India-Pakistan: March 28, 2004


In Pakistan, the twelve day operation against several hundred armed al Qaeda fighters appears to be ending. Tribal leaders negotiated the releases of twelve soldiers and two government officials. Most of the al Qaeda fighters said to be surrounded, appear to have escaped. The army says if killed 60 fighters and arrested another 163, most of whom were Pakistani tribesmen. The homes of 83 pro-al Qaeda families were destroyed as punishment. 

The army believes it has al Qaeda leader Tahir Yuldash (head of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) wounded and scrambling to escape an army sweep along the Afghan border. It's hundreds of Tahir Yuldash's armed followers who were besieged in South Waziristan. The Pakistanis thought they had a higher ranking al Qaeda official, but Tahir Yuldash is a pretty big fish. Chewing up his core group of followers is another heavy blow to al Qaeda's Central Asian operations. In late 2001, during the Afghanistan campaign, several senior Central Asian al Qaeda leaders were killed, along with hundreds of trained followers. Tahir Yuldash is one of several al Qaeda leaders who are hiding in Pakistan, along the Afghan border. Each of these men, surrounded by several hundred heavily armed foreigners and Pakistani gunmen, use a combination of cash and appeals for Islamic unity to obtain cooperation from local tribes. But the pressure from the army is making the tribes less willing to get caught in the middle of this war. Moreover, most of the hard core al Qaeda are foreigners, and many of them don't get along well with the locals. Arabs, in particular, tend to be contemptuous of the tribesmen. The feelings are soon reciprocated. 

While many Pakistani officers believe in Islamic conservatism, or even radical Islam, they also believe in the army as a key institution in keeping Pakistan together. But two assassination attempts against Pakistani president Musharraf by Islamic radicals has made it possible to motivate the army to actually fight the al Qaeda and Taliban forces and the tribes that support them. The operations in South Waziristan saw 30 soldiers killed and twenty captured (when supply convoys were attacked.) The casualties are not enough to discourage the army, but do anger it. While the Pakistani generals on the border know enough of local customs to spend a lot of time talking and negotiating with tribal chiefs, the discussions are backed by force. Things are happening, but it's uncertain if enough is happening to clear al Qaeda and the Taliban out of the border region.


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