October 8, 2007

Pakistan Attacks In Waziristan

The Pakistani Army attacked Islamist bases in Waziristan yesterday after one of their checkpoints came under fire. When the dust had settled, 58 combatants had died, and Musharraf may have sent a message about his post-election plans:

At least 58 people, including 16 soldiers, have been killed in clashes between Pakistani troops and militants in the North Waziristan region.

Security forces struck militant bases after a checkpoint was attacked in the Mir Ali area, the army said. ...

Military spokesman Maj Gen Waheed Arshad said: "The operation is over but some clashes are still going on in other areas."

Heavy artillery and helicopter gunships were used to attack militants' positions in mountains after the attack on the checkpoint near Mir Ali town.

Musharraf has vacillated on pressing the point against the Islamists in the northwest over the last couple of years. Even after his truce fell apart with the tribes of Waziristan, even after the Red Mosque standoff, Musharraf had tried to find some accommodation with the radicals. His army doesn't find the internecine fighting very morale-building, although at least the leadership appears to understand its necessity.

Now that he has his hand-picked successor in place as army chief of staff, though, Musharraf looks to be leaning towards a fight. He has almost concluded an alliance with Benazir Bhutto, who favors a hard-line approach to the Islamists. She even went so far as to endose American action in Waziristan at one point, which has earned her the undying enmity of the Islamists there. If Musharraf and Bhutto conclude an alliance, the Islamists know that they're the target.

Expect Musharraf to tiptoe in Waziristan for a while longer. He'd like to turn the tribes in the region against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, if possible, rather than take on the entire region. If the Islamists continue to attack his army outposts, though, Musharraf may not tiptoe for much longer. At some point, the army will demand a march step rather than a tiptoe.


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