Delayed offensive wears at Pakistan's antiterror credibility
US envoy Richard Holbrooke Thursday defended the military, which has been launching 'softening up' operations in South Waziristan for more than a month.
Doubts are mounting that the Pakistani military will launch a promised ground offensive into the Taliban heartland of South Waziristan. The prolonged delay is threatening Pakistan's already shaky credibility on battling Islamic militants in its territory.Skip to next paragraph
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The military says it's softening up the region with airstrikes, but analysts and even a top leader in the ruling coalition say that could be the end of the effort.
"These are mere mock operations in order to convince NATO as well as the United States of America that Pakistan is very serious against the extremists," says Lateef Afridi, a central committee member of the Awami National Party, a coalition partner of the government.
Instead, he says, Pakistani leaders are protecting the militants as proxy fighters in Afghanistan and a lure for Americans to "give them dollars."
'They've got their hands full'
Since signing on to the US "war on terror" in 2001, Pakistan has struggled to convince the world it has severed all ties with homegrown Islamic militants. Islamabad built up credibility with its recent operation in Swat – a gain now threatened by the failure to knock out Swat Taliban leaders as well as the delay on South Waziristan.
Washington dispatched regional envoy Richard Holbrooke to Islamabad this week in a bid, analysts say, to check up on military planning and progress. At a press conference Thursday, Mr. Holbrooke said he asked Pakistan to go after Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban leaders based in South Waziristan and Swat, respectively.
Yet he also publicly gave the Army the benefit of the doubt regarding the delay.
"I think they've got their hands full in Swat and Buner," said Holbrooke. "They've got to make sure when the refugees come back that they have security, so maybe they're delaying the offensive."
'Softening up' phase drags on
The idea of a South Waziristan offensive began in May. The military had just launched its ground invasion into Swat and Buner districts, routing Taliban forces and seemingly finding a groundswell of popular support. A buoyant President Asif Ali Zardari pledged that soon the offensive would expand to South Waziristan.