No Pakistan victory in Orakzai despite hue and cry

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June 14, 2010, 1:39 p.m. | World — by Interfax-Ukraine
It was a classic case of military hubris: when Pakistan announced it has defeated Taliban militants in one of their major bases recently, it was a far cry from reality in the volatile Orakzai region. Pakistani military analysts say the victory announcement -- much like U.S. President George W. Bush's 2003 "mission accomplished" moment -- was based on "miscalculations" as officers thought militants would flee the region after many of their bases were captured.

They said the declaration itself appeared to be an attempt to boost the morale of a public suffering from years of attacks, nearly constant military campaigns and few apparent results.

"The announcement looks good to the Pakistani public. The public thinks it's an endless thing, especially in Orakzai. So they probably wanted to give the people some relief," said retired general Talat Masood, a military and security analyst.

"It was for domestic consumption. But unfortunately, this was not really the reality and their credibility is now in question. "I think it was an honest misjudgement and some unnecessary exuberance."

Orakzai is one of the major bases of the Pakistani Taliban, which are fighting both the Pakistani state and coalition forces in Afghanistan. The precarious situation in the region highlights the challenges the Pakistani army faces in battling insurgents.

Security forces last month captured the major militant stronghold of Djabori, some 60 km (37 miles) from Orakzai's main town of Kalaya.

Soon afterwards, the Pakistan army chief, Gen. Asfaq Kayani, flew to Orakzai on June 1 and declared victory over the Taliban there, saying it is winding up its offensive there as militants have been driven out of the region.

But just a day later, fierce clashes broke out in which 20 militants were killed.

"The situation is very dangerous in Orakzai. The militants are still controlling important mountains and they can stage a comeback," said tribal elder Lal Jan.

On June 3, dozens of militants attacked a security checkpost in the region, killing six soldiers. The government said at least 30 militants were killed fighting them off.

Since then, clashes have taken place almost daily with government officials claiming that they were inflicting losses on the militants, almost all of which are unsubstantiated and disputed by militant groups. Analysts say large casualty figures show that insurgents are still operating in big numbers in the region, despite the hits.

"The military operation is not yet over in Orakzai," Rahimullah Yusufzai, a newspaper editor and expert on militant affairs said. "I think they (the army) made the announcement of victory in haste."

Residents say militants are still in control of large swathes of territory in Orakzai particularly its upper parts which now serve as a haven for militants from nearby Khyber and Kurram.


Analysts say a victory in Orakzai would allow Pakistan to move troops to other hot spots like North Waziristan, a major base for an Afghan Taliban network, and which the United States has been pressing for as it struggles to stabilise the country.

Pakistan, however, has yet to show an appetite to do so, given the volatile situation in Orakzai and elsewhere in the tribal belt.

Orakzai is one of Pakistan's seven Pashtun tribal lands in the northwest. Unlike the six other tribal regions, however, it does not border Afghanistan.

But the rugged mountainous territory provides a crucial link for militants operating in other tribal regions, as it borders the regions of Khyber and Kurram on the Afghan frontier.

Orakzai was the original base of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud before he moved to South Waziristan to take up the Taliban leadership after the death of his predecessor, Baituallah Mehsud, in a U.S. missile strike last year.

Pakistani security forces launched an offensive in the South Waziristan bastion of Mehsud militants in October. The offensive was extended to Orakzai in March as many of the Mehsud militants who fled the South Waziristan operation took refuge there.

Orakzai also borders Peshawar, Pakistan's main northwestern city, as well as the garrison town of Kohat. Pakistani security officials say many of the suicide and bomb attacks in both places earlier this year were orchestrated and executed by militants based in Orakzai.

After the military campaign in Orakzai, security officials say there has been a sharp decline in militant attacks in Peshawar and Kohat.

"The militants have been pushed to the remote valleys to make cities safer. This has largely been done. But they are still occupying positions in the countryside and these places have yet to be cleared," a senior security official said.

However, analysts cautioned that these successes could be fleeting as militants have in the past shown the ability to regroup. "The militants have been denied some space ... but in terms of number, manpower and strength they still have a lot of capacity," militant affairs expert Yusufzai said.
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