces in Afghanistan. A bomb detonated on a vital bridge in Khyber closed the route on Feb 3. On Feb. 5, the Taliban said it would shut down NATO's supply lines if the Pakistani Army's offensives in Khyber and Swat did not end. The Pakistani military responded by striking a Taliban ammunition depot in Khyber. The military claimed 52 Taliban were killed in the attack.

The Pakistani government has downplayed the situation in the northwest and claimed the insurgency has been tamped down in Bajaur and under control in Swat. On Jan.30, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said the Taliban and al Qaeda have largely been driven from much of the tribal areas. "We are genuinely attacking the targets and the most areas have already been cleared of the terrorists," Gilani said. He also claimed that al Qaeda operatives are no longer present inside Pakistan.


READER COMMENTS: "Taliban insurgency expands into Punjab"

Posted by KW64 at February 7, 2009 4:10 PM ET:

Hopefully the Taliban's reach exceeds its grasp.

Bill, what do we know about where the Taliban's money comes from?

Posted by Micah at February 8, 2009 1:24 AM ET:

I would also like to know and have been wondering about this for some time. Where are they drawing financial support from? Clearly, in places like Swat the Taliban do not have the wide range of public support they used to have (at least thats the impression I get) and usually that is a must for any insurgency to survive strongly in its local area of dominance. So where is their financial support coming from?!? When I was in Swat and other nearby areas, the local concensus amongst Pashtos is that these were not "true" taliban, and foreign intelligence agencies were involved, like Indian intel and even theories of Mosad. However, they didn't really have any reason WHY, and seemed like just a conspiracy theory. But who knows. I would be interested to know more about this.

Posted by Raj Kumar at February 8, 2009 12:26 PM ET:

I for am glad that Taliban are extending their area of operation. My reasoning is very simple, I have been asking for the last 5 years for Pakistan as a nation or what remains of it to be to isolated from the world and people have not listened to my advice.

Well now perhaps once the Taliban control the Punjabi heartland of Pakistan then people will begin to take me seriously and the western world will take public action to remove the nuclear weapons currently in Pakistan's posseion.

Posted by Render at February 8, 2009 4:52 PM ET:

KW64 - I would say the bulk of their funding is drug money, followed by individual donations from Saudi and Gulf States patrons, and then the ISI.


Posted by m3fd at February 8, 2009 7:59 PM ET:

I'd agree with your funding assesment. We the individuals in the Gulf states that are funding the madrasses. This current cycle of jihad won't end until someone eliminates those funding sources.

Posted by KW64 at February 8, 2009 9:07 PM ET:

Re: Render comment 4

That certainly sounds plausible. So the next question is, if we can surge in Afghanistan and gain some real control there, can we start to control the drug money supply?

Posted by Render at February 9, 2009 2:51 AM ET:

KW64: I'm actually not a fan of the term "Surge" I tend to think of what's being called a surge by its traditional name - counter-attack.

I don't know that a multi-province Iraq style surge of additional troops would be all that helpful considering the current supply issues.

Replacing the NATO forces that have non-combat rules of engagement with less restricted Allied units would be very helpful though. This would allow the Coalition the freedom and manpower to conduct mini-surges within various individual provinces as needed while not putting an additional strain on the already shaky logistics routes.

The bulk of that drug trade (indeed the bulk of the world's heroin and hashish drug trade since the mid 1990's) is coming out of Helmand Province and that is the explanation (and sole reason) for why the Taliban/al-Q has fought so hard for that province since 2006.

Supply lines threats work both ways.

A mini-surge in Helmand Province puts the crimp on a significant amount of the Talib/al-Q funding. Other border provinces such as Kandahar (opposite the Khojak Pass), Paktika, Paktia, and Nangarhar (opposite the Khyber Pass) provinces can be mini-surged at random intervals and as needed.

Much of the pre-2004 Golden Chain financial support seems to have dried up due to US legal and political efforts and I suspect that much of al-Q's skimming from various Islamic charities is also drying up as well after their disaster in Iraq and multiple failures in other theatres. ISI never really had a lot of money to give away, but they did (still do) have equipment, weapons, and access to Taliban training locations.

Secure Helmand and eradicate the poppy fields. Protect the tribal farmers and continue helping them to find another cash crop. Make those farming tribes happy and safe in Helmand and we'll likely see an Afghan Awakening of sorts while at the same time squeezing al-Q's financial supply lines ever tighter.

It's all a lot harder then it sounds though. The British have been struggling in Helmand for some time and it's not that they're bad soldiers, far from it, but their equipment is somewhat lacking at all levels and their leaderships morale fortitude seems a tad off at times. One Air Landing brigade in the crucial Helmand Province was clearly not enough.

We're currently looking at a situation where before too very much longer US troops may have to be used to secure the vital Khyber and Khojak Passes deep inside Pakistani territory. And attempts to secure the Khyber Pass traditionally don't work out real well (see Kipling).


Posted by Rhyno327 at February 9, 2009 8:46 AM ET:

That map is turning red faster and faster. How can we supply all the troops that are going to be sent? P-stan is on its way to an islamic theocracy-with nuclear weapons. A bad situation all the way around.

Posted by Hugh at February 9, 2009 11:17 AM ET:

I fear the State of Pakistan is going to have to fail and fall into a civil war before the end of this Taliban/AQ problem. Only then will the Pakistani government and people clearly draw a line in the sand and get serious about fighting this scourge of an ideology. No more ridiculous "peace agreements" with the Taliban and AQ. Those are only used to regroup and rearm.

Posted by KW64 at February 9, 2009 2:08 PM ET:


Thanks for the thoughtful response. I hope our "counter-attack" does not get delayed from indecision at the top.

Securing the two major passes from inside Pakistan with coalition forces will be politically as well as militarily dicey.

Posted by lcronin at February 10, 2009 8:46 PM ET:

The conflict with the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan is becoming increasingly complex as the Taliban gains power. As previous respondents have mentioned, the Taliban appears to be loosing support in some areas while seemingly remaining strong. Even without local support, the Taliban is able to fund its attacks through a combination of drug money and foreign donations, primarily from the Gulf region. Since the drug market is more lucrative abroad, the Taliban needs to ensure it has access to shipping routes in order to export the drugs and ensure continued funding. Therefore, while Taliban activities in Pakistan may be an attempt to spread their influence, perhaps even more important to their cause is the guarantee of shipping routes to export their drugs.

The Taliban benefits from the chaos its presence in Pakistan creates for a variety of reasons. By engaging the government militarily and launching sporadic yet devastating attacks, such as the one mentioned in this article, the Taliban ensures governmental forces are too preoccupied with security or unable to monitor all the trading routes. This enables the Taliban to continue funding its operations and offers another motive for them to continue the conflict: financial gains. If the Taliban looses its fight, it will not only fail to spread its extreme ideology, but also loose its primary income. Given that many of the fighters will likely scatter and find themselves without a livelihood, they have a vested interest in ensuring they defend the regional trading routes.

Other conflicts, such as the fighting over diamond mines in Angola between UNITA and government forces, have seen these economic factors play a role in prolonging conflict. In this situation, even when a peace offer was agreed upon, the conflict continued partially due to the insurgents' desire to keep their lucrative trade going. However, while these economic factors can prolong a conflict, they also make the insurgents incredibly weak since they draw their funding from one main source. As other respondents have mentioned, surges or possible "mini-surges" could be extremely effective in this situation. Cut off the Taliban's access to trading routes or attack their drugs fields, and the Taliban will be significantly weakened. Of course, this will be a lot more complicated than implied here, and since I have limited knowledge of military strategy, I am not sure the feasibility of such an attack. However, it flows logically that instead of engaging the Taliban in small skirmishes whenever they attack, which seem to cause little harm to the core of the organization, it would be more effective to attack the Taliban's funding. Without the funding, the Taliban will be significantly weakened and perhaps put in a position to finally be removed.

Posted by KHWAJA AFTAB SHAH, Florida, USA at April 24, 2009 9:08 AM ET:

The people of BHAKKAR district have elected a chief minister of Punjab and a prime minister of Pakistan in different elections. Although a goup of local leaders sponcer the occasion and personally benefited by this gesture but basically the people of Bhakkar elected these leaders in hope of a better Bhakkar. It's requested to the prime minister of Pakistan and chief minister of Punjab to please consider upgrading Bhakkar as a divisional head quarter by appointing a commissioner to provide better governance, extra facilities and security in the area. There are news that religious violence and drug smuggling is increased in the area recently. Bhakkar is a gate way to the Punjab and Sind provinces for NWFP and Afghanistan. Bhakkar has been head quarters of divisional level organization of Thal Development Authority since 1952. TDA was abolish in 1971 on corruption charges against it's high officials. Bhakkar is also a border district to Dera Ismail Khan and a capital city of Thal desert area-spread in six districts in Punjab. Thanking you, Khwaja Aftab Shah,Florida, U.S.A