Taking on the Taliban

The caves at Damadola were once a subterranean haunt of the Pakistan Taliban and used by al Qaeda

THE SLIT in the rock wall is not much to look at: A two-foot wide gap that disappears into blackness. But passing through the nondescript entrance opens up a network of caves and a small insight into the world of the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

This was once a subterranean hideout. The militants are gone now. Their bedding and a few clothes are all that is left, strewn on the rocky floor where they dropped it and ran – or were killed. One passageway extends from the back of the cave, rising up to a foxhole where fighters could rain bullets and mortars on the advancing Pakistani army. (read more)

The caves of Bajaur have become a regular day trip for journalists as the Pakistani military tries to persuade the world of its commitment to tackling homegrown insurgents. This part of the world, the tribal agencies along the border with Afghanistan, are the territory of the Frontier Corps and you can understand the frustration of their leaders when Hillary Clinton questions whether Pakistan is still shielding Osama bin Laden. General Tariq Khan, the Frontier Corps’ Inspector General, has lost 600 men in operations to clear these areas of militants.

Another report out today though once again questions whether Islamabad is sincere. Analysts at the Rand Corporation highlight links between the militants and Pakistan’s security apparatus. And it also questions whether successes like Bajaur will be long lasting…

Jones and co-author Christine Fair of Georgetown University say that Pakistan’s army and Frontier Corps have failed to demonstrate a consistent ability to clear and hold territory for long periods. While Pakistan has undertaken a number of operations against insurgent groups since 2001, the study finds the successes are short-lived and do not address the long-term threat.

My time with the Bajaur Scouts and the Khyber Rifles in the past month suggests there can be no doubting their desire to rid their areas of militants. And there seems to be changing of attitudes within government, suggesting reduced support for the Jihadi groups once favoured as an unofficial arm of foreign policy. However, until the Frontier Corps have the tools to hold territory and Islamabad moves in with development in such impoverished areas, the militants will retain a toehold.


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