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Ground Offensive Appears Imminent After Attack On Pakistani Military Base

An injured man is taken into a hospital in Peshawar after a suicide bomber struck a military convoy. At least 41 people were killed in the attack.
The Tehrek-e Taliban Pakistan (Taliban Movement in Pakistan) has claimed responsibility for a brazen weekend attack on the Pakistan Army's headquarters, which followed a string of bombings conducted by the group over the past two weeks.

"It was carried out by our Punjab unit," Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said in telephone calls to Pakistani and international media. "We will take revenge for our martyrs and will carry out more attacks, whether it's the GHQ [army General Headquarters] or something bigger," he said.

But if revenging the deaths of militants and ending a government offensive launched this summer in Pakistan's restive western provinces is the goal of the Pakistani Taliban's recent attacks, the government appears equally committed to continuing its effort.

Pakistani officials claim that 26 militants have been killed so far in air strikes that began against militant targets in Bajaur and South Waziristan tribal regions on October 11. The aerial assault is believed by many to be only the beginning of what will become a large-scale ground offensive.

Pakistani military spokesman General Athar Abbas spoke to journalists on October 12 in Rawalpindi, the northern garrison city where militants dressed in military uniforms stormed the military's main headquarters on October 10. In the course of the 20-hour standoff, 12 Pakistani soldiers, four civilians, two senior officers, and nine of the 10 militants were killed.

Abbas explained that in the wake of the brazen attack, the government plans to launch an offensive into South Waziristan, a Taliban stronghold..

"The government has taken a principled decision that this organization is responsible for more than 80 percent of all the attacks -- suicide attacks and acts of terrorism in our country," Abbas said. "They have taken a principled decision that there will be operation in this area, but it's now a matter of military judgment [about] what is the appropriate time."

Long-Term Approach Needed

Pakistanis were stunned by the attack on the military headquarters, which took place in what was considered to be one of the most secure sites in the country. Their fears were stoked further after the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a military convoy on October 12 in northwest Pakistan that killed at least 41 people. That attack occurred in the remote town of Alpuri on the edge of the Swat Valley, the region where the government launched its recent effort against Taliban militants in late April.

Observers suggest that new military operations are not likely to resolve Pakistan's security problems, pointing to the history of such offensives, which often simply result in scattering militant elements to other areas of country.

Pakistani academic, commentator, and peace activist Abdul Hameed Nayyar says a much broader, long-term approach must be taken.

"People in Pakistan have been saying these things openly now for some time that this fight is not going to be easy, nor is it going to be short," Nayyar says. "It is going to be a very long struggle and it is going to be very difficult, and it will require addressing a number of questions rather than going linearly against some suspected hideouts of people."

Nayyar suggests that the Pakistani military has to act in a systematic and well-thought-out manner. The first step, he says, should be to determine the source of funding and arms for the militants.

"The militants are not confined to the tribal areas alone. The militants are to be found in South Punjab, in Karachi, in the [southern province of] Sindh, and in many cities of the [eastern] Punjab province and in Islamabad," Nayyar says. "They have widespread support among a section of the population. And the support is in the form of those people who provide them logistical help when they need it."
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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.