Guest Writings
31/01/04 Pakistan loses ground in Afghanistan By Syed Saleem Shahzad

Syed Saleem Shahzad…..Asia Times January 31, 2004

Syed Saleem Shahzad…..Asia Times January 31, 2004

ISLAMABAD – As the Taliban prepare for a crucial phase of their struggle against foreign troops in Afghanistan, a prelude for the final “spring offensive”, the resistance movement has lost its support from Pakistan’s establishment, under pressure from the United States.

The resistance, meanwhile, under a new commander, is regrouping in the remote Khyber Agency region of Pakistan, using the infrastructure of people and fortifications laid by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda several years ago.

Asia Times Online has learned from insiders within the security administration of President General Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad that strategists have bowed to pressure from Washington, and will end all covert support for the resistance in Afghanistan.

Up to now, Pakistan has aided some commanders in Afghanistan belonging to the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the veteran mujahideen leader now largely responsible for orchestrating the Afghan resistance.

Pakistan’s purpose was not so much to damage US interests, but to establish a counter-force to the growing pro-India presence along the Afghani border areas with Pakistan. Pakistan’s support, though limited, did, nevertheless, work against the interests of the US. As a result, US intelligence tracked HIA recruiting offices in Pakistani cities such as Karachi and Peshawar, and pointed to various locations in Pakistan where HIA volunteers were being given training, money and arms. And for example, legendary Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani ( who joined the Taliban and became a minister and who is now the main force behind the resistance in Khost and Paktia) visited Miran Shah in Pakistan several times, but authorities turned a blind eye.

Confronted with this, and coming at a time of revelations of some Pakistani scientists being accused of nuclear proliferation to Iran, among other countries, Islamabad had little option but to pledge to pull out all of its operators and their proxy networks from Afghanistan.

Musharraf, did, however, apparently manage to extract a concession from the US that coalition troops would increase their presence in Afghanistan in areas where warlords are hand-in-glove with the Indian establishment. For example, Pakistan wants more International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Jalalabad and Kandahar, where warlords associated with the anti-Pakistan former Shura-i-Nazaar and the Northern Alliance are active. The US leads a 12,000-person force in Afghanistan.

Carry on in the Khyber
These developments come as the Taliban step up their struggle to include more suicide attacks. Asia Times Online was first publication to report this strategy (Taliban raise the stakes – Oct 30, 2003). These attacks are the prelude to a broader struggle that will start in spring in which the Taliban will attempt to retake the major cities in Afghanistan that they held before being ousted by the US in late 2001.

One British soldier of the ISAF was killed on Wednesday morning and three of his comrades wounded in a car bomb attack on an eastern Kabul highway. The attack occurred just a day after a Canadian peacekeeper lost his life and three others were injured in a suicide bomb attack in southern Kabul area. About 10 civilians, including a French aid worker, were also wounded in the two attacks.

In the latest unrest, an explosion near an ammunition dump in southern Afghanistan on Thursday killed seven US soldiers and wounded three other soldiers and an interpreter. The US Army central command said that the soldiers were working near an arms cache in the southern province of Ghazni. The cause of the blast is unclear.

For some time the US has focused on South Waziristan Agency in Pakistan as a hotbed of the resistance, where guerrillas hide and receive support from the local population between raids in Afghanistan. As a result, at US instigation, the Pakistan army has undertaken a number of missions to the region, but to date without major success in tracking down resistance ringleaders.

Now, though, it emerges that the real center of resistance action is the remote Khyber Agency in North West Frontier Province. Two mountainous areas here, Tera and Moro, which lie on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, have no roads and the local population is almost 100 percent behind bin Laden and the Taliban. Some years ago, bin Laden had a network of tunnels and underground bunkers built here, which the resistance is now using as hideaways and for the storage of supplies and ammunition as a source of most supply lines into Afghanistan.

Obviously, this region is known to both the US and Pakistani authorities – the problem is dealing with it. Clearly, the US cannot utilize its massive air strength in Pakistan as it did in ousting the Taliban from Kabul. And due to the terrain – and the completely hostile population – the Pakistani army is in no position to make an offensive of any significance. The use of helicopters would also be hazardous as they would have to fly low in the valleys, opening themselves up for ground-to-air missile attacks.

According to Taliban sources, the resistance for the spring offensive is now under the command of Mullah Sabir Momin of Orugzan province. The battle lines are drawn.

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