Pakistan’s Daily Times reports Pakistani security services plan on offensive in North and South Waziristan. Baitullah Mehsud is a target.
Since the secret signing of the South Waziristan agreement that ceded control of the agency to the Taliban in the spring of 2006, and the subsequent signing of the ‘Waziristan Accord’ which also turned over control of North Wazirstan to the terrorists in the summer of 2006, the security situation in the Northwest Frontier province and beyond has dramatically deteriorated. The Pakistani government believed it could deter the Taliban and confine al Qaeda to the tribal areas. Instead, the Northwest Frontier Province and greater Pakistan have witnessed at string of targeted murders, suicide attacks and strikes against Pakistan military and government representatives as the Taliban and al Qaeda had the basing and security to expand their operations inside Pakistan and in Afghanistan. But all of this may change, if a report published in the Daily Times that the Pakistani military will initiate operations in North and South Waziristan is true.
“The government has ordered the deployment of thousands of paramilitary personnel across the tribal areas ahead of a major offensive in the volatile South and North Waziristan agencies to hunt for “high value” terrorist targets,” The Daily Times reported. The Pakistani government is deploying 2,000 troops from the Frontier Corps, and another 2,000 from the Levies. The Pakistani Army is marshaling “to begin a grand operation in the troubled Waziristan tribal region to hunt down al Qaeda and Taliban militants, including Baitullah Mehsud, who is holed up in the area.”
“The meeting [to determine the Waziristan Offensive] was held at the Interior Ministry with Interior Secretary Syed Kamal Shah in the chair,” the Daily Times notes. “NWFP Governor Ali Muhammad Jan Orakzai, the States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) secretary, Crisis Management Cell (CMC) Director General Brig Javed Iqbal Cheema and other senior officials of the Interior Ministry attended the meeting.” The tribal administrators have been ordered to seal off the agencies.
An American military intelligence source informs us the intelligence community is skeptical of the Pakistan’s capacity and will to actually carry out such an offensive. The Pakistani military was mired in heavy fighting in the tribal areas during 2004 through 2006, and is estimated to have lost upwards of 3,000 soldiers in the fighting. Musharraf is far more weakened politically, and could not even get the air force to conduct a strike in Islamabad to killed two wanted Taliban ideologues, who were able to convince many Army officers to reject the fight in Waziristan.
The signing of the Waziristan Accords was largely due to the military’s unwillingness to continue the fierce fight in the region. The Taliban an al Qaeda have had time to recruit, arm, train and rest its forces. An intelligence source estimates upwards of 200,000 Taliban and tribal fighters are at the disposal of the Taliban in North and South Waziristan. Baitullah Mehsud commands 30,000 loyal to him alone. The Pakistani military will face a far more formidable opponent this time around.
The talk of operations in Waziristan comes at a time when the Taliban and al Qaeda have conducted a suicide campaign and attacks on government forces. Today, “two pro-government tribal leaders were killed in a roadside bomb attack” in Bajaur agency, and another seriously wounded. This follows a week of suicide attacks in Islamabad, Peshawar, Mir Ali and Dera Ishmail Khan.
Musharraf is in a bind. He has lost control over significant portions of the Northwest Frontier Province. Quetta and large chunks of Baluchistan remains a Taliban hotbed. NATO is pressuring the Pakistani government to reign in the Taliban and al Qaeda. He is slowly losing control over his military. The Taliban and al Qaeda have grown bold, and are conducting a suicide campaign across the country. Musharraf is weak, and is stuck between confronting the Taliban and al Qaeda now, or slowly losing a grip on power. A forray into Waziristan can very well accelerate his demise.
See The Fall of Waziristan: An Online History for more information.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.