Pakistan reports first militants killed in South Waziristan

As many as 50 died Saturday as the military prepares to officially launch an offensive in the Taliban stronghold.

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    Paramilitary troops keep position Sunday in Saidu Sharif, a town in Pakistan's Swat Valley.
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A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Pakistani officials reported the first militant casualties in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan Saturday since the Army began preparing an offensive there earlier this month. It is shifting focus to this tribal area as it wraps up another offensive to push the Taliban out of nearby Swat Valley.

The international community sees Pakistan's offensives as a test of its commitment to combating homegrown extremism. But observers caution that extremist violence is a nationwide problem that a military offensive may not be enough to end. Without a plan to secure territory it wrests from the Taliban and defend cities from reprisals, Islamabad may not succeed in weakening their influence.

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[See maps of Pakistan's tribal regions here and here]

Maj. Gen. Sajjad Ghani, who leads 20,000 troops in Swat, told The Associated Press Saturday that most operations there would be over within 10 days. That would pave the way for opening a second front in Waziristan, where army units have moved into strategic positions and shelled and bombed suspected targets. Fighting on Saturday killed as many as 50 militants – the "first known militant casualties in South Waziristan," according to AP.

South Waziristan is a remote and rugged stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud that is believed to be the hiding place of a number of Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders. The BBC reports that Pakistan's military "has said it wants to destroy Baitullah Mehsud's organisation and eliminate him."

There are conflicting casualty reports from the region. The BBC says "at least 44" were killed on Saturday, including six soldiers, in efforts to clear a route for army convoys. But AP reports that a military statement said 37 fighters died outside the town of Sarwaki, but also cited two officials who said 50 died in the villages of Barwand and Madijan.

Writing in a Pakistani newspaper, Daily Times, political analyst Hasan-Askari Rizvi called taking the fight to South Waziristan "a pre-requisite" for "rehabilitating the writ of the Pakistani state" and proving to the international community that it is serious about confronting extremism.

But in an article on ForeignPolicy.com, Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council, said that with 3 million displaced civilians it is going to take more than a military offensive to restore the writ of the state.

The bad news is that taking territory, as the military is doing now, is not enough. There is no effective civil or judicial system in place to speedily see to the needs of the population, nor is there an effective local police force to protect civilians from Taliban reprisals. We are still waiting to see any semblance of a government plan for dealing with the [internally displaced people's] return home. The Army is neither trained nor equipped for that task and cannot be expected to hold the areas that it clears.

The editorial board of Dubai-based Gulf News agrees, warning that the government must be prepared to defend Pakistan's cities against terrorist attacks that have struck far outside the tribal belt.

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