x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Is Pakistan defeating the Taliban?

As the Taliban loses control of the Swat Valley it steps up its attacks elsewhere. Meanwhile, the CIA is equipping Waziristan tribesmen with secret electronic transmitters to help target and kill al Qa'eda leaders.

As the Taliban appears to be losing control of the Swat Valley it is stepping up its attacks elsewhere in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the CIA is equipping Waziristan tribesmen with secret electronic transmitters to help target and kill al Qa'eda leaders. A Pakistani court's decision to release the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group that India blames for masterminding last November's Mumbai attacks will further strain the already frayed relations between India and Pakistan. "Over the weekend, the Pakistani army announced that it had taken control of Mingora, the main town in the country's Swat Valley, which has been the location of a major operation to counter and kill Taliban fighters," The Independent reported. "Capture of the town was both a considerable strategic gain and a major morale-booster. Such was the sense of excitement that a defence official, Syed Athar Ali, predicted that the entire valley could be cleared of militants in just two or three days. "Most experts believe he may have been a little too optimistic, but having secured Mingora the army is now pushing further into the valley. Some of the Taliban are apparently trying to escape through the mountains to the neighbouring Kalam valley. Officials admit it will take some time to restore essential services in Mingora, but they are hopeful that some of the town's 300,000 residents forced from their homes will start to return if they have confidence in the security situation." Time magazine noted: "Even before the army took Mingora, Taliban fighters in Swat and Buner had told journalists that they planned to retreat and preserve their forces. Meanwhile, they stepped up fighting elsewhere, with bomb attacks in Lahore, Peshawar and smaller towns far from Swat, and guerrilla assaults on army targets in South Waziristan. The disappearance of some 400 students in a bus convoy in North Waziristan on Monday prompted suspicions that they had been taken hostage by the Taliban. The military claims to have killed some 1,200 militants (out of an estimated force of up to 5,000), including some midlevel commanders - although it failed to net the top Taliban leaders in the area. No independent verification of those figures has been possible, although civilians leaving the area have reported high levels of civilian casualties. "The lasting impact of the military's Swat campaign, however, may well be the 3 million civilians it has displaced, left to largely fend for themselves in neighbouring towns and emergency camps. Aid agencies warn of an impending humanitarian disaster in Swat, where civilians who failed to flee have been cut off for days from food and water supplies; others languish in camps and sympathetic communities desperately short of resources. Many of those who have returned to areas cleared by the military have found their homes, stores and mosques reduced to rubble." BBC News later reported: "Dozens of students abducted by militants in the north-west of Pakistan have been released, the military and college staff say. "Several buses carrying students and staff were reported missing in an area near the Afghan border on Monday. "The vice principal of Razmak Cadet College told the BBC everybody seized in North Waziristan had been released." Meanwhile, Christian Science Monitor said: "A Pakistani court's decision to release the founder of a militant group that India blames for masterminding last November's Mumbai attacks will strike a blow to already strained Indian-Pakistani relations, according to analysts. "The order to release Hafiz Saeed - head of banned outfit Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) - from six months of house detention came Tuesday. It was met with cheers and cries of 'God is great!' by dozens of his followers at the Lahore High Court. " 'Praise be to God, we were granted justice,' Yahya Mujahid, a spokesman for the group told the Monitor." Reuters added: "Saeed was put under house arrest in early December after a UN Security Council committee added him and the Islamist charity he heads to a list of people and organisations linked to al Qa'eda or the Taliban. "Saeed founded the LeT militant group in 1990, and for years it battled Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir region. "Saeed stepped down as LeT leader shortly after India accused the group of being behind an attack on its parliament in December 2001. The group was banned in Pakistan in January 2002. "Until recently, the JuD had an extensive welfare network across Pakistan, funded by donations. It played a major role in helping survivors of a 2005 earthquake in northern mountains that killed 73,000 people. " 'His release raises serious doubts over Pakistan's sincerity in acting with determination against terrorist groups and individuals operating from its territory,' Vishnu Prakash, India's foreign ministry spokesman, said on Tuesday. "But Pakistan rejected comments as 'misplaced'. " 'The government of Pakistan is well aware of its obligations under national and international laws,' Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said in a statement. 'Polemics and unfounded insinuations cannot advance the cause of justice in civilised societies. Legal processes cannot and must not be interfered with.' " Reporting from Peshawar in the North-West Frontier Province, Declan Walsh said: "The CIA is equipping Pakistani tribesmen with secret electronic transmitters to help target and kill al Qa'eda leaders in the north-western tribal belt, in a tactic that could aid Pakistan's army as it takes the battle against extremism to the Taliban heartland. "As the army mops up Taliban resistance in the Swat valley, where a defence official predicted fighting would be over within days, the focus is shifting to Waziristan and the Taliban warlord Baitullah Mehsud. "But a deadly war of wits is already under way in the region, where tribesmen say the US is using advanced technology and old-fashioned cash to target the enemy. "Over the last 18 months the US has launched more than 50 drone attacks, mostly in south and north Waziristan. US officials claim nine of the top 20 al Qa'eda figures have been killed. "That success is reportedly in part thanks to the mysterious electronic devices, dubbed 'chips' or 'pathrai' (the Pashto word for a metal device), which have become a source of fear, intrigue and fascination. " 'Everyone is talking about it,' said Taj Muhammad Wazir, a student from south Waziristan. 'People are scared that if a pathrai comes into your house, a drone will attack it.' In April, NBC News reported on a video the Taliban had then released as a warning to anyone contemplating cooperating with US forces. " 'I was given $122 to drop chips wrapped in cigarette paper at al Qa'eda and Taliban houses,' confessed 19-year-old Habibur Rehman, just before the Taliban shot him dead for spying for the United States. 'If I was successful, I was told, I would be given thousands of dollars,' he said. "In a video released last week by the Taliban as a warning to other would-be spies, Rehman recounted how he was recruited to spy on the Taliban in North Waziristan and drop small transmitter chips on specific targets to call in CIA pilotless drone aircraft. " 'I thought this was a very easy job,' Rehman said in the video before he was killed. 'The money was good so I started throwing the chips all over. I knew people were dying because of what I was doing, but I needed the money.' " The Washington Post said: "Since last fall, the Predator drone attacks have eliminated about half of 20 US-designated 'high-value' al Qa'eda and other extremist targets along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, US and Pakistani officials said. But the attacks have also killed civilians, stoking anti-American attitudes in Pakistan that inhibit cooperation between Islamabad and Washington. " 'The need to establish a trusting, mutually beneficial US-Pakistan partnership is pressing, yet the ability to do so is severely challenged by current events,' army Gen David H Petraeus, head of US Central Command, wrote in a secret assessment on May 27. Petraeus's statement was declassified late last week so it could become part of the Obama administration's federal court appeal to block the release of detainee photographs showing abuse. The administration argues that the images would promote attacks against the United States worldwide. " 'Anti-US sentiment has already been increasing in Pakistan ... especially in regard to cross-border and reported drone strikes, which Pakistanis perceive to cause unacceptable civilian casualties,' Petraeus wrote. Nearly two-thirds of Pakistanis oppose counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, he said, and '35 per cent say they do not support US strikes into Pakistan, even if they are coordinated with the GOP [government of Pakistan] and the Pakistan Military ahead of time.' "

pwoodward@thenational.ae