First Snow in Pakistan

Snow is falling in the higher passes as people prepare for winter, and the country faces the economic downturn being seen worldwide. Many pin it on the downturn in the US, but the housing bubble burst in the US is really not the whole of it, it’s just another symptom. The downturn we see now is really the spreading wake of two years of sustained high energy prices. Pakistan got an IMF loan to weather the economic drought, and the government is having the usual sniping in their chambers as everyone tries to deflect blame and flames. There have been crackdowns and arrests of Foreign exchange operators, as the government tries to prevent money from fleeing the country (note to intel types: think on who would be refugee under the current scenario, and why money would be leaving…)

The war in Bajaur and Swat continues at low key, and there is supposed to be an operation underway to tackle Mohmand agency. On the border of Mohmand in Charsadda, a suicide bomber in a van attacked a school being used by Police and paramilitaries, killing four at the gate and himself. Authorities blocked the Peshawar-Bajaur road while they investigated. There are now “Peace activists” in a camp in Peshawar led by a black turban as well. That would bear some watching, on the other hand it could just be a poseur trying to sell shuttlecock burqas…

The authorities arrested an Afghanistan Taliban ex-minister trying to leave for Dubai under false papers, the detainee was civil aviation deputy minister during the period the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan.

President Zardari is attending the UN interfaith conference and met with Sect’y Condoleeza Rice on the sidelines. The goverment has stabilized a bit in the wake of the IMF loan and after making the decision to proceed with the operations in Bajaur. While US missile strikes have become routine the outcry has lessened as suicide bombings continue and the urban core areas feel threatened.

The TTP taliban appear a bit fractured even though they are fighting to hang on in Swat and Bajaur, it appears that some are trying local warlord ploys. Any of the splinter groups will still take orders from Al Qaeda however the influence of Baitullah Mehsud has lessened in some areas, notably Khyber Agency.

What’s ahead? Expect more frontier unrest as food and fuel goes scarce in some areas due to fighting, the usual Taliban road blockages and hijackings, as well as the summer harvests running low during January-February. Border incursions to the north in Afghanistan will problably lessen and Taliban transiting north will swing wide through Iran to get around the frozen passes if they go at all with the war in the frontiers. I am seeing indications which are not yet clear of a shift in strategy, watch for movement at all Pakistan borders — this might be the beginning of an exodus.

This report was compiled from various news stories in The International News and the Daily Times

Update: TTP Claims the Suicide Bombing

TTP Taliban Re-Declares War on Pakistan

The Civil war in Pakistan has heated up again with assaults on proto-Taliban agents of Mangal Bagh in the Khyber pass (Taliban groups in Pakistan change names as the occasion or the goal allows, and they sub-contract with each other. In this case they are furthering tribal goals of Mangal Bagh and theirs as well. The Taliban goal here is retribution against the tribal forces that denied their takeover of the Khyber pass, Mangal’s is to extend his power.) Namdar, who leads the forces opposed to Mangal Bagh, is no friend to the US either but his desire to maintain control of the region counteracts that of the TTP/Mehsuds. Bill Roggio has a slideshow of the extremist leaders here.

This is the outcome I predicted in posts last year – when the new Government got rid of the old laws they failed to fill the vacumn, creating a power grab by every petty warlord in the frontiers. They removed the old power bases and authorities and didn’t replace it with anything.

As always the main Taliban forces fled before the Government forces arrived. This is the usual dumb-show cat and mouse we’ve seen for several years in the frontiers. In most cases the Frontier Corps will flee their checkpoint, base, or observation post before a Taliban attack, and the Taliban will flee their “hideouts” before the government attacks. It’s as if both sides know what the other is going to do in advance, and there appears to be a lot of winking and nudging going on in lower ranks.

Meanwhile the Pakistan Taliban Shura is following Baitullah Mehsud and has backed completely out of the peace talks, putting back in force the declaration of war from last September, once again showing they are really the lapdogs of Bin Laden and Zawahiri.

Taliban Update: Suicide Assasination Attempt on Namdar Fails

Namdar\'s Offices BombedThe Taliban affiliated group, Lashkar-e-Islami,  leading the failed efforts in the Khyber Pass sought retribution today with a suicide bomber attack on one of their Tribal opponent’s offices. The blast killed several, but Namdar was not present so like the Karzai attempt it was a strike-out.

Namdar led the tribal turning that destroyed the recent Taliban efforts to block the Khyber and interdict supplies to the US forces North in Afghanistan. More from NDTV:

Several people were feared killed on Thursday when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the office of an Islamic group in Pakistan’s restive Khyber Agency, officials said.

The suicide bomber targeted the office of the ”Amar bil maroof wa nahee aanelmunkar” (promotion of virtue and prevention of vice force), the religious police of a group led by Haji Namdar at Bara, the main town of the northwestern Khyber Agency.

A spokesman for Haji Namdar said the head of the suicide bomber has been found.

Official sources said Haji Namdar was the actual target of the attack though he escaped unhurt. He is a rival of Mangal Bagh Afridi, another radical leader who heads the Lashkar-e-Islam group.

The sources said they feared the death toll could rise as several of the injured were in a critical condition. The seriously injured were rushed to hospitals in Peshawar, capital of the North West Frontier Province.

When the Taliban first announced their plans in the Khyber I predicted doom for them since there are too many vested tribal interests in the area, and they are not going to allow outside interference in their region. The Wazirs lost miserably, tucked their tails and ran into a trap where they were killed. They will undoubtably continue to seek retribution, but if that goes on much longer they might stir up something they don’t like. The Khyber agency tribes are cunning and they are better trained and more capable than the Taliban — they aren’t going to put up with this.

In other news Syed at Asia times details the failed attack on Karzai, making it out to be more than it was, the important nugget here is the cooperation between Hekmatyar and Haqqani. That indicates to me that the Afghanistan Taliban are more stressed than portrayed, and it also indicates the source of their arms. Hekmatyar has long ties to elements in Iran, and he is their agent of instability in Afghanistan.

While Syed portrays the actions as smart, the reality is that failed efforts kill innocents, and steel more of the Pashtun against the Taliban. The fact that they are now working tight with Hekmatyar again isn’t going to win them friends either.

In a more recent article Asia times details the alignment of Taliban forces and leaders, but the reality is that they are down to fourth and fifth string leaders. Callow, inexperienced rookies for the most part, who will crumble now that the surge is on and the marines have landed.

The Spring offensive this year will be against the Taliban, not by the Taliban. They will try to slip small groups north, attack aid workers and other soft targets, I expect night visits to villages and school burnings as usual, but they can’t mount an effective campaign. They will try to grab headlines in other words rather than try to win.