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Pakistan: Ground Operations Against TTP Begin.

Paper No. 5710                                    Dated 26-May-2014
By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
It looks that finally the Pakistan Army had its way in going against TTP camps in South Waziristan despite genuine reservations from the political leadership led by Nawaz Sharief and his Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
On 23rd May, the Security Forces made a major assault on the Machis camp of the militants on the outskirts of Miranshah.  Official reports say that 4 Uzbek militants were killed and many others captured.  The security forces also suffered casualties. The next day helicopter gun ships and Jets bombed the suspected concentration of TTP militants in Dera Ismail Khan area too.
Two days earlier on 21st May, Pak jets pounded suspected hideouts in North Waziristan. 60 militants including some senior militant commanders were reported killed.  There were strikes in and around Miran shah.  There were strikes again on 22nd . In all 80 militants were reported to have been killed.  It is possible that many civilians would also have been killed, but the press has not made any mention.  It is to be recalled that the Press is now terrified after action against three of the Geo channels and therefore cannot be expected to give a truthful account.
The offensive against the TTP who are not far from the camps of the Haqqani group that are friendly to the Pak army, was said to have been taken at a high level meeting on 20th May of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief, Interior Minister Nisar Ali and the Army Chief.
Pressure had been mounting on Nawaz Sharief to go for an offensive for quite some time.  On January 27, the parliamentarians from PML (N) had voted in majority for operations against the Taliban as opposed to the peace talks the government was pursuing.  The Army had all along pressed for a “full-fledged operations” to curb sectarian violence and terrorism.
Earlier in the beginning of January the Government had formed a negotiating team which interestingly had a retired ISI Major Amir as one of the members.  The TTP on its part was led by Jamaat-e Islami leader Ibrahim Khan.  
With the cease fire having lapsed it was inevitable that offensive operations would begin.  Yet Nawaz Sharief had set store on continuing the talks as he still felt that there was no alternative to the talks.  In early May, despite some serious incidents, Interior Minister Nisar Khan said that he still believed that the talks were the way forward.  
It looks that Nawaz Sharief has been finally over ruled by the Army who were itching to go after the TTP ( Tehrik-e Taliban).  Yet one cannot explain the ferocity of the assault of the Army on areas suspected to be holding the TTP and the foreign militants.  Whole buildings have been razed to the ground in the operations. The reasons could be 
*  There is a view that the immediate provocation was a major ambush of May 12, on the 12 Frontier Corps patrol when 12 personnel were killed and many more injured.
* In another incident one Chinese was kidnapped and there could have been Chinese pressure.  Just a few days ago in the city of Urumchi four Uighur militants rammed two SUVs right into a crowded market killing many.  The ETIM continues to be active in Xinjiang.
*There are serious internal problems within the TTP between the Fazlulllah the chief who incidentally is from Swat and the rival Khan Sajna and his allies Azam Tariq.  Reports indicate that there have been intermittent clashes between the two groups resulting in loss of lives on both sides.  Probably the Pakistan Army’s assessment is that the TTP is most vulnerable at the present moment.
* There is also a sense of urgency with the troops of US and its allies leaving the border wide open by the year end making  it more difficult for Pakistan to control the movement of militants across the Durand line.
* The TTP has already three high value captives in their custody that includes the son of former Prime Minister Gilani, son of slain Punjab Governor Salmaan Tasar as also Vice Chancellor Ajmal Khan. 
It was very amusing to hear Nawaz Sharief declaring last month that terrorism and peace talks cannot happen at the same time.  He need not therefore be reminded that dialogue cannot continue between Indian and Pakistan also when sponsored terrorist acts from across the border continue.
Strange it may sound and yet it is seen that Pakistan has allowed all along the co existence of two different sets of  groups in North Waziristan and they seem now to be paying for it.  The Haqqani, Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir groups use Pakistan territory to forage into Afghanistan while the TTP and the IMU use the same territory to commit depredations within Pakistan territory! It is reported that the armed forces and the intelligence agencies in Pakistan have sent a message to the so called ‘good Taliban’ and the Haqqani network that if enemies of Pakistan are their friends then they cannot be friends with Pakistan!
It is very doubtful whether the specific and intensive operations against the TTP would produce the desired results.  Fazlullah, the TTP chief has already declared that he is getting ready his “suicide bombers” to take on the evil forces.
This brings us to another aspect of the dynamics of Pakistan politics.  Left to himself, Nawaz Sharief would have liked to continue the negotiations despite the provocations from the TTP. He held out for a while but later succumbed to the pressure from the army and the hardliners within his party.  His limitations in the whole issue are to be seen in the wider matrix of relations with India.
For the last few days, the media (mainly the TV channels) have been talking day in and day out on the “invite” to the Pakistan Prime Minister for inauguration ceremony of the new Prime minister.  The pros and cons were being fully analysed ad nauseam.  It was surprising that all the heavy weights in the strategic community had also joined the chorus in giving their “weighty” view points.  
To me it appears that Nawaz Sharief has his own limitations in dealing with India and no amount of fresh or “out of the box” initiatives from India would change the dynamics.  The initiative has to come from within Pakistan and externally only  two other countries could influence- China and Saudi Arabia.
In this euphoria on the visit of Nawaz Sharief, we should not get into the trap once again by clubbing ourselves both as “victims of aggression!”