30 October 2009

Pakistan's secret war in South Waziristan...

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Since the Pakistani Army launched Operation Rah-e-Nijat (Urdu for "Path to Salvation") the military has made significant progress. Last week recaptured the strategic town of Kotkai, the birthplace of Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud. The lawless, semi-autonomous South Waziristan region is a hotbed for Uzbek and foreign extremists and is a stronghold of the dreaded Tehrik-e-Taliban, or Taliban Movement of Pakistan, an umbrella of about a dozen militant groups fighting the government. The last time an offensive was launched in SW in 2004, heavy casualties forced the troops to strike up a peace treaty.

The biggest discrepancy in this battle is the casualties. While it's pleasing to know that the Army has inflicted heavy losses on the rebels, what is infinitely more pressing is the casualties on the army side. Information from the conflict is unreliable as access is denied to foreign media and journalists. So this means the only source of information is the Pakistani army and the drastic figures they give definitely doesn't sound very credible.

On the third of the offensive, the security forces reported 9 soldiers killed and 78 enemy fighters on the enemy side. I am not a military expert, but something is very wrong here. Evidently, the Army isn't the only belligerent giving dubious figures. The Taliban, who claim not to have lost a single fighter, say they have killed many more Pakistani soldiers than the nine reported by the army.

What makes this even more frustrating is the lack of pictures and media emanating from the battlefield. We just don't know what's happening there. I watch Al Jazeera English, as they usually have more footage and better coverage on such issues than Western media. However, the ban applies to them too and this means they have to relay on local men to be their eyes and ears on the ground. The army says 264 militants and 33 soldiers have been killed so far. Let's just hope the later doesn't rise much.

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