The Pakistani military said today it would not conduct any new offensive operations against the Taliban in the northwest this year, and claimed its forces are “overstretched” in the fights in Swat and South Waziristan. The news breaks as the military agreed to a peace agreement with the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan.
The statements, made by Major General Athar Abbas, the top spokesman for the Pakistani military, come as the US is urging the South Asian nation to step up pressure against the Haqqani Network and allied Taliban groups in North Waziristan.
“We are not going to conduct any major new operations against the militants over the next 12 months,” Abbas told the BBC.
“The Pakistan army is overstretched and it is not in a position to open any new fronts,” Abbas continued. “Obviously, we will continue our present operations in Waziristan and Swat.”
The Pakistani Army’s announcement is sure to anger the United States, which has been lobbying the Pakistani government and its military to expand their operations and target Taliban groups outside the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, such as the Haqqani Network. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is currently in Pakistan seeking to convince government officials to exert more pressure against the Haqqani Network.
But powerful elements within Pakistan’s military and intelligence services still view the Haqqani family and groups led by Hafiz Gul Bahadar in North Waziristan and Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan as ‘good Taliban,’ as these groups do not overtly threaten the Pakistani state. The Haqqanis, Bahadar, and Nazir do not advocate attacks against the Pakistani military and government. Yet these same Taliban groups host al Qaeda and other South and Central Asian jihadist outfits who conduct attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as against targets in the West.
During his recent visit to India, Secretary Gates explained the danger of Pakistan’s policy of selectively targeting certain Taliban groups while excluding others.
“It’s dangerous to single out any one of these groups and say if we could beat that group that will solve the problem,” Gates said, according to The Washington Post. “Because they are, in effect, a syndicate of terrorist operators.”
Gates also said that the groups pool their resources and talent under the aegis of al Qaeda and are “orchestrating” terror attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
These terror groups have sought shelter with the Taliban in Pakistan’s lawless northwest, where the Taliban are conducting a deadly insurgency.
The Taliban still control vast tracts of Pakistan’s tribal areas and regions in the Northwest Frontier Province, despite the Pakistani military operations in Swat and South Waziristan. While the military has had success in restoring a semblance of order in Swat, the operation in South Waziristan has targeted only the Mehsud tribal areas, leaving Mullah Nazir’s forces intact in the Wazir tribal areas to the West.
In Mohmand and Bajaur, the military declared victory in March 2009, but the Taliban were never driven from their strongholds. Arakzai, Khyber, and Kurram remain Taliban bastions despite limited operations by the paramilitary Frontier Corps backed by airstrikes. Regions in the settled districts of Bannu, Hangu, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Karak, Lakki Marwat, and Kohat are under Taliban control [see LWJ report and map, “Map of Taliban control in Pakistan’s northwest – October 2009”].
The Pakistani government has also signaled it is seeking to disengage from the fighting in South Waziristan. Yesterday, the Press Trust of India and Daily Times reported that the Mehsud tribes agreed to demands by the government to turn in Hakeemullah Mehsud and 377 other wanted Taliban leaders and fighters. The tribes also agreed to expel “foreigners” (a reference to al Qaeda), stop carrying heavy weapons, and obey the writ of the government.
While on the surface this agreement with the Mehsud tribe will be viewed as a success, the Pakistani government has come to numerous agreements such as this one with the tribes and even the Taliban in the past. These agreements have only led to the strengthening of the Taliban. The military has traditionally withdrawn from areas and ended operations after cutting such deals with the tribes.
Past peace agreements in North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, Swat, Mohmand, Khyber, Bannu, Tank, Kohat, and elsewhere have called for the very same things now being demanded of the Mehsuds in South Waziristan. In every case, the tribes have failed to abide by the agreements.
A very similar demand was made to the tribes in Bajaur last March. The tribes were to turn over Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Bajaur Taliban and the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, and other Taliban leaders. But Faqir is still free and leading attacks in Bajaur. He was even spotted at an official dinner in Swat after the signing of the Malakand Accord in February 2009. Several months later, Faqir temporarily assumed control over the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan until they selected a new leader, Hakeemullah Mehsud, following the death of Baitullah Mehsud in a US airstrike in South Waziristan in early August 2009.
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.