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Looming Pakistan Push?

Things are heating up in Afghanistan, and if the Asia Times has it right, it may well be leading to US troops finally crossing over into Pakistan in pursuit of Taliban and al-Qaeda attackers slinking back into the Waziristan region.

The Americans are pointing directly at the two Waziristans as the primary conduit for the suicide bombers who are currently playing havoc with the US-NATO-led war machine in Afghanistan, and a safe haven for enemy combatants. The US now has come up with a plan to confront the strategic arm of the Taliban based on the Pakistani side of the border.

The anti-US forces, meanwhile, are taking countermeasures, and the Pakistani government is trying to find a safe position for itself between the antagonists.

Negotiations have begun to finalize new rules for dealing with the tribal region. Last month Pakistani Vice Chief of Army Staff General Ehsan Saleem Hayat attended the conference of the Tripartite Commission (representing Afghanistan, Pakistan and the forces of the US and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in Kabul, and General John Abizaid of US Centcom (Central Command) has traveled to Pakistan to finalize a blueprint.

Sources say the Americans are set on a plan of hot pursuit of enemy combatants across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and they want a clear demarcation of the Pakistani tribal areas that have long been volatile and which they say should be part of the Afghanistan front in the "war on terror".

Pakistan wants to errect a fence along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in the Waziristan region. The US dismisses this as ineffectual. The Taliban in Waziristan clearly prefer to see a fence rather than the business end of an approaching US military unit.

The gathering presaged the future setup in the Waziristans. The mujahideen will remain in the background and the non-militant face of leadership, in the form of local tribal elders, the JUI-F and religious leaders, will be visible. This will enable the Pakistani authorities to justify their proposal to fence the Durand Line rather than allow US-led forces a free hand in the tribal areas.

Going further to note an Arab presence still, with fresh foreign graduates from local madrassas attending a large Waziristan meeting where "fire and blood were in the air as momentous events loomed," Syed Saleem Shahzad noted the development of the Taliban's planned Hizballistan Defense.

Meanwhile the "guests" - foreign anti-US fighters including Uzbeks, Arabs and Chechens - who are living in North Waziristan have had their own command structures dismantled and been asked to join the central mujahideen force of commander Gul Badar, or simply to scatter into ordinary tribal society.

Certainly, there is no overt connection between the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Pakistani Taliban, yet the new setup in the Waziristans clearly echoes that in Lebanon, where Hezbollah hides itself behind many thick curtains while remaining in a position of power. It was precisely this setup that enabled Lebanon to defend its territorial integrity and political interests during the recent Israeli invasion.

Neither the US nor Islamabad knows the strength of the Pakistani Taliban in the mountain fastnesses of the two Waziristans. Pakistan has offered a general amnesty for all previously wanted people, and military checkpoints are manned only at three or four points on the borders of the region. The Taliban, meanwhile, call the shots everywhere.

Such was the situation until Wednesday, when the two Waziristans embarked on a new phase in which US military campaigns seem unavoidable. Cognizant of developments and intent on saving turbans, beards and throats, thick curtains have been drawn.