As the Pakistani Army continues its massive offensive against the Taliban's base in South Waziristan, top US officials including CENTCOM chief David Petraeus and Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, are meeting with military and civilian leaders here. While the Army's action is in line with US encouragement to rout out the militants, key differences appear to remain between the US and Pakistan on how to tackle the insurgency.
On Monday, Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani urged the US to speed up delayed payments of more than $1 billion to support its military and called on the US and NATO to stop infiltration from Afghanistan into Pakistan.
US critics, meanwhile, have accused Pakistan of only targeting those insurgents that it feels represent a threat to its own security while ignoring the rest – or disputing the strength of their presence in Pakistan.
For example, the Pakistani military says a high-profile militant network – termed by the top US general in Afghanistan as the second-greatest threat to US forces there – is not in fact based on Pakistani soil.
Maj Gen. Athar Abbas, the Pakistan Army spokesman, told the Monitor that the Haqqani network, which has been connected to an attack on the Kabul Serena hotel and a failed assassination attempt on President Karzai "mainly operates from Afghanistan." The network is believed by most Western analysts to be headquartered in North Waziristan.
Read more about the Haqqani network here.
Pakistan's new offensive, involving some 28,000 troops. is focused in South Waziristan. Seventy-eight militants have been killed, as well as nine troops, the military announced on Monday.
According to a senior political analyst at a Western embassy, the United States at this stage will be seeking to show its support for Pakistan rather than telling its leaders to attack elsewhere.
"[Gen.] Petraeus and [Gen.] McChrystal understand that opening up on other fronts wouldn't benefit the Pakistan Army and they can afford to ignore the smaller guns – like Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir – for the time being," he says, in reference to two militant commanders known for conducting cross-border raids against coalition forces in Afghanistan.
Kerry's $7.5 billion aid plan
On Monday, Senator Kerry met with President Zardari to discuss the Kerry-Lugar bill which is to provide Pakistan with $7.5 billion in nonmilitary aid over the next five years. The bill has proved controversial in Pakistan because of fears that it will diminish Pakistan's sovereignty. Pakistan's main opposition party, the PML-N, has opposed the aid outright.
The Western embassy analyst called Kerry's visit "a gesture of the highest level of goodwill that a former presidential candidate and the coauthor of this bill is visiting to personally explain it in detail."
Search for trainer of suicide bombers
In South Waziristan, soldiers continued to press ahead into Taliban territory and have now encircled the town of Kotkai, home to Taliban commander Qari Hussain, who is known as the "master of suicide bombers." Despite months of advance notice about the start of the operation, the military believes high-value targets, crucial to the dismantling of the Tehreek-e-Taliban terror network, are still in the area, according to Abbas.
The refugee crisis continues to worsen as residents flee the region. Some 160,000 people are now registered as displaced, according to Faiysal Khan, director of FIDA, an aid organization based in the town of Dera Ismail Khan, where most residents have fled.
Mr. Khan told the Monitor that the influx of refugees was placing a burden on the impoverished town that's already low on food and water and that the construction of refugee camps – which the government failed to prepare despite months of publicity surrounding the operation – now seems likely.