[R-G] The Taliban have Kabul in their sights
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Thu Feb 28 11:35:01 MST 2008
Feb 27, 2008
The Taliban have Kabul in their sights
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
KARACHI - As Pakistani politicians scramble to form a coalition
government following last week's parliamentary elections, there has
been a surge in violence in the Swat Valley and in other parts of
North-West Frontier Province, and on Monday a senior army officer was
The indications are that whoever takes power in Islamabad - be it the
Pakistan People's Party or the Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif
or a combination of both - the real battle will be in Afghanistan
between the Taliban and al-Qaeda-led militants and the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) and its allies.
Army surgeon general Lieutenant General Muhammad Mushtaq Baig and
seven other people were killed in a suicide attack in the garrison
city of Rawalpindi. It was the most high-profile killing since the
death of former premier Benazir Bhutto in the same city last December.
Apart from the Swat Valley, there has been an increase in violence,
including bomb blasts, in the North Waziristan tribal area and Bajaur
and Manshera agencies, after a brief lull in the runup to the
elections. More than a dozen incidents have been reported.
The trigger for this appears to have been planned joint Pakistan-NATO
operations in the region against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The
militants aim to open up several fronts in Pakistan to dissuade the
military from cooperating with NATO.
This situation is an embarrassment to the security apparatus as it
was believed that following recent countrywide operations that
uncovered militant cells in Karachi, Rawalpindi, Mianwali, Bannu and
Dera Ismail Khan that the problem was being contained.
The regional war
Asia Times Online investigations show that the Taliban's three-
pronged plan for their spring offensive comprises cutting off NATO's
supply lines running from Pakistan to Afghanistan, recruiting fresh
volunteers and, most importantly, the creation of a strategic
corridor running from Pakistan all the way to the capital Kabul.
Since being ousted in 2001 and waging annual spring offensives, this
is the first time the Taliban have come up with the idea of creating
such a corridor.
The long road to Kabul
As things stand, the Taliban have established pockets of resistance
all around Kabul, in addition to more settled pockets across the
country. The Taliban roam around freely in the eastern province of
Wardak, just 30 kilometers from Kabul.
But now the Taliban want to connect the dots, as it were, to ensure a
quick and steady supply of arms and men to reinforce the pockets
sufficiently for attacks on the capital.
It is envisaged that the corridor initially starts in Mohmand Agency
and Bajaur Agency in Pakistan and then passes through Kunar and
Nooristan provinces all the way to the Taghab Valley in Kapisa
province in the northeast about 100 kilometers from the capital.
In 2006, the Taliban seized the strategic Taghab Valley - as well as
the Musayab Valley to the south of Kabul - with the goal of an
assault on the capital, but because of limited supply lines they were
only able to maintain their positions for a few months.
This year, the Taliban aim to retake these positions, while having in
place secure supply lines starting in the Pakistani tribal areas to
maintain a steady stream of men and resources.
Over the past year, the Taliban have increased the number of their
fighters in Mohmand Agency to 18,000 and to between 20,000 to 25,000
in Bajaur Agency. Taliban quarters believe this will provide
sufficient strength to ensure operation, which is due to run from
April to September.
This steady gathering of forces in the two agencies did not go
unnoticed by NATO. So, with Pakistani assistance, NATO will increase
military operations aimed at nipping the corridor idea in the bud.
American special ground troops have escalated their activities in
Kunar and Nooristan provinces and a US base in Kunar, just three
kilometers from Bajaur Agency, is now fully operational. Once the
operations are in full swing, Pakistan will provide assistance
through its air base in Peshawar for attacks on militant bases in the
"The operation has to start in the month of March as the Taliban have
to launch their operation in April," a Pakistani security official
told Asia Times Online.
However, Pakistan's plans could still be derailed. A powerful
lawyers' movement is scheduled to launch protests on March 9 to
pressure the new government into ousting President Pervez Musharraf.
This would certainly delay any decision on Pakistan taking on the
militants in a big way.
The lawyers are agitating for the reinstatement of members of the
higher judiciary "who ceased to be judges" after Musharraf imposed
emergency rule on November 3. Musharraf also suspended chief justice
Iftikhar Chaudhry last March,a move that set off country-wide protests.
Al-Qaeda, meanwhile, will be doing its best to fuel these flames to
force Pakistan to back off and leave the way clear for the Taliban's
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He
can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002 at yahoo.com
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