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Advanced Article Archive: Ceifit Special Reports
Terror Analysis: Fighting Terrorism in Pakistan - Risks and Opportunities


The ongoing operation of the Pakistani army in the Swat Valley against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP- the Pakistani branch of the Afghan Taliban, led by Baitullah Mehsud), and its possible expansion to Waziristan- the location of "Al-Qaeda's Headquarters"- present a unique opportunity, as well as considerable risks.

Throughout the violent conflict, focused mainly in the Swat Valley, north-west of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, about 1,500 fatalities were recorded among Global Jihad activists, mostly TTP operatives. After more than six weeks of constant fighting, the Pakistani army has managed to reestablish its control in the district, eliminating TTP’s presence from its main stronghold in the city of Minogra.  It seems that the operation in this region has reached its final stages, and the next steps are those still in question.



The sharp increase in the level of tension in the region started with para-military activities initiated by TTP that has joined hands with other local terrorist groups. These actions reflect a strategic decision made by the Taliban, alongside its main ally Al-Qaeda, to gain control over the districts surrounding its main center of command- the provinces of Waziristan. The ultimate goal of these actions is the establishment of a religious Islamic Emirate in Pakistan. The TTP has extended its reach into different northern parts of the country, annexing them under its control, conducting terror attacks against various targets and imposing the Islamic Law (Shariah) in these areas. 

The military counter-terrorism operation, leaving about 130 Pakistani soldiers dead and over 2 million civilian refugees, emerged as result of the West pressuring Pakistani president Zardari. Mostly concerned with the possible leak of Pakistani nuclear facilities and knowledge to the hands of radical Islamic elements, Western countries led by the US pushed Zardari to confront this dramatic increase of Taliban control and presence in the regions.  

The total amount of Pakistani casualties the Taliban-linked attacks have produced since July 2007 is assessed to be 2,000 people. 

Al-Qaeda, on its part, seems to not take an active part in the day-to-day fighting, yet is very likely to be involved in providing logistical support and most importantly  influence public opinion by calling the Pakistani people to support the Jihadi effort and revolt against the local regime.


Baitullah Mehsud


The operation- so far a Military Success

During the fighting, the Pakistani army has managed to eliminate around 1,500 operatives, an unprecedented number in the country's counter-terrorism history. The army has regained control over much of the areas in Swat, Buner and Dir districts where TTP were based. TTP operatives are reported to be fleeing the region, shaving their beards in order to avoid being identified as Jihadists. It is worth mentioning though that the reports from the battlefield are mostly made by Pakistani officials, while the Jihadi Propaganda wings of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban remained relatively quiet. This raises some doubt as to the extent of the defeat the Pakistani army claims to have achieved.  

At any rate, with an assessed number of 2,000 operatives left, the TTP managed to strike back and initiate a series of quality attacks in Lahore, Peshawar and other major Pakistani cities. 

Still, however, at least as far as the Swat Valley and the surrounding districts are concerned, it seems that the TTP were pushed back, and that the immediate threat to Pakistan's stability and sovereignty was reduced for the short term. The main issues that are still in question are:

  •  TTP's military capabilities to  confront the army in other areas in Pakistan.
  • TTP’s current ambitions to overthrow the regime.
  • TTP’s abilities to overcome the current setback and rehabilitate its operational capabilities.
  • The long run socio-economic effects of the fighting on the civil population of the region and the Pakistani regime’s ability to rehabilitate the infrastructural and personal damage. This would also directly lead to the question of the effect the fighting has has over the local populations’ level of support for the TTP. 


Shifting the war into Waziristan?

The latest reports from Pakistan suggest a plan to conduct a military operation in Waziristan province, mainly in South Waziristan, in order to reach TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud's safe haven. Early indications of this planned operation have already surfaced through declarations by Pakistani political and military leadership, as well as several air-strikes that took place against AQ and Taliban targets in the region. 

The actions taken so far by the Pakistani army in Waziristan are mostly "pin-point operations". However, if the Pakistani leadership is determined to eliminate the threat for the long term, this kind of method alone would not be sufficient. In order to significantly uproot terrorism in Waziristan, Pakistan will need to launch a full scale ground operation, combined of course with constant aerial and Special Forces pin-point operations. It is still unclear whether such a dramatic and strategic decision has already been made by President Zardari, whose wife - former Prime-minister Benazir Bhutto - was allegedly assassinated by the Jihadi elements. 

From the Pakistani stand point, the current status presents a rare window of opportunity to significantly reduce the level of threat posed by Global Jihad (AQ, Taliban and the smaller Pakistani groups) elements to the stability of the country. The large amount of casualties among TTP operatives puts the organization in a militarily vulnerable position, and the large number of prisoners captured during the fighting can provide the Pakistani intelligence (ISI) with the necessary information to support large scale operations. 

Waziristan, the lawless border region, has been the base for Al-Qaeda leadership, as well as the Afghani Taliban and the TTP for many years. Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar found shelter and protection in the welcoming arms of the tribes, which practically control this mountainous area. AQ's beating heart is in Waziristan, to the location of the entire senior leadership, command and control mechanism, training and facilitation networks. 

The strongholds of the Jihadists are spread throughout the ranges of mountains and caves, and in towns like Wana, Bannu, Jani Khel, Mir Ali and many others. 

During the last years Pakistan has refrained from seriously confronting AQ and Taliban in Waziristan. Most of the attempts to deal with the problem were through peace talks with the local tribesmen, who eventually maintained their loyalty to the Jihadists. Attempts to conduct military operations in Waziristan were limited and have usually failed, ending with many Pakistani casualties. These failures led to several US unilateral air strikes against AQ seniors in Waziristan, fueling anger and instability in Pakistan against the president at the time – Musharaf - for not being able to stop they perceived as American aggression.


pakistani taliban attack


Risks and Opportunities

In Waziristan, the Pakistani army will struggle not only with loyal tribesmen who, in the past, collaborated with the Jihadists and kept them far from the hands of the Pakistani and Western intelligence, but also with a difficult terrain to operate in. The Pakistani army might find itself unprepared, complacent due to the success in the Swat Valley, fighting not only the TTP, but also by Al-Qaeda trained operatives, this time "in their home court". It is doubtful whether in the present moment Pakistan can handle this scenario of a long and bloody war, with its outcomes and effects on the Pakistani population.   

On the other hand, if indeed a strategic decision is made, a Pakistani military success can significantly change the picture entirely, locally and worldwide,  bringing about a real change in the threat that Al Qaeda presents to the world. Through a determined and thorough operation, the Pakistani army should strive to achieve its goals through the following general actions:

  • Engage in a long-term operation, on the ground and in the air, keeping in mind that it will take months and a vast number of casualties until AQ/TTP will be eliminated in large numbers. Needless to say, such operation requires military, financial and mental preparation and readiness.
  • Provide the local tribes with incentives to fight Al-Qaeda/TTP:

Establishing an honest, constructive and effective cooperation with the tribesmen has been proven to be  enormously effective in Iraq, leading to the significant decrease in violence in the country. Pakistan must find mutual interests and provide the tribes with incentives to fight those who possess a threat to the stability of Waziristan.

Regarding this matter, it should also be noted that during the last two weeks, some tribes that have lost several of their members in AQ/TTP attacks have formed militias of their own, designated to confront the Jihadists. The phenomenon is still in its beginning, and if expanded, can , be a major factor in the ability to gain intelligence, ease navigation and efficiently fight terrorism in Waziristan.

  • Cut supply routes of new Jihadists, money and equipment coming from two main areas- Afghanistan and Iran (through Baluchstan region).
  • Enhance cooperation with the Afghani government in order to minimize the capability of militants to flee Waziristan through the Afghan border during the operation. Other countries that Jihadists are likely to seek refuge in are Yemen, Somalia, Bangladesh, the African Sahel region (south of the Sahara desert), South East Asia and Iran.
  • Seek military, financial and intelligence support (public and covert) from other countries, understanding it can upgrade its capabilities and chances of success in such operation.


To conclude, the Pakistani operation, which focused mainly in districts outside of Waziristan (Swat, Buner, Mohmand), can bring about a serious setback to TTP's capabilities, and is likely to force their withdrawal into Waziristan. However, we believe that in the Waziristan safe, the TTP will be able to redeploy their operational forces, start a process of rehabilitation (assessed to take several months) and probably continue to launch medium-scale attacks in the country, until they are ready for the next attempt to regain control over other national districts.

After all, despite the serious hit TTP suffered in its manpower, the organization and its ally Al-Qaeda still have several thousands of trained militants, and the center of command for both organizations still operates, having only been  slightly hit.

The current situation in Pakistan and the possibility of extending the military operation into Waziristan present both risks and opportunities. It is a matter of a strategic and determined decision that can bring a real long-term change to the entire region. Are the Pakistanis ready to take it?


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