Pakistan’s all-out offensive against the militants within its border has been a long time coming. The attack by the army on the Red Mosque in Islamabad two years ago heralded the crackdown to come. The target was a tribal group with alleged links to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
It was the result of pressure from Washington, which had become increasingly exasperated with Pakistan’s apparent unwillingness, or inability, to tackle US enemies in the region. For the Islamists, this was a declaration of war. Islamabad had finally come down on the side of the Americans. When a Taliban leader was killed by a US missile in the Swat valley in August, his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, vowed to exact revenge. The often divided tribes put aside their differences to counter a common foe. This month attacks against the security forces have surged and many ordinary Pakistani people have paid the price. Close to 180 soldiers, police and civilians were killed in just a few weeks. The country appears in the grip of a devastating civil war. But while the government focuses on its domestic enemies it has yet to unleash a similar onslaught against the Afghanistan Taliban based in North Waziristan. It is here that the Americans believe the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar is holed-up. For Washington, this region is the Taliban’s logistical base from which it sustains its war on the West in Afghanistan, and should be a key objective in any Pakistani push. Some analysts believe Islamabad is reluctant to antagonise the Afghan Taliban who might rally to the aid of their brethren in South Waziristan. There are reports in the country’s media that a deal has been struck with Omar’s militants. True or not, it highlights the difficulties the government faces in trying to cooperate with its most important ally, without fuelling anti-US sentiment among its own people.