Pakistan’s prime minister and his closest adviser have claimed success against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Both men also vowed to wrest control of the district of Swat from extremist control. But reports from the region paint a less optimistic picture.
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 told the international media at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He also claimed al Qaeda operatives are no longer present inside Pakistan.
Rehman Malik, Gilani’s adviser on internal Pakistani security issues, also provided an upbeat assessment of the situation in the tribal areas. He claimed the Pakistani military has been successful in driving the Taliban from much of the tribal areas, including the Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold of Bajaur.
“We took action against them and in Bajaur, we arrested dozens of Afghan Taliban, Uzbek and Chechen nationals from there and succeeded to retake about 98 percent control of the area,” Malik said during a briefing to the Pakistani Senate.
Malik also claimed the Taliban would soon be driven from the settled district of Swat, where Mullah Fazlullah’s forces are in control and have declared a radical version of sharia, or Islamic Law. The “situation in Swat would be resolved soon and we would soon get deliverance from terrorists,” Malik said.
Earlier this week, the Pakistani military launched its third attempt to drive off the Taliban from Swat in two years. Malik claimed that the military has executed a “strategy shift” and now controls Swat’s main town of Mingora “and some important pockets.” Malik would not provide details on this shift in strategy.
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.
While Gilani and Malik touted the successes in the tribal areas and Swat, the situation in these regions is far worse than portrayed. The tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan remain Taliban bastions, dotted with al Qaeda training camps. The military has negotiated peace agreements with the powerful Haqqani, Mehsud, Bahadar, and Nazir Taliban factions in these agencies.
The Taliban recently declared sharia law in the agencies of Bannu and Arakzai, where they run effective parallel governments. The military has recently fought heavy battles with the Taliban in Arakzai and Mohmand but have failed to dislodge the extremist forces.
The Taliban and allied anti-Shia terror groups also control much of the Kurram tribal agency. The Shia are located in pockets in and around the town of Parachinar. Military forces based there will not intervene to end the sectarian wars.
In Khyber, Taliban forces have laid siege to NATO’s supply lines moving through the Khyber Pass. The attacks have forced the government to shut down the strategic road to Kabul four times over the past five months. Three military operations have failed to dislodge the Taliban, who control nearly all of the agency.
And in Bajaur, where Rehman claimed the government has defeated the Taliban, after six months of brutal fighting reminiscent of World War I trench warfare, the Taliban remain active. Some of the Taliban forces simply withdrew to the neighboring Mohmand tribal agency, the settled districts of Dir, Malakand, and Swat, or across the border in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. Taliban commander Faqir Mohammed and his senior commanders have evaded the operation.
Outside of the tribal agencies and Swat, the Taliban control or have a strong influence in 15 of the Northwest Frontier Province’s settled districts. The Taliban run the show in Tank, Bannu, and Hangu. The government negotiated peace deals with the Taliban in Lakki Marwat, Malakand, and Dir.
The Taliban have savaged shipping terminals that serviced NATO supply convoys in the provincial capital of Peshawar. The military has launched multiple operations to eject the Taliban since September, but these have been unsuccessful. The Taliban have murdered and kidnapped foreign dignitaries and aid workers in the city. Last week, Qari Hussain, a Taliban commander who runs suicide camps for children in South Waziristan, openly held a press conference in Peshawar. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s main council appointed a commander for Peshawar and nearby Mardan.
Charsadda and Kohat have been the scenes of violent battles and devastating suicide attacks. The Taliban laid siege to the Kohat Tunnel, the vital north-south link between Peshawar and the southern districts and agencies, several times during 2008. The tunnel was shut down for more than one month late last summer. One of the largest suicide attacks in Pakistan took place in a mosque in Charsadda. The Taliban have also crushed tribal opposition in Dir, Buner, Swat, Khyber, Aurakzai, and Mohmand.
Meanwhile, the Taliban and al Qaeda operate more than 150 terror camps in the northwest. Covert US airstrikes have killed seven senior al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan’s tribal areas since January 2008. Senior al Qaeda operatives and leaders remain in the northwest despite the US airstrikes and the uncoordinated Pakistani military operations that have failed to put pressure on the Taliban’s stranglehold of the northwest.
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