Meanwhile, Washington has demonstratively backed the government, led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), in its efforts to rein in the independent power of Pakistans military establishment. In backing the PPP, Washington seeks to remold Pakistans military into one that is more effective at conducting irregular warfare within the country and less focused on maintaining a military posture aimed at rival India.
The Pakistani army launched the second phase of operation Path to Salvation October 17, a ground offensive of some 30,000 troops against Taliban and allied Islamist forces based in the Mehsud tribal region of South Waziristan in western Pakistan. The assault was preceded by months of air strikes and shelling.
Pakistani officials said October 25 that the army had captured Kotkai, the hometown of Hakimullah Mehsud, top leader of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan (TTP). Some 300 houses have been razed by air strikes and artillery fire in and around the city of about 5,000 people, according sources cited by Dawn, a Pakistani English-language daily.
All roads and communications to the area are cut off. The Red Cross has warned of mounting civilian casualties in South Waziristan, which relief workers and journalists are prevented from entering.
More than 200,000 people have reportedly fled the area. Many others remain trapped in the battlegrounds due to blockaded roads and intense fighting. A large number of poor people cant afford transit fees to leave the area, reported Dawn.
They are bombing our houses and when people try to move out they are not letting them go, Mohammad Khan told the paper after he and 11 other family members successfully fled the offensive.
The government has provided some displaced families with a $60-per-month stipend, but has thus far provided no housing.
In a number of areas where people have fled, residents have taken upon themselves to establish relief committees, collect donations, provide transportation, set up camps, and open their homes.
Role of U.S. aerial drones
According to the Los Angeles Times, U.S. aerial drones have been providing the Pakistani military with surveillance footage to aid the assault. At the same time, according to the Washington Post, Pakistani officials have asked Washington to refrain from drone strikes in the area of operations.
A U.S. drone strike October 24 targeting a senior TTP leader killed 33 in Bajaur Agency north of Waziristan. Al-Qaeda commander Abu Ayyub al-Masri was reportedly killed in an explosion in North Waziristan October 21. Pakistani intelligence officials initially reported that al-Masri was killed by a U.S. drone strike, but government officials later changed the story, attributing his death to an improvised bomb accident.
The TTP and its allies have lashed out with suicide bombings and other attacks outside the Talibans base of operations, including in the capital, Islamabad, and the populous province of Punjab in the east. More than 190 were killed in such attacks October 5-23.
A number of attacks have targeted civilians at crowded markets and schools, increasing anti-Taliban sentiment in the country. A handful of others, including an October 10-11 siege of army headquarters in Rawalpindi and a suicide attack October 23 at a major air force base in Kamra, near the capital, have exposed some weaknesses of the Pakistani military.
After a brigadier general was assassinated on his way to work near an Afghan neighborhood in Islamabad, Interior Minister Rehman Malik ordered all illegal Afghan immigrants to leave the city within 72 hours.
Meanwhile, Washington dispatched Gen. David Petraeus and Sen. John Kerry to Islamabad to meet with Pakistans top generals and politicians two days after Pakistans army launched its assault. Four days earlier President Barack Obama signed the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, commonly referred to as the Kerry-Lugar bill.
The bill triples U.S. aid to Pakistan, but includes a number of provisions opposed by Pakistans military, including insistence that the military submit to greater control by the civilian government. The bill also stipulates that Islamabad expand its war against the Taliban and other Islamist militias and terrorist groups in the country. While the PPP-led government supported the bill, Washingtons arrogant disregard for the countrys sovereignty was not popular in Pakistan and sparked protest by opposition parties in parliament.
Last year Prime Minister Yusuf Gilani attempted unsuccessfully to bring Pakistans Inter-Services Intelligence agency under the civilian control of the Interior Ministry and to send the spy agencys chief, Shuja Pasha, to India on New Delhis request in connection with a probe into the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008.
In an unprecedented joint appearance on U.S. television October 23, the UN ambassadors to Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan told CNN they share a common goal to defeat terrorism and called on Washington to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Afghan president accedes to runoff election
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