Pakistan’s military has successfully driven Taliban militants from Bajaur Agency, a small chunk of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) sandwiched between Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier Province.  The news is welcome, but Bajaur’s relatively small area and milder terrain make the victory much more difficult to replicate in other regions of the FATA.

  The NYT:

Residents and Western military experts, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the political situation, said it was likely that rather than being finally uprooted from this slice of Bajaur and a nearby stronghold in Loe Sam, the bulk of the Taliban forces had retreated to mountain enclaves, waiting to return, as they have so often, when the military eases off.

At the same time, a recent truce between the Pakistani government and Taliban forces who have seized the Swat Valley, an area just east of here, has called into question the military’s ability and the government’s willingness to take on the militants with finality.


Even if the military victory in Bajaur and Mohmand holds, some Pakistani and American officials cautioned that it might not mean much in the larger picture.  Though strategically placed, they are relatively small pockets of the tribal belt, with relatively educated populations and benign terrain.  Much tougher challenges would face the Pakistani military, the officials said, if it decided to take on the harsh territory and entrenched Taliban and Qaeda forces in South and North Waziristan.

Major General Tariq Khan, the inspector general of the Frontier Corps behind the recent win, said that Pakistani forces killed 1,600 militants.  However, both locals and Western officials cast doubt on this figure, citing a lack of bodies as evidence.  The military has also made headway in neighboring Mohmand Agency, immediately to the south of Bajaur.  Witnesses there said that militants now travel much more cautiously, rather than openly in large convoys.

Government efforts are presently underway to persuade some 300,000 people displaced by the six months of fighting to return home.  Agricultural and economic assistance is desperately needed.  Local tribesmen, who have previously mobilized militias against the Taliban, welcomed the departure of the militants but were skeptical of government pledges to rebuild the area after having seen their property destroyed with recompense in the past.

Experts warned that tribal leaders’ doubts need to be allayed very soon: “‘If the government doesn’t build and attract tribesmen back quickly, and do things to put money in their pockets, there is every likelihood of a reversion to the militants,’ said Khalid Aziz, a former chief secretary of the North-West Frontier Province, who is working on the Pakistani-American effort for Bajaur.”

The U.S. has provided $19 million to help with the Bajaur resettlement program, but much more is needed to bring peace to the wider FATA and northwest region.  Last week, Atlantic Council Strategic Advisors Group member Harlan Ullman argued for much more U.S. aid to Pakistan in UPI’s Outside View:

In my view, unless the West is prepared to commit a hundred thousand or more troops and tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars to Afghanistan, preventing that land from remaining a failed state is mission impossible.  The notion that the equivalent of an Iraqi surge with 17,000 or even 30,000 more U.S. troops and added support on the civil side can work simply underestimates the magnitude of the problems.  The absence of governance; of a functioning police force and judiciary; of jobs; of infrastructure; and the presence of corruption and drug epidemics will not go away, and there is neither capacity nor stomach to reverse these realities.

Ullman noted a disturbing conclusion of the Atlantic Council’s recent Pakistan Report: Pakistan has roughly six to twelve months to enact a comprehensive military-economic-political strategy before facing a severe domestic security situation.  The report recommends that $100 billion to $200 billion in aid be given to Pakistan in order to recruit and train 15,000 new policemen for the northwest regions.

As mentioned above, the militants may very well just wait until the Pakistani army eases the number of troops in Bajaur and try taking the area again.  Only after significantly greater quantities of policemen are able to step in and control regions where the Taliban has been defeated will Pakistani troops be able to move on and fight militants in other parts of the FATA without losing ground in the places they have already secured.

Peter Cassata is associate editor of the Atlantic Council.  


Related Experts: Harlan Ullman