by Yangtze Yan
ISLAMABAD, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- With some of the top Taliban leaders allegedly killed or duly arrested, analysts and local media believe that Pakistan is winning the war. But they have been reminded by the follow-up revenge suicide attacks of the fact that the fight against extremism is far from over and it's too early to declare a complete triumph for Pakistan over the military operations against the Taliban in the country's insurgency-ravaged northwest.
TALIBAN SPLIT AFTER CHIEF KILLED
Pakistani officials said Tuesday that the chief spokesman of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Maulvi Omar was arrested along with accomplices in northwest Pakistan's Mohmand tribal area while traveling to South Waziristan, part of the lawless tribal regions along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
Omar was the second prominent Taliban figure to be arrested in 24 hours. Qari Saifullah, a commander affiliated to Harkat Jihad-e-Islami, an Al-Qaeda-linked group, was detained while being treated at a private hospital in Islamabad. Both are still being questioned about their possible roles in militant attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan, police said.
Moreover, a minister from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) said Omar had confirmed that the TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed in a U.S. drone attack earlier this month.
The Pakistan's most wanted Taliban militant commander was reportedly killed by a U.S. missile attack on Aug. 5 in South Waziristan, but the Taliban had previously denied reports that he was dead.
Two days later, a shoot-out broke out between Mehsud's potential successors in Waziristan in which one was killed and the other wounded, reports said.
Believed to command as many as 20,000 pro-Taliban militants, Mehsud came to worldwide attention in the aftermath of the 2007 Red Mosque siege in Islamabad, in which the Pakistani security forces confronted and forcibly ejected militant students loyal to him. He has also been blamed for a series of suicide bomb attacks in the country, as well as suicide attacks on Western forces across the border in Afghanistan.
As various militant groups fight it out to inherit the two billion rupees (about 25 million U.S. dollars) in cash and weaponry left behind by Mehsud, government and security officials said it will take the TTP a considerable time to rebuild and recover from a shocking blow to its leadership.
Some analysts in Islamabad said the Taliban is under serious pressure and that its remaining leadership is in disarray. They said the Aug. 8 clash over leadership was only the beginning. "It will trigger a leadership crisis, they will find it very difficult to fill the vacuum. There cannot be a bigger loss for TTP than Mehsud," said Rahimullah Yousufzai, an expert on tribal affairs.
A security official, who sat at the preliminary interrogation of the captured TTP spokesman also quoted him as admitting to problems over succession. "The elimination of Baitullah is one big step, but it is still one step towards the elimination of the entire infrastructure. It will take a few years to reach that goal," the official warned.
REVENGE SUICIDE ATTACKS COMING BACK
On Tuesday, a suicide bomber raided an explosives-filled car into a check point outside Miranshah, the main town of restive North Waziristan tribal district, killing four security personnel and injuring eight others, officials said.
On Monday, at least 12 people were killed and 12 wounded at a car blast in a petrol station in Charsadda, some 30 kilometers from the NWFP capital of Peshawar. Reports said the bomb was attached to the passenger pick-up.
Pakistan Taliban have claimed the responsibility of the pick-up blast. The TTP has vowed to launch a fresh wave of retaliation attacks after their leader has been reportedly killed.
The Pakistani government has warned of the revenge attacks by Taliban militants during celebrations of Pakistan's 62nd Independence Day. On Saturday, the second day after the independence day, a suicide bomber rammed into a security check post with his explosives-packed vehicle in Swat, killing five security personnel and a civilian. That was the first suicide attack in Swat valley since security forces started the military operations against Taliban militants in the area in late April.
Also on Tuesday, two more government schools set on fire by militants in nearby Lower Dir. So far, more than 50 schools have been torched from April 26 in Lower Dir, police sources said.
Local media said Pakistan is suffering from a deadly Islamist backlash that has killed more than 2,000 people in bomb attacks in the past two years.
Sajjan Gohel, security and intelligence analyst at the Asia Pacific Foundation in London, said Mehsud's death is significant but it's not going to lead to long-term damage to the TTP, warming there will be new generations of dangerous terrorist leaders and suicide bombers because the individual leader can be eliminated but if the infrastructure and the network, which had been built up over decades, are not dismantled then that individual can be replaced, and there remains the underlying problems which feed it, poverty and inequality.
Talat Masood, a defense analyst and retired Pakistani army general, told Xinhua that the Pakistani government would have to be very active and more vigilant to ensure that the Taliban in its tribal regions do not create problems for Afghanistan during the elections set for Aug. 20.
WAZIRISTAN OPERATION ASSURED WITH U.S. HELP
Acclaiming the role and contribution of Pakistani security agencies in fighting terrorism, the visiting U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke on Tuesday assured all-out U.S. assistance to meet Pakistan's counter-insurgency needs by providing military hardware and other related equipment to Pakistani security forces, adding that Washington was trying to expedite delivery of the equipment requested by the Pakistani army, including helicopters and parts.
When meeting Pakistan's Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Holbrooke praised the security agencies in crushing Taliban militants in Swat, Malakand of the NWFP and parts of the abutting Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
Military operations in FATA's Waziristan also came under discussion. Kayani called for supply of U.S. drone technology to Pakistan in order to strengthen its defense as part of long-term counter-terrorism efforts, making it clear that U.S. drone strikes against terrorists hideouts along Pak-Afghan border were neither sustainable nor productive as they were increasingly creating anti-U.S. sentiments.
Pakistan began to send troops into South Waziristan in June, although a full-scale offensive was not expected until the end of this month. The government hopes that by then it will have re-established control further east in the mountain valleys of Swat, where the army has been fighting since April against another Taliban group under the leadership of Maulana Fazlullah.
After briefing Holbrooke on the operations against militants, Lieutenant-General Nadeem Ahmed told reporters that the Pakistani army was trying to create the right conditions for a full-blown offensive in the rugged South Waziristan region by imposing a tight blockade on entry and exit points, and by pounding militant targets from the air.
Some U.S. officials have expressed concern that Pakistan will lose momentum if it puts off the offensive for too long. With U.S. troop strength growing in Afghanistan, Washington wants Pakistani forces in control of the area to prevent Taliban fighters from crossing the border unimpeded as they did during U.S. operations in Afghanistan in 2001.
Analysts said Mehsud's elimination, which likely would have required close coordination between the Americans and Pakistanis, also indicated that the two often-mistrustful allies may have cemented their security relationship.