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Vol. 73/No. 50      December 28, 2009

U.S. gov’t seeks expansion
of war by Pakistani army
The Barack Obama administration is mounting pressure on the Pakistani government to help in combating the main Taliban factions fighting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. While the Pakistani government is embroiled in a military conflict with the Taliban Movement of Pakistan, it has shown no inclination to expand its war to other groups in Pakistan that have not challenged the Pakistani government.

At the top of Washington’s list are the Afghan Taliban, led by Mullah Mohammad Omar, former head of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, and forces led by Siraj Haqqani. Both groups continue to operate from bases in Pakistan, command thousands of Islamist combatants, have ties to al-Qaeda, and were Islamabad’s “strategic assets” in its contest with India over influence in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

The CIA has been working with Pakistani and Saudi spy agencies to win defectors from among the Afghan Taliban leadership, reports the Los Angeles Times. But Washington wants Islamabad to do much more to disrupt Omar’s leadership council, referred to as the Quetta Shura. U.S. officials claim the council is based in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan Province in the southwest.

For some time the Pakistani government had denied any knowledge of the Quetta Shura. In the first public acknowledgement of its existence, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported December 11 that "Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar said Pakistani security forces have taken on the Quetta Shura and have damaged it to such an extent that it no longer poses any threat.” The following day, Mukhtar complained that Washington was not paying enough to operate its aerial drones from Pakistan’s Shamsi Airbase in Balochistan.

Newsweek magazine reported November 28 that some Taliban leaders from Balochistan and other parts of Pakistan have moved to Karachi, a major port city in the south.

Washington is considering extending U.S. aerial drone strikes to Taliban targets in Quetta, a city of 850,000, adding pressure on Islamabad to go after the Afghan Taliban. Except for a couple strikes in an area of the North West Frontier Province, the U.S. drone attacks have thus far been confined to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas north of Balochistan.

Pakistani officials have opposed U.S. aerial strikes in Balochistan. A top Pakistani official involved in discussions with the White House told the Los Angeles Times that if Washington takes action there “this might be the end of the road.”

The Pakistani army is engaged in a major offensive against the Taliban Movement of Pakistan centered in the Mehsud tribal area in South Waziristan that is spreading into other parts of the tribal areas. It is also coordinating with U.S. forces to prevent an influx of Taliban fleeing Washington’s Afghan offensive into Pakistan. Excluded from Pakistan’s military operations, however, are North Waziristan and a section of South Waziristan, which provide bases for Haqqani and two other Taliban factions that have agreements with Islamabad.

The Pakistani government has responded negatively to a formal request from Washington that Islamabad should go after Haqqani, the New York Times reports. The request was followed up with a visit to Islamabad December 14 by Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, to meet with Pakistan’s prime minister and top general.

The U.S. appeals, according to the Times, “have been accompanied by strong suggestions that if the Pakistanis cannot take care of the problem … then the Americans will by resorting to broader and more frequent drone strikes in Pakistan.”

A Pakistani official told the Times that Haqqani is considered an essential asset in what the Pakistani government sees as a pending contest with India and other regional powers for influence in Afghanistan after the U.S.-led war is over.
Related articles:
U.S. general: Afghan war to get more violent
Will use more drones, special forces  
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