The Pakistani Taliban has called the 10-week-old truce with the military “worthless” after the government launched an operation in the northern district of Dir.
The military launched the operation in Dir yesterday with the deployment of members of the Frontier Corps in a region that hosts the home town of radical cleric Sufi Mohammad.
The Pakistani military is claiming success in the Dir operation, reporting that 46 Taliban fighters and two Taliban commanders, and only one soldier were killed during fighting over the past two days. The military said a Taliban leader named Maulana Shahid and four of his aides were among those killed during the fighting. The reports could not be confirmed.
One Frontier Corps trooper was killed and two more were wounded after the Taliban ambushed a convoy moving through Dir. Taliban fighters also captured a major and his driver.
The Dir operation was launched by the poorly armed and trained paramilitary Frontier Corps. Units from the Chitral and Dir Scouts are being reinforced by local police. Army helicopter gunships and artillery are targeting Taliban camps. But as in past military operations in the northwest, the civilian population has borne the brunt of the devastation as the military pounds population centers in an attempt to minimize military casualties.
The regular Pakistani Army is sitting out the fight in Dir, just as it has in the majority of the operations in Pakistan’s northwest.
“The Army leadership and General Kiyani [the Chief of Army Staff] in particular fear that battling the Taliban will split the officer corps and the rank and file,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “There is significant support or sympathizers in the military for the Taliban and other Pakistani jihadi organizations. A full on fight [with the Taliban] might force them to take sides.”
The government signed a peace agreement, known as the Malakand Accord, with Sufi in mid-February. The agreement ended military operations in Swat and permitted the imposition of Islamic law in the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, and Kohistan.
In past operations in Waziristan, Khyber, Peshawar, Mohmand, Arakzai, Kohat, Swat, Bajaur, and elsewhere, the military conducted short term operations and claimed success. But the Taliban would pull back from contested areas after heavy fighting and bleed back into the regions after the military withdrew.
The government is describing the Dir operation as a success. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the government is now in full control of Dir and “will not tolerate” a Taliban presence. But the military conducted the operation in only a small region in Dir.
While the military is describing the action in Dir as a sustained operation, Pakistani government officials are claiming there is no military operation underway, and that actions are targeting specific “militants.”
The Dir operation takes place as US officials are placing enormous pressure on the Pakistani government to tackle the Taliban sanctuaries that have blossomed in the northwest.
Taliban suspend talks with government
The Taliban brushed off government claims that the Dir operation was limited and said that it was suspending peace talks with the government.
“We are suspending talks with the government until the military operation in Dir is halted,” Ameer Izzat, a spokesman for Sufi Mohammad told Dawn. “Our council of leaders met on Sunday night and decided to suspend peace negotiations with the government in [the] Northwest Frontier Province.”
The Taliban claim the Sharia deal is still in effect. “We, however, still adhere to the February deal,” Izzat said.
At the same time, Muslim Khan, the Taliban spokesman for Swat’s Mullah Fazlullah, called the Malakand Accord “worthless” and threatened to widen operations in Pakistan.
“The more they carry out operations the more we will expand across Pakistan,” Khan said.
The Swat Taliban defeated the military three separate times since the fall of 2007 and have expanded Taliban control into Buner, Shangla, and Dir during recent operations.
The recent moves by the Taliban have put the local governments in Islamabad and Haripur on high alert. Islamabad’s deputy commissioner has deployed additional paramilitary Rangers to the hills just north of the city to block a potential advance, while security forces have upped the contingent at the strategic Tarbela Dam.
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