I managed to catch up by e-mail last night with our Pakistan correspondent, Mustafa Qadri, who’s been trying to find a way into the Waziristan region to cover the big military offensive by Pakistani forces that started last weekend. He says he hasn’t been able to enter the area so far as there’s a blanket ban on journalists. But he said there seem to have been some early signs of successes. He told me:
‘Already security authorities have managed to get key Taliban leaders from neighbouring North Waziristan Maulvi Nazir and Gul Bahadur to defect to their side, along with many rank and file members of Pakistan Taliban Movement now headed by Hakimullah Mahsud.
‘But the country is under the grip of extreme tension as the Army commences its most anticipated of operations. The Army has fought several wars in Waziristan over the past five years, only on each occasion to be given a bloody nose and compelled to sign ceasefires that emboldened the Pakistani Taliban. But this time there’s a sense that things will be different.’
But he also cautioned:
‘South Waziristan is a guerrilla fighter’s dream turf. With its jagged peaks, densely wooded forests, and remote location, Waziristan has proved to be the ideal place for the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other Islamist fighters from around the world, and especially from Arab countries and Uzbekistan, to train and prepare for their attacks.
‘I’ve been in close contact with government and humanitarian agencies in an attempt to understand what is going in over there, but authorities have placed a blanket ban on journalists visiting the region. Still, in Pakistan, nothing stays secret for too long…’
I’ll keep you posted when I hear more from him.