The Pakistani military and the Taliban battled in the northern tribal agency of Bajaur after security forces launched an attack. More than 25 extremists were reported killed and 30 wounded after Pakistani forces targeted Taliban hideouts in the Loisam region in Bajaur with helicopter gunships and artillery, Geo News reported.
The Taliban struck back, killing one soldier in a roadside bomb attack. The Jaish-e-Islami, a splinter Taliban group in Bajaur, also claimed to have killed three security personnel.
The fighting began four days after a Pakistani TV station said operations would be launched against the Taliban in Bajaur and the neighboring Mohmand tribal agency. The Taliban overran several Frontier Corps outposts along the border with Afghanistan in late July, and fighting over a TV booster substation has been ongoing for the past week. Three military checkpoints were overrun on Aug. 5. In early July, the Taliban took over two girls’ schools in Bajaur and turned them into madrassa.
Pakistan’s current operation in Swat
The fighting in Bajaur occurs as the Pakistani military is in the midst of its latest offensive in Swat. The fighting in the settled district of the Northwest Frontier Province began on July 30, after the Taliban continually attacked security forces and civilians alike. More than 60 girls’ schools have been torched in Swat this past year, in spite of a peace agreement.
The provincial government ordered Pakistani forces to root out the Taliban, led by Mullah Fazlullah. “We have been given three months to clean up the area,” an unnamed government official told Dawn.
The military claimed more than 100 Taliban fighters, including two senior leaders, have been killed during the current fighting. The Taliban disputes the government’s casualty figures. In the past, the Pakistani military has inflated enemy casualties while hiding its own casualties during operations.
On Aug. 6, security forces killed Ali Bakht, Fazlullah’s deputy, along with 13 Taliban fighters. Bakht was in charge of peace negotiations with the government. The Taliban confirmed Bakht’s death.
On July 31, Pakistani security forces killed Maulvi Hussain Ali, who is also known as Toor Mullah. Ali was “very popular with the militants throughout the region” as well as “Afghanistan’s Taliban and al Qaeda fugitives,” Daily Times reported. He provided shelter for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.
A fight to the finish, or prelude to more peace deals?
The current offensive in Swat and the apparent operation in Bajaur comes as Pakistan has come under enormous pressure from the US government for failing to halt the spread of extremist control of the border regions.
It is unclear if the Pakistani government and military plan on defeating the Taliban in Bajaur and Swat. The current operations, which have been launched in a manner that fails to simultaneously pressure the Taliban’s network in the northwest, indicate the government does not seek to strike a decisive blow. As pressure increases in one district or tribal agency, the Taliban are able to retreat to neighboring regions and return once the Army withdraws.
If the past is any indication, the current operations will be short-lived, inconclusive, and end in “peace” negotiations. The military operations launched in 2007 and 2008 have failed to defeat the Taliban. Recent offensives in Khyber and Hangu ended after less than two weeks of fighting, and resulted in peace agreements that gave the Taliban free rein in the regions.
Swat has been the one region where the government has been willing to fight. The government fought a protracted, five-month battle with the Taliban in Swat from November 2007 through March 2008. This was the most serious effort to uproot the Taliban, yet it still resulted in a “peace” agreement in May of this year.
At the beginning of the current offensive in Swat, a government official said the desired the endgame is more negotiations, not the Taliban’s defeat. “We will revive the [Swat peace] agreement when the militants accept our terms,” the official told Dawn.
Background on recent peace agreements between the government and the Taliban
The security situation in northwestern Pakistan and in neighboring Afghanistan has rapidly deteriorated since the government initiated its latest round of peace accords with the Taliban and allied extremists in the tribal areas and settled districts in the Northwest Frontier Province. Peace agreements have been signed with the Taliban in North Waziristan, Swat, Dir, Bajaur, Malakand, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, and Hangu.
The Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied terrorist groups have established more than 100 terror camps in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal.
On July 23, Prime Minister Syed Yusaf Raza Gilani and his cabinet were told that more than 8,000 foreign fighters were operating in the tribal areas.