Pakistan Army takes fight to Taliban in South Waziristan
Gen. David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, is due to arrive in Islamabad on Monday for talks with Pakistani commanders.
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"They are basically out-sourced Al Qaeda fighters, they are dedicated and fierce and allow Hakimullah to stamp his authority," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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How this offensive will be different
The Army will be familiar with the terrain having conducted operations in South Waziristan in 2004, 2005 and 2008, only to later retreat or negotiate peace deals with the enemy.
However, unlike in those years, the Army will benefit from the backing of the public and soldiers no longer feel they are fighting a war that is not theirs, says Qadir. "In earlier incursions, you had an instance where 208 soldiers surrendered to only a handful of militants. It was a moral revolt – they felt it was [former military ruler] Musharraf's war," he says.
The military will also benefit from air cover, greater numbers, assistance from the United States in terms of night-vision equipment, and the fact it has managed to keep onboard other powerful militant commanders in the region, including Maulvi Nazir in South Waziristan and Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan, who have pledged to remain neutral, says Dr. Rifaat Hussain, a security analyst at the Quaid-e-Azam university.
Still, their word cannot be entirely relied on given the fickle nature of militants loyalties. The enemy will be well dug in, on its home turf, and will benefit from a "short-supply line" from neighboring Afghanistan, adds Dr. Hussain.
Tens of thousands of refugees flee
The army will also be hoping to wrap-up the offensive before the onset of winter hampers troops and makes life unbearable for refugees fleeing the area. More than 100,000 residents have so far fled the fighting, Col. Basim Shahid of the Army support group told the media. A spokesperson for the United Nations told Express 24/7 that 21,000 refugees had been registered in the last five days alone.
A long, drawn out confrontation punctuated by ongoing terror attacks in major cities may also start to sap public opinion and lead to calls for a renewed cease-fire, according to some analysts.
Ayesha Siddiqa, author of "Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy" says that even if the military is eventually successful in its battle in the tribal regions, Pakistan will not be able to quell the threat of homegrown terrorism until it tackles the problem of militancy in southern Punjab. Militants from this region have long been trained by Pakistan's security forces to wage war in Kashmir but have in recent years developed deep links with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. They are still able to carry out their activities with relatively little scrutiny, she says.
Qadir, however, has a different view: "Southern Punjab is the hotbed of religious extremism. They provide fresh blood for the terrorists but the training for terrorists is in South Waziristan. There are no training facilities in Bahawalpur [a town in southern Punjab]."