July 3, 2008 | FDD’s Long War Journal

Pakistan pulls punches in Khyber operation

The Pakistani government continues to claim success during the current operation against extremist groups operating in the tribal agency of Khyber. The military and government claim the Taliban threat to provincial capital of Peshawar has been relieved.

The operation is said to be directly targeting the Ansar-ul-Islam, Lashkar-e-Islam, and Namdar's forces. The government has refused to name the specific targets of the operation, but Ansar-ul-Islam, Lashkar-e-Islam, and Namdar's group have been officially banned by the government.

The Pakistani military claimed its forces detained 22 “militants” on Tuesday and 30 on Wednesday. No “untoward incidents” have been reported, while the military has leveled some homes of extremist members as seized vehicles and other equipment.

But reports from Pakistan indicate the Pakistani military is pulling punches in Khyber. The government and military have been clear the operation was limited in scope and a “show of force.”

Haji Namdar, the leader of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice group allied with Mangal Bagh's Lashkar-e-Islam, was seen riding along with the Frontier Corps, Pakistan's paramilitary group assigned to conduct operations in Khyber. “He was taken along to ensure that encounters with militants were kept to a minimum,” the Asia Times reported.

On the same day, Maulvi Omar, the spokesman for the movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, narrowly escaped a blast at one of Namdar's offices. Seven people were killed in the attack, which Namdar subsequently blamed on a US strike. The Pakistani military denied attacking the office. The US may have attempted to sabotague negotiations between Namdar and Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban.

Omar was meeting with Namdar's representatives to iron out an agreement between Baitullah's Taliban organization. Hakeemullah Mehsud, Baitullah's deputy in Khyber, tried to kill Namdar in a suicide bombing in April after Namdar purportedly turned on the Taliban.

Ansar-ul-Islam, the rival to Lashkar-e-Islam, said it supported the government operation and criticized it as “eyewash.” “We favor the operation, but it should not be limited only to razing houses and offices of religious outfits in the agency, it should be purposeful,” said Haji Muhammad Amin, a leader in the extremist group.

Lashkar-e-Islam has offered to conduct peace talks with the government. A tribal jirga has been dispatched to conduct negotiations. Bagh denied his group had designs on taking Peshawar.

Baitullah said talks are back on

The seriousness of the government operation in Khyber can be gauged in Baitullah's posture towards the current negotiations with the government. Just several days after ordering the Pakistani Taliban to suspend peace negotiations and existing peace agreements, Baitullah did an about face and said negotiations should proceed. Baitullah had previously threatened wage “jihad” and turn the provinces of Sindh and Punjab “into a furnace.”

Meanwhile, fighting between Lashkar-e-Islam and Ansar-ul-Islam took place in the Tirah Valley, far from the scene of the current operation. Seven were killed and 16 wounded during heavy clashes. Eighty-nine were killed and 110 were wounded during 12 days of fighting between the two groups, Daily Times reported. More than 500 Pakistanis have been killed during ongoing fighting between the two groups over the past two years.


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