Taliban threat

With the spring offensive on in Afghanistan, Taliban forces are gaining ground while the Taliban action in Pakistan is also on the rise. Kabul was embarrassed by a carefully planned operation in the southern city of Kandahar in which suicide bombers and about 100 Taliban attacked a jail, resulting in the death of nearly 20 security forces and the escape of over 1,000 prisoners, including 380 Taliban. And in another attack on Saturday, the governor of Helmand province was injured and the police chief killed. Pakistan is once again in the eye of the storm as western pressure is on to apply pressure on the Taliban from the Pakistani side to catch them in a pincer movement. Pakistan meanwhile has other ideas as it was contemplating making peace with the Taliban operating on its side of the territory and negotiating deals to pull it through. The scheme of letting the pressure off from the Taliban is not acceptable to the west, which was mulling over the strategy of trapping the Taliban in a hammer and anvil approach is likely to be put on hold for a while. However, to give vent to its ire, the accident is applying pressure from a number of directions. A 177-page report produced for the Pentagon and released this month by the Rand Corp, a US think-tank, claims individuals in the Pakistani government are involved in helping the insurgents. Alexander Panetta, in damaging Op-Ed titled: Ex-Taliban fighter tells of training, cash, orders from Pakistani military published in The Canadian Press, claims that a former Taliban fighter has provided a gripping first-hand account of being secretly trained by members of the Pakistani military, paid $500 a month and ordered to kill foreigners in Afghanistan. Mullah Muhammed Zaher offered a vivid description of a bomb-making apprenticeship at a Pakistani army compound where he says he learned to blow up NATO convoys. He's one of the three former Taliban fighters introduced to The Canadian Press by an Afghan government agency that works at getting rebels to renounce the insurgency. Zaher insists that he was neither forced to go public with his story nor coached by Afghan officials, whose routine response to terrorism on their soil is to blame neighbouring Pakistan. He described how men in khaki army fatigues housed, fed, paid and finally threatened insurgents into carrying out attacks on foreign troops. Perhaps most startling of all was his description of the repeated warning from Pakistani soldiers about where trainees would be sent if they refused to fight: Guantanamo Bay. The Pakistani government has strongly denied allegations that hardliner Islamist factions within its security forces have been helping the Taliban. How could the army possibly be aiding the insurgency, Pakistani officials argue, when pro-Taliban rebels have killed far more soldiers from Pakistan than any other country? The Rand Corp. report offered several possible reasons why certain elements in the Pakistani government would support the Taliban. Grim doomsday scenarios like the Peshawar on brink of falling to rebels, Reuters' report which specifies that the security situation is heightened with militants knocking at the gates of the capital of the NWFP, and even the more circumspect government and police officials now grudgingly concede that Peshawar, which is in a state of siege, could fall in a few months, which could result in the rest of the districts in the NWFP to fall like ninepins. According to Asiatimes, NATO has acknowledged the strength of the Taliban, by sending SOS signals for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan, for the two important provinces of Kandahar and Khost, speculating that these might fall, significantly increasing the pressure on the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai. The NATO command reasoned the only response was joint operations with the Pakistani military along the Durand Line and Islamabad, under Washington's pressure, this year began preparations to cooperate. But the Taliban retaliated by flexing its muscles in the Pakistani tribal areas, forcing Pakistan to resort to dialogue, leaving NATO alone on the battlefields of Afghanistan. Earlier, the Taliban had lost their grip in Helmand province in the face of a joint British and American offensive in Garmser, in the south of the province. With logistical difficulties and high casualties, the Taliban responded by moving into Kandahar and Khost, rather than attempt to retain their positions in Helmand. In a report to the US Congress, the Pentagon says that the Taliban has created a "resilient insurgency" in Afghanistan and will likely maintain or increase the pace of its attacks this year, the Pentagon said on Friday. The Pentagon also singled out the safe havens for insurgents in Pakistan's border areas as the biggest threat to security in Afghanistan. The writer is a political and defence analyst

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