Asia Scope

Ramping Up Or Scaling Down?

With reports this week that Pakistan is preparing to shift its strategy and launch an offensive against the Taliban’s key stronghold in South Waziristan, I thought now would be a good time to get an update from our Pakistan correspondent, Mustafa Qadri, on the unfolding situation there:

“The local network of Taliban is continuing its brutal suicide attacks throughout the north western frontier of the country, despite the loss of overall leader, Baitullah Mehsud. These include a string of bloody bombings in the centre of Peshawar, the political and economic hub of the region, and a police station near the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan that left at least 16 dead and scores of others injured.

“The Pakistan Army has been pushing with its advance into regions, like Swat and Orakzai Tribal Agency, formerly occupied by the Taliban. But in Washington, there’s continued disaffection at Pakistan’s performance, particularly with respect to Afghan Taliban based in its territory. Credible newspaper reports recently claimed that senior US officials threatened to expand the controversial drone missile attacks to Quetta, the dusty capital of Pakistan’s thinly populated but resource rich southern province of Balochistan.”

Mustafa has spent a lot of time in the region in the last year, including in the Swat valley area, where he met with refugees fleeing the fighting. He’s putting a story together for The Diplomat on his experiences in the camps.

But in the meantime, he offers this interesting insight into US strategy across the border in Afghanistan.

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“Although top military commanders want to expand troop numbers, the White House is after quite the opposite – more focused, counter-insurgency operations using greater airpower and remote military assets and less boots on the ground”, he says.

“Once the political drama surrounding the disputed presidential elections dies down, expect a tapering down of US victory conditions away from state building and towards security and stabilisation — if this hasn’t already started. In effect, this will mean making deals with those Taliban commanders willing to cease hostilities in exchange for a negotiated settlement of their grievances while simultaneously hunting down those other insurgents, and members of al-Qaeda, that are seen as too dangerous to be left alone.”