Taliban tenacity, ineffective governance negating Pak army gains in S.Waziristan

Saturday, November 20, 2010

WANA - Although the Pakistan army had launched a major offensive in South Waziristan one year ago, bands of fighters continue to assert their presence with gunfire, rockets and roadside bombs, and people who have little faith in the government’s promises, have expressed wariness about returning to the region.

“We have very little trust in the government, because no promises were kept in the past,” The Washington Post quoted one tribal elder from the town of Makeen, as saying.

“We are happy to go back - but unarmed, wearing our shawls on our shoulders, not hanging guns,” said a Mehsud elder interviewed in Tank, adding, “We don’t want any more bloodshed on our soil.”

A recent UN survey of people displaced from South Waziristan found that about 45 percent want to return immediately, but most said that they would first require food, health care, schools and water, and the majority said that they had heard nothing about a government resettlement package.

The Taliban, for its part, appears to have heard about the resettlement plan, as in Tank and Dera Ismail Khan, pamphlets have appeared warning refugees to stay put.

“We urge the Mehsuds not to return to Waziristan at this point, as they would come under attack during our clashes with the security forces,” Azam Tariq, a Pakistani Taliban spokesman, told one local journalist in a recent phone interview. “Stay away from Waziristan.”

Even as US officials express frustration about North Waziristan, they also point out Pakistan’s need to consolidate gains. A recent White House report to Congress noted that an absence of government authority has resulted “in short-lived military gains that allow militants to regroup in these areas.”

Major General Rizwan Akhtar, the commander in South Waziristan, said that this was one reason his soldiers probably would remain in place for another two years, at the request of local leaders.

The Pakistani army confronts the challenges similar to the obstacles faced by US soldiers in Afghanistan, as it is up against an indigenous enemy that blends in easily, a vacuum in local governance, a skeptical population and, military officials contend, a desolate border that insurgents easily cross, the paper said.

“I’m sure the bulk of it is in Afghanistan,” the commander of the army division based here, Maj. Gen. Rizwan Akhtar, said of the Taliban leadership his troops purged from South Waziristan.

South Waziristan is one of six areas, including the Swat Valley, where about 140,000 Pakistani troops are engaged against Taliban militants. More than 2,600 soldiers have been killed in those and other counter-terror operations since 2001, according to the army.

The current operations are “stabilization” efforts, not active offensives, said Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik, who commands all troops in Pakistan’s northwest. According to military officials, in South Waziristan, 35,000 soldiers now focus on guarding roads, providing security for development projects and towns, and preparing for the return of about 41,000 displaced families, the first batch of which is scheduled to arrive next month, the paper added.

Under the resettlement plan, 8,000 families are slated to voluntarily return next month to 13 relatively secure villages. Each family is to receive 300 dollars, winterised tents and food rations, said Arshad Khan, director of the FATA Disaster Management Authority.

Military officials confidently said villagers would provide security for their own settlements, according to British-era tribal regulations, the paper said.

“This is a test case,” said a senior Pakistani government official who was closely involved in the resettlement plan but was not authorized to speak publicly about it. “Their return is the key to the security of South Waziristan.” (ANI)

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