This is a heartening brief published by CENTER for RESEARCH and SECURITY STUDIES ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN
Taliban were thugs and a strategic burden from the beginning: The army and civilians alike were shocked and alarmed in early April when the TTP militants taking cover under a controversial peace deal, began occupying strategic locations in Buner, Mingora, Malam Jabba and other parts of Malakand. Their worries multiplied when Taliban militants abducted four Pakistan army commandos in the mountainous Buner valley and eventually executed them. “When the pet develops rabies and starts biting its own mentors, it must be put to sleep, no way around it.” This statement that a senior general involved in military operations in the Northwestern Frontier Province (NWFP) told CRSS in late April suggested a definite new realization — if not change of heart altogether — that as far as the military establishment was concerned, the militants had gone too far; until that point, the army’s claims that it was doing its best to hunt down “miscreants” were met with skepticism across the board. The common perception in Pakistan and elsewhere is that the country’s security establishment — because of old relationships with militant outfits — was only shadow-boxing to impress the world and would not harm those it had once created. But the military’s efforts in the Swat Valley and now in Khyber have helped diminish this view — partially at least. In the process, military officials claim, close to 350 soldiers and officers have lost their lives, since the operation in Malakand/Swat region was launched in early May.
Militants being killed: It was the third major setback for the dreaded outfit since August 5, when a CIA-operated drone missile took out Baitullah Mehsud, the TTP founder and chief. Only a few days after Mehsud’s death, TTP spokesman Maulvi Mohammad Omar was captured in the Mohmand tribal region. Also, the fate of Hakimullah Mehsud, whom the organization’s shura purportedly picked as the new chief on August 25, is still uncertain, with virtually no sign of him since the day he was made the ameer. Similarly, another fierce al Qaeda aligned TTP leader Maulvi Fazlullah is handicapped by serious wounds and reportedly under siege and probably counting his days as a free icon of terror. Additionally, Shah Dauran, another infamous associate of Fazlullah who used to spread terror through mobile FM radio airwaves, is also dead.
Arrest of the deputy chief thug, Muslim Khan: The dramatic capture of Muslim Khan and four other Taliban militants in a military-intelligence sting operation on September 3 marked another deadly blow against the embattled Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Muslim Khan, as the spokesman for the TTP in the Swat Valley, had owned up to scores of suicide bombings on the security forces and admitted attacks on dozens of girls’ schools in the Swat region. Khan also claimed responsibility on behalf of the TTP for sending two suicide bombers to weapons manufacturing complex — the Pakistan Ordnance Factories near Islamabad — where about 90 people were blown into pieces in one of the deadliest attacks in Pakistan, in April 2008.
Pakistani commandos moved brilliantly to arrest him: The sting operation became possible only after Kamal Khan, an old acquaintance of Muslim Khan now living in the U.S., agreed to become part of the game; the strategy to capture him aimed to create a façade of negotiations and trap the militants, who had been publicly vowing attacks on Pakistani government institutions. Kamal Khan and Pakistan’s Military Intelligence, a division of the Pakistani Army, moved in tandem and eventually a raid involving some six dozen commandos resulted in Muslim Khan’s capture at a village called Mangalore, some 12 kilometers southwest of Mingora, the administrative headquarter of the Swat district. “It was purely an intelligence-driven operation,” a senior army official overseeing the operation told CRSS. “It was not a smooth affair. Six of their guards got killed in the firefight that erupted when the commandos moved in.”
More good news coming? Pakistanis writ large therefore expect that the army and the government will remain united and take this war to its logical conclusion i.e. bringing people like Muslim Khan and Hakimullah Mehsud to justice and making them accountable for the deaths and destruction that have taken place in Pakistan since the formation of the TTP in December 2007 will continue to inject new optimism into the security debate and revive confidence in state institutions. And we should not be surprised if, as a result of Muslim Khan’s interrogations, his mentor Maulvi Fazlullah also gets captured — perhaps timed to coincide with President Asif Ali Zardari’s meeting in New York on September 24, at which he is expected to urge world to compensate Pakistan for its efforts against extremists, who — under the tutelage of al Qaeda — still pose a grave threat to the entire region.
Now, Pakistan has an honorable working relationship with the US: Since last September, when the army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani issued a veiled warning against the repeat of a raid by helicopter-borne U.S. Marines in South Waziristan who carried out a ground assault, the level of trust between the two armies has considerably improved, although the U.S. has yet to give Pakistan the Predator drones technology that has taken out several top al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in the country. Intelligence sharing has gone up and so has the coordination, reflected in the presence of a large number U.S. military and intelligence assets in the Waziristan region alongside the Pakistani forces. As a whole, the war against militants seems in full swing; operations against criminals calling themselves Taliban in the Khyber Agency and the Pakistan Air Force’s bombardment of suspected militant hideouts in Waziristan continues. So is the push in the Swat region, where large areas have been cleared and handed over to civilian authorities.
People returning home after Taliban’s terrorism: Another favorable indicator is the return of more than 1.65 million people displaced by the fighting since mid July to their homes in the Malakand region. This underscores that perceptions of the Pakistani military’s complicity with the extremist movements have given way to more confidence in the government and army actions against “miscreants.” And the icing on the cake came with the arrests of Muslim Khan and four other central leaders of the Swat chapter of the TTP, which now appears to be facing defeat by attrition. These captures served as huge psychological booster not only for the civilian administration but also for the forces battling the militants. Mayors of several sub-districts in Swat , particularly those of Kabal, Kooza Bandi, Matta and Chaharbagh, have meanwhile returned from self-imposed exiles in towns such as Peshawar, Mardan and Islamabad to revive public confidence in government institutions. But most of mainstream politicians — members of Parliament in particular — still feel insecure and intimidated by militants.