The South Asia Channel

Daily brief: Pakistan pounds Taliban militants in ground offensive

A three front war The Pakistani military launched a much-awaited ground offensive on Saturday against Taliban and al Qaeda militants in the restive tribal agency of South Waziristan, a stronghold of the Mehsud tribe (AP, Reuters, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Dawn, BBC). Some 30,000 Pakistani troops, backed by helicopter gunships and ...

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A three front war

The Pakistani military launched a much-awaited ground offensive on Saturday against Taliban and al Qaeda militants in the restive tribal agency of South Waziristan, a stronghold of the Mehsud tribe (AP, Reuters, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Dawn, BBC). Some 30,000 Pakistani troops, backed by helicopter gunships and artillery, face off against around 10,000 Pakistani militants and 1,500 foreign fighters including Arabs and Uzbeks, and as many as 150,000 civilians have fled the area in recent months, though an estimated 200,000 remain (AP, AFP, BBC, Times of London, Al Jazeera). Taliban extremists killed some 160 people in the previous two weeks during a string of terrorist attacks across the country.

On day three of the offensive, both the Taliban and the Pakistani military are claiming early gains, though these assertions are essentially unverifiable because journalists are not allowed in the dangerous area and no independent information is coming out of the rocky mountains on the border with Afghanistan (Dawn, Wall Street Journal, AP). Though a senior military official said “the level of resistance from the militants is not very high,” the Taliban’s reported strategy is to draw the Pakistani Army deeper into hostile territory and engage them in a protracted campaign during Waziristan’s inhospitable winter (New York Times).

The Pentagon is speeding up delivery of military equipment sought by the Pakistani Army to fight militants (Reuters). And the alleged head of the Pakistani Taliban in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi was reportedly arrested along with several accomplices earlier today, along with 80 suspected militants in Rawalpindi (Geo TV, Dawn, The News). Akhtar Zaman was wanted in connection with a foiled attempt to attack an oil terminal last month (AP).

Come visit

U.S. head of Central Command Gen. David Petraeus and Sen. John Kerry are both visiting Pakistan to consult with the nation’s military and civilian leadership about the South Waziristan offensive and the Kerry-Lugar aid bill, respectively (New York Times, AFP, CNN, Daily Times). Pakistan’s chief of the army, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, met with both Petraeus and Kerry earlier today, and Kerry held talks with Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani (The Nation, The News, Dawn). Kerry is also scheduled to meet with President Asif Ali Zardari and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif (AFP).

New York Times reporter David Rohde, who was kidnapped in late 2008 and held for more than seven months by members of the Haqqani network, an al Qaeda and Taliban-allied extremist group, has started a five part series of intense articles about his ordeal (New York Times part 1, New York Times part 2). AfPak Channel editor Peter Bergen describes the connections between the Taliban and al Qaeda and the importance of physical safe havens, and Craig Whitlock reports that rising numbers of Western recruits to militant causes are traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan to receive training at paramilitary camps, in spite of an increase in CIA-operated drone strikes designed to eliminate extremist leaders in the region (New Republic, Washington Post). And Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, the only two Westerners living on their own in the heartland of Kandahar in Afghanistan, share their story in Foreign Policy (Foreign Policy).

I would speak with you further

Afghanistan’s electoral crisis intensified today as the body responsible for declaring final results in the corruption-plagued August 20 presidential balloting, stacked with supporters of incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai, rejected findings by the U.N.-backed organization tasked with investigating reports of fraud that dropped Karzai’s share of the vote below the 50 percent needed to avoid a second round of elections (AP, Reuters). Karzai’s portion of the ballot is rumored to have fallen to around 47 percent as a result of the partial recount (Pajhwok).

Karzai is resisting international pressure to accept the Electoral Complaints Commission’s audit, the results of which are supposed to be released late this afternoon in Kabul (AP, New York Times, BBC, VOA, Pajhwok). The ECC was likely under pressure to delay the announcement until a deal has been reached by all sides, though reportedly it has just sent the results on to the Independent Election Commission, stripping Karzai of an outright win (BBC, AFP, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Times of London).

U.S. President Barack Obama’s top advisers on Afghanistan took to the Sunday talk shows yesterday, with chief of staff Rahm Emanuel saying it would be “reckless” to make a decision about troop levels in the country without a reliable Afghan partner in place (CNN, UPI, Guardian). John Kerry similarly warned that it would be “irresponsible” to send more troops to Afghanistan before the Afghan presidential election is resolved, though the senator from Massachusetts does not advocate a purely counterterrorism mission in the country (CNN, AP, BBC, New York Times).

A mark, a yen, a buck, or a pound

The Taliban’s three main sources of funding in Afghanistan — the illicit poppy trade, donations from abroad, and criminal activity — make it a struggle for the U.S. to limit the “hundreds of millions of dollars” fueling the insurgency (New York Times). The U.S. military, for its part, is spending billions of dollars on construction projects in Afghanistan to ensure that the country has the infrastructure to support U.S. and coalition soldiers in 2010 and beyond (Washington Post).

A former Taliban foreign minister, Mullah Wakil Ahmed Mutawakkil, told the Sunday Telegraph, “If the Taliban fight on and finally became Afghanistan’s government with the help of al Qaeda, it would then be very difficult to separate them,” but stated that some Taliban commanders are just looking for assurances for their personal safeties and that reconciliation may be possible for some elements of the extremist movement (Telegraph). Elisabeth Bumiller reminds readers that Afghanistan, often viewed as an ungovernable mess of tribes that has thwarted every foreign power since Alexander the Great, actually had a relatively stable government during the mid-20th century, when Kabul was known as the “Paris of Central Asia” (New York Times).

Globe-trotting

A resident of Karachi has won the gold medal in an international karate competition taking place in South Africa (Dawn). The first Pakistani to reach this level, Saadi Abbas took first place over a South African opponent in the 150-pound division.

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Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images