Pakistan’s military began “Phase 2” of its campaign in South Waziristan on Thursday, with a siege of Kotkai, the home town of Hakimullah Mahsud, the leader of the Taliban Movement of Pakistan. So far the army claims to have killed 100 militants, and 300 homes are said to have been damaged. Locals maintain that some of those killed are actually innocent civilians, and most of the houses were unconnected to the Taliban. Even if they were accurate, these numbers suggest that the Taliban have not stood and fought, but rather have melted away, since they only have light arms and would have been killed in large numbers by the Pakistani army, which has artillery and fighter jets.
France24 has video of local reactions to the fighting in S. Waziristan (locals are critical of the federal government and sympathetic to the militants).
Indeed, Amnesty International worries that the Pakistani military is simply engaged in a vendetta with even the civilian members of the Pashtun Mahsud tribe. AI notes:
The Pakistani military has refused to allow members of the tribe, some of whom are involved in the senior leadership of the Pakistani Taleban, to use major roads to flee the conflict zone, witnesses told Amnesty International.
“Mehsud tribespeople, including women and children, are being punished on the roads as they flee simply because they belong to the wrong tribe,” said Sam Zarifi, director of Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific programme. “This could amount to collective punishment, which is absolutely prohibited under international law.” ‘
Blake Hounshell considers the evidence from David Rohde and others that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence is backing the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, and, indeed, he notes that the Haqqani fighters appear to have let the Pakistani military use their territory as a staging ground for attacking the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP or Taliban Movement of Pakistan) in South Waziristan. As I noted a couple of days ago, the current campaign in Waziristan does nothing to weaken the groups most active in killing US and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.
Gunmen in Islamabad killed a brigadier general and a soldier of the Pakistani army on Thursday, underlining the way in which the army’s Waziristan campaign has become a feud of sorts, with the militants targeting officers. Ironically, the Pakistani officer corps had once generally backed the militants, as a means of projecting influence into southern Afghanistan and into Kashmir.
A police dragnet in Islamabad and Rawalpindi has resulted in some 300 arrests, including of Afghans and a Saudi. Some of those arrested had suicide belt bombs or bullet belts on their persons at the time of arrest, according to the police, and appear to have been on the verge of carrying out a terrorist attack in the capital.
All schools and universities in most of Pakistan have been closed until at least Sunday, in response to the recent bombing at Islamic International University. An exception is Sindh Province, where there is no history of Taliban activity.
Dawn has video on the impact of the move on students. Footage includes outraged students insisting that they will not be made afraid by the militants, and protesting the schools closure.
Aljazeera English reports that 150,000 civilians have now left South Waziristan (pop. 600,000), and another 100,000 are trying to get out.
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