Pakistan Seen Losing Fight Against Taliban And Al-Qaeda

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, October 3, 2007

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Pakistan's government is losing its war against emboldened insurgent forces, giving al-Qaeda and the Taliban more territory in which to operate and allowing the groups to plot increasingly ambitious attacks, according to Pakistani and Western security officials.

The depth of the problem has become clear only in recent months, as regional peace deals have collapsed and the government has deferred developing a new strategy to defeat insurgents until Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, can resolve a political crisis that threatens his presidency.

Meanwhile, radical Islamic fighters who were evicted from Afghanistan by the 2001 U.S.-led invasion have intensified a ruthless campaign that has consumed Pakistan's tribal areas and now affects its major cities. Military officials say the insurgents have enhanced their ability to threaten not only Pakistan but the United States and Europe as well.

"They've had a chance to regroup and reorganize," said a Western military official in Pakistan. "They're well equipped. They're clearly getting training from somewhere. And they're using more and more advanced tactics."

Pakistan's military, on the other hand, is considering pulling back from the fight -- at least partially -- in the face of mounting losses, the official said.

"They're not trained for a counterinsurgency. It's not their number one priority. It's not even their number two priority," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "These are the reasons things aren't going their way."

Pakistani military officials concede they are searching for a new strategy now that the old one has gone awry. But with Musharraf struggling to stay in office and expected to soon step down from the military, no decisions are likely until questions over the country's leadership are settled.

"The federal government is busy with its problem of legitimacy. Getting Musharraf elected for another five years -- that is keeping everything on hold," said retired Brig. Gen. Mehmood Shah, who until 2005 was a top security official in the tribal areas.

In recent years, Pakistan has relied on deals with insurgents to keep them from launching offensives. But two such agreements -- in North and South Waziristan -- fell apart this summer when insurgent leaders abruptly announced they were backing out.

The main criticism of the deals, both in Pakistan and in the West, had been that they gave al-Qaeda and the Taliban sanctuary in which to train, plot and launch attacks.

Now, security experts say Pakistan is paying the price for not confronting the problem head-on, with insurgent groups capitalizing on their newfound strength.

Last month, a suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying workers with the nation's hugely influential spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, killing 22 people. Just a week later, a bomber reportedly wearing a military uniform breached one of the most secure army installations in the country, where elite commandos train. The assailant detonated his explosives in the officers' mess during dinnertime, leaving 17 soldiers dead.

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