Omar Waraich: Army and Taliban reconsider their options

Related Topics

In less than week, the campaign against militancy in Pakistan has dramatically altered. As Washington intensifies its drone strikes in the wild tribal belt on the border with Afghanistan, the Pakistan army and the Taliban have stepped back from each other, possibly to reconsider their options.

The Taliban in Swat announced an "indefinite ceasefire" in the valley yesterday, after the government ceased its faltering military operation and bowed to demands for Islamic law in the region. Next door in Bajaur, the scene of the fiercest fighting, the government and the Taliban have agreed to a tentative truce. The Taliban said they would concentrate on Afghanistan instead.

Meanwhile, Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud has firmed up his once vulnerable base through a new cross-border alliance with once bitter rivals. The new Waziristan umbrella group of militants has declared Mullah Omar its spiritual guide, and Islamabad, Kabul and Washington its enemies.

The Pakistan army - which has lost over 1,500 soldiers - has never found it easy to fight militants on its soil. The war in the tribal areas is deeply unpopular among Pakistanis. And as a force reared to fight a different war on a different border, it lacks the requisite training or equipment to fight hardened guerrillas in their mountainous bases.

In the face of depleting troop morale, and mounting militant gains, officials insist that they had to pursue a "political option". In Swat, even fiercely anti-Taliban residents have been alienated by a conflict that has caused heavy civilian casualties and made up to half a million homeless.

But, as often is the case, a move that is popular at home has elicited criticism from sponsors in Washington. As the Obama administration pours in 17,000 extra troops in neighbouring Afghanistan, there are fears that Pakistan's peace deals could create safe havens for militants intent on thwarting US and NATO aims in the region.

The US and Pakistan armies have scarcely agreed on priorities. Islamabad has traditionally focused on militants attacking its own army. By contrast, Washington has been keen to staunch the flow of militants into Afghanistan – some of whom have non-aggression pacts with the Pakistan army.

In a sign of closer co-operation, CIA-operated drone strikes have begun to target the bases of Mr Mehsud. And this week the New York Times reported that scores of US military advisers and technical specialists are now training Pakistani troops to fight al-Qa'ida and Taliban elements more effectively.

But US airstrikes remain a source of strain. The government is under intense domestic pressure to stop what is seen locally as a violation of sovereignty. In public, Islamabad has condemned the attacks as "counterproductive". Many, however, suspect the attacks enjoy its tacit approval.

They appear to have severed the Pakistan army's alliance with Waziri militants, Maulvi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur. The two were its allies in a scheme to isolate Mr Mehsud in his home territory. But after airstrikes against them, the pair have turned on the army and united behind Mr Mehsud.

Pakistani analysts also fear that the drone strikes could serve as the next rallying point for the Taliban. "People can understand the need to take out al-Qai'da, but not the ‘collateral damage' that can result," says analyst Maria Sultan. "The drone strikes could become the new base for the Taliban's strategy, moving away from Shari'a and channelling anti-Americanism."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Community / Stakeholder Manager - Solar PV

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Senior Marketing Executive (B2B/B2C) - London

£32000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

C# .Net Developer

£23000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: C# .Net Develop re...

Electronics Design Engineer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client are l...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The daily catch-up: Joe on Vlad, banks of the Jordan and Blair's radicalism

John Rentoul

Believe me, I said, there’s nothing rural about this urban borough’s attempt at a country fair

John Walsh
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor