Sunday, March 1, 2009

Pakistan's turmoil echoes in Afghanistan

February 27, 2009
By Syed Saleem Shahzad KARACHI - The Pakistani government's peace agreement last week with militants in the Swat Valley, followed by ceasefires all across the tribal areas and the formation of a united Pakistani tribal front of mujahideen to reinforce the Taliban's battle in Afghanistan were the first seeds sown for the failure of the United States' plans for the region. Wednesday's development in Pakistan now conclusively ends the political package drawn up in 2007 by Saudi Arabia, the US and Britain and implemented through February 2008 elections to install a consensus government of liberal and secular political parties to provide popular support for the "war on terror".
The situation in Pakistan impacts heavily on Afghanistan. The Taliban-led insurgency relies to a large degree on its bases inside Pakistan and the latest ceasefires in the tribal areas will allow the Taliban uninterrupted preparations for its spring offensive. The Taliban, therefore, want the political uncertainty to continue as the central government will continue to leave them in peace.
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has deployed an additional 3,000 troops in the restive provinces of Logar and Wardak, and US President Barack Obama has ordered 17,000 more US troops to southern Afghanistan. Other countries, such as Italy and Britain, will contribute more troops and the total number could reach 90,000, only 30,000 fewer than the Soviet Union had in the country in the 1980s. Pakistani strategic expert Dr Farrukh Saleem, however, pointed out to Asia Times Online that today's troops "are far superior to the 120,000 Soviet troops in terms of training, equipment and strategy". The new troops will be split between Logar, Wardak and Ghazni provinces around the capital Kabul and Khost, Paktia, Paktika, Kunar and Nangarhar provinces, where they will attempt to stop the infiltration of Taliban fighters from Pakistan.
The Taliban believe they already have sufficient fighters to keep up the heat around Kabul and intend to send more forces to two areas:

Pakistan's Khyber Agency for continued attacks on NATO supply convoys;
Helmand province in Afghanistan.
Asia Times Online contacts say that Pakistani fighters will come mostly from the South Waziristan tribal areas and head for the Garmsir district of Helmand. This is extremely inhospitable territory and the permanent ground deployment of NATO troops is not possible. From Helmand, forces will be sent to the northwestern Afghan provinces of Nimroz and Herat. The province of Farah, situated on the same belt, is already under the control of the Taliban and the Taliban often slip into Nimroz and Herat to carry out actions against NATO troops. An added element this year will be a concentration on disrupting NATO's supply lines, whether they enter the country from Pakistan, Iran or Central Asia.

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