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memri
January 25, 2009 No.
2102

Editorial in Pakistani Daily: Army Operation Against Taliban, Al-Qaeda Militants in Bajaur District is Positive and Focused

During the past three months, Pakistan has been carrying out a military operation against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in the tribal district of Bajaur Agency. The anti-Taliban drive is shouldered mainly by the para-military force Frontier Corps (FC), which is led by officers from the Pakistan Army.

Pakistan's federally administered Bajaur Agency, population about 800,000, is, like most of the tribal districts, situated along the Afghan border; its headquarters are at Khar. Hundreds of militants have been killed and tens of thousands of people have been displaced during the operation.

On October 6, 2008, media reports spoke of little success in the Pakistani military's drive against the Taliban in the Bajaur Agency. According to one report, Pakistani security forces had established control over only 50 percent of the Khar tehsil (administrative unit); Khar is only one of the seven tehsils that make up Bajaur Agency. [1]

On October 23, 2008, Maj.-Gen. Tariq Khan, who leads the Frontier Crops, observed that Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants are still coming into Bajaur Agency. He noted, however, that when the current military operation began, about 200-300 militants were entering Bajaur Agency from Afghanistan every two to three days, but that there has been a drop in those numbers. [2]

Now, Pakistani security forces are claiming more success against the Taliban, having captured the town of Lowi Sam, a Taliban stronghold in Bajaur Agency.

In an editorial entitled, "Bajaur - an Interim Assessment," the Lahore-based English-language newspaper Daily Times evaluated the Pakistani Army's achievements in Bajaur Agency.

Following are some excerpts from the editorial, in the original English: [3]

"1,500 Militants Have Been Killed, 300 Foreigners Have Been Captured"

"The Frontier Corps (FC) inspector-general in Bajaur, Major-General Tariq Khan, has told visiting journalists that the army has flushed out militants from some of their strongholds and regained control of most of the troubled spots, including the contested Lowi Sam. The reported death toll has been as follows: about 1,500 militants have been killed, while at least 300 foreigners have been captured since August last. On the Pakistani side, 73 soldiers - 42 belonging to the Army and 31 to the FC - have lost their lives, while 269 others have been injured.

"Is the army going to leave Bajaur in the near future? No, according to Maj.-Gen. Khan, who thinks it may take 'several months to extirpate the militants.' He said, 'An immediate withdrawal of the army from the region was not possible, as the operation might last another few months' and that 'four additional wings of FC would be deployed to the area soon.' The determination of the army to stay put in the agency is in line with the 'consensual' resolution of the parliament which recommended operation against militants and negotiation with those willing to abide by the Pakistan Constitution."

Arrests of Foreign Militants Re-Emphasize The Army's Role

"The army chief, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, has reiterated that the army will back the parliament's decision to seek negotiation while protecting the integrity of Pakistan's territory. The fact that 300 foreigners have been arrested from Bajaur alone reemphasises the role the army has to play to come to the help of the people living in the Tribal Areas. In Bajaur, increasingly the local people are forming posses of armed resistance to the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine and expect the national army to back them up as they take on the alien groups.

"This is a positive interim assessment of the operation in Bajaur, markedly different in its aspects from what is going on in Swat, a region [in the North West Frontier Province] that had stayed for five years under the control of the clerical alliance... The operation in Bajaur is more focused because success here is going to affect other tribal areas around it. The terrorists had gotten hold of strategic places like Lowi Sam and converted the houses there into bunkers. The return of Lowi Sam to government control means that the roads to Dir in Swat and [tribal district of] Mohmand will now not be easily available to the Taliban to affect the outcome of the battle going on in Swat."

"200,000 Bajauri People Have Had to Flee from [Bajaur District]"

"Bajaur is linked even more easily to the province of Kunar in Afghanistan. Lately, there was a trickle of Afghan fighters coming in to help the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in their fight against the Pakistan army. The ISAF-NATO forces have been alerted to this trespass, that will clearly influence the result of the operation. There is also news that some kind of reinforcement of the Bajaur-Kunar border is being carried out too. According to the army, 200,000 Bajauri people have had to flee from the agency because of the battle taking place on the ground and from the air.

"Bajaur was not properly assessed for its strategic value after 2001 as a potential hiding place of the fleeing Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements. Indeed, Islamabad was completely unmindful of the rapid internal change taking place here. Therefore by 2005, there were some '32,000 Afghans' living in camps in Bajaur, cannon-fodder for such religious movements...."

"The Al Qaeda Economy Must Be Replaced By Bajaur's Own"

"There are many factors that can bring pressure to bear on the operation. Foremost is the task of looking after the displaced Bajauri population at present forced to live in the NWFP. These camps are not very different from the ones in which the displaced Afghans had to live for decades. Their camps may breed the same kind of violence seen in areas where these Afghan refugees have concentrated. The authorities must therefore quickly start reconstruction and psychological rehabilitation of the people in the areas now pacified by the military operation. If possible, the injection of funds into Bajaur must go in parallel to the military operations....

"There is a dire need for the generation of a local economy to remove reliance on smuggling. This is the aspect of the problem that has not been looked at before. In some ways the local tribes are dependent for their incomes today on the “foreigners” brought in by Al-Qaeda. The Al-Qaeda economy must be replaced by Bajaur's own, brought in by the state agencies from outside with the help of the international community."

Endnotes:

[1] Roznama Nawa-i-Waqt (Pakistan), October 6, 2008.

[2]Daily Times (Pakistan), October 24, 2008.

[3]Daily Times (Pakistan), October 27, 2008.