Friend and Ally Update. First: “Pakistanis fighting the Taliban press for military backup,” by Ben Arnoldy and Daud Khattak for the Christian Science Monitor, July 22:
Islamabad and Peshawar, Pakistan — When villagers rose up against the Taliban in Dir district a month and a half ago, headlines cheered evidence of Pakistanis resisting militancy. But now, tribal elders say they are growing impatient that security forces haven’t come to help, even as fresh waves of Taliban threaten to overwhelm their volunteer force.
Some 2,000 villagers in the northwestern district have kept 250 to 300 Taliban fighters under siege, but have failed to overrun the Taliban’s defensive position. Over the past four days, Taliban reinforcements have been arriving from Swat and Kohistan, swelling militant ranks to 500, according to one village elder.
The volunteer militia, called a lashkar, initially felt confident enough to refuse help from the Pakistani Army. But lashkar leaders now say they are in dire need of manpower, arms, and ammunition.
“Now it is getting difficult, and we are threatened, because their number is increasing with each passing day,” says Baboo Rahman, an elder with the Dir lashkar. “The lashkar people are also now fed up with continuous fighting, and we request the government should hit [the Taliban] from the air.”
Waiting for military backup
For years, Pakistan has turned to lashkars as a means of tackling militants without launching destructive and sometimes unpopular military operations. But the government has a poor record of backing up these volunteers when, more often than not, they are outgunned or targeted for assassination.
In the past year alone, retaliatory strikes against villages forming lashkars have grown: Taliban killed 40 villagers in Buner, 110 at a jirga, or council, in Orakzai Agency, and another 40 at a jirga in Bajaur.
“The military can help if [the villagers] have surrounded the Taliban, and they can indicate to the military ‘Here they are’ — and the military should go do it,” says Mahmood Shah, former governor of the North West Frontier Province.
Yet rescuing lashkars, including the one in Dir, poses both short-term and long-term dilemmas for security forces.
In the short term, “the Army is operating on a very wide front, and it has its own difficulties with logistics and [finding] the right manpower ratios,” says Khalid Aziz, head of the Regional Institute of Policy Research and Training, a think tank in Peshawar….
Meanwhile: “Shielding Taliban? Pak refuses to move troops from Indian border,” from the Times News Network, July 22:
NEW DELHI: After a beguiling interval when Pakistan seemed prepared to see its internal challenges as more serious than those on its eastern border, Islamabad has flatly refused to move troops from the Indian front in what looks like a bid to protect the Taliban from a US surge in Afghanistan.
In briefings to prominent US media, Pakistan officials have suggested that the American military surge in Afghanistan “” post the review ordered by Barack Obama after he took office “” would result in a sharp spillover in Balochistan where an insurgency is already raging.
Containing increased levels of insurgency in Balochistan would require moving troops from the Indian border which was not possible. Invoking its traditional view that India constitutes the bigger threat, Pakistan’s arguments seem aimed at curtailing US action in Afghanistan, something that will give the Taliban a respite. Pakistan has not been able to shake off the impression that it sees Taliban as “allies” in the long run and its latest moves seem to strengthen this view.[…]
The Pakistani spin on the ongoing US operations in Afghanistan reflects a deeply held conviction that the mountainous country must remain under the control of proxies that Islamabad can trust in order to deliver “strategic depth” against India. Pakistan’s military complex also seems to feel that Taliban will ultimately prevail “” helped by the refuge and sustenance the jihadis receive in Waziristan and the North-West Frontier Province.
A Pakistani official said, “A Taliban spillover would require Pakistan to put more troops there, troops the country does not have now. Diverting troops from the border with India is out of the question.” The significant turnaround comes just weeks after Pakistan army
chief Ashfaq Kayani echoed President Asif Ali Zardari in saying that the external threat was less dangerous than the internal one.
Pakistani officials, briefing US journalists, were quoted as saying that negotiating with the Taliban was a better idea for Islamabad than fighting them. The remarks show that no matter how much US tries to portray that the Pakistan army has made a strategic shift on the Taliban, this is not really the case. Even in the case of Swat, held up as Pakistan’s sincere bid to counter jihadis, the Taliban vacated territory and its leaders are still active….