Who are Pakistani Taliban?

Who are Pakistani Taliban?

(By Saleem Safi)

The elite can’t see beyond their noses and that’s the biggest tragedy with this country. Generals, politicians, clergy, intellectuals or journalists, everyone is a prisoner of his own little self. Out of this prison and their thinking is yet again inside a party line, class ethos, an organizational goal or a career compulsion. Here history is written and bandied about in light of personal and group interests or biases. The present is analyzed with special spectacles and future is predicted in light of own wishes. The result is that after an inflation of all the news, analyses, conferences and talk shows, confusion reigns and people with good enough common sense find themselves lost. The same happened with talibanization and that is the reason that while confronted with this existential issue there is no unity of thought in state apparatus or populace. Everyone has his own theory about taliban and listening to anyone on this score will only add to your confusion.
Who are Taliban? Shortly, they are an extension of Al Qaeda and Afghan taliban. Probed a little more and it is found that the Afghan Taliban are a product of an evolution of the ‘jihadi’ mentality in Afghanistan which was prescribed here by America, Arab countries, Pakistani generals and the religious parties especially the Jamaat e Islami and the JUI. Although Afghan taliban surfaced as a reaction to the Afghan mujahideen who had defeated Soviet Union, but whereas most of their leadership was ex-mujahideen commanders (Mullah Omar was himself a commander of Muhammad Nabi Muhammadi’s Harkat e Inqilab e Islami) their ideological bases were the same as laid down by the aforementioned actors. Thus we can say that Afghan taliban were an evolved (not in a positive sense) manifestation of Afghan Mujahideen. And seen in this light, the Pakistani taliban are nothing more than a new and deformed shape of Afghan Taliban. I am amazed at those intellectuals and analysts who are now lamenting the situation of Swat, Lahore and tribal areas but keep on encouraging Afghan taliban. What is happening in Swat kept happening in the tribal areas for the last six years and what was happening there was routine in Afghanistan since 1994. We witness this unease over lashes to a Swat girl because now we can sense that this can extend to Islamabad and Lahore. But the same courts have been working in the tribal areas for the last six years and these penalties are meted out to people regularly. Ban on women’s education and penalties a la Swat were the norm in taliban’s Afghanistan.
I personally know that Afghan taliban aren’t happy with the Pakistani taliban over their confrontation with Pakistani state institutions and they would like the energies devoted towards fighting NATO in Afghanistan but this doesn’t mean that they will risk disturbing their relationship with Pakistani taliban over this difference of opinion, let alone confront them. Afghan Taliban, despite differing with the tactics of Pakistani taliban, considers them an asset because the latter’s power and influence suits them. They can afford some tantrums and mistakes, of a force which they consider strategic support. It is exactly the same, as we bore with the activities of Taliban in Afghanistan. Our generals were neither in agreement with their understanding of Islam nor with actions such as banning girls’ education, but since they served the strategic interests of Pakistan therefore our clean shaved generals, whose own children are in western educational institutions, were also their supporters. So were those journalists and intellectuals who can’t go to bed without adding a bit of colour to their glasses.
If one looks inside of what is happening in Pakistan in the name of taliban, we will see that the architect is Al Qaeda and she has the steering wheel. This process was started from South Waziristan and after 9/11 more Arabs and Uzbeks than Afghan taliban came there. The one Afghan Taliban leader, who interfered the most in South Waziristan and organized the taliban here, was Mullah Dadullah Mansoor. He was the one who was considered Al Qaeda’s most trusted lieutenant inside Afghan taliban, considered more loyal to Al Qaeda than even Mullah Omar. I have watched many such CDs in which Mullah Dadullah is shown interacting with Al Qaeda’s Arab and other foreign leaders. This Mullah Dadullah was instrumental in organizing militants in Waziristan and that is perhaps the reason that we see a higher tendency of slaughtering people and suicide attacks; in Pakistani taliban. We saw that till 2003 there was no trend of suicide attacks in this region. Al Qaeda’s Arab leaders transferred this technology here. Initially they entrusted this task to Mullah Dadullah and then they trained many others. In addition, they sent more such trainers to the taliban in Waziristan. Such was their advance.
After establishing the writ of militants in South and then North Waziristan, Al Qaeda adopted a totally different strategy regarding the rest of Pakistan. Instead of showing their own presence they targeted those individuals and organizations which could mobilize people or challenge the government’s writ for some reason. If Al Qaeda’s planners saw that the administration of Lal mosque had this capability to pick up arms for sharia, then they were used indirectly. Similarly they went to support Maulana Fazulullah in Swat when they saw that he could mobilize people and pick up arms. They targeted and killed local Khans and influential where they sensed that the people are fed up with the same. They promoted suitable people in sectarian conflict zones on the basis of Sunnis and Shias. They targeted police and state institutions where they sensed that the environment against them is conducive. They stayed at the back and promoted suitable people for each particular set up. After gaining strength in each area they initially conduct operations which are sentimentally appealing to the common man. In tandem, they spread terror by slaughtering people, meting out public punishments or suicide bombings such that no one could confront them.
In once sense, different types of people form the ranks of Pakistani Taliban. Maulana Fazlullah has neither fought in Afghanistan in the past nor has been associated with Jihad. In the beginning he belonged to the Panjpeeri school and later converted to militancy. Baitullah Mehsud is a Deobandi and in the past has fought in Afghanistan for the taliban. Similarly Darra Adam Khel’s taliban leader is from Sipah e Sahaba and so the story goes. That is why their priorities differ. For example, Swat’s taliban concentrate more on people who believe in mausoleums and saints but you will not see such things with the taliban of Waziristan. Similarly, the taliban of Darra Adam khel and Kurram agency target people belonging to shia community but this tendency is absent with the taliban of Mohmand and Khyber agencies. Despite all these differences they have come together under the umbrella of Al Qaeda on the basis of a few agreed points; Hatred and war against America, Hatred and war against the state of Pakistan and the implementation of Sharia (according to their own separate understanding), and armed struggle for the implementation of this sharia. These are the common denominators which combine them into one. Before 2007 the taliban of one area did not have any direct communication with the other area. In 2007, Ustad Muhammad Yasir travelled from Swat to Waziristan to bring coordination among them. He brought them together and unified them under the umbrella of Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan. According to my information this duty was entrusted to Ustan Yasir by Al Qaeda but this doesn’t mean that they are all the same or have been graduates of the same types of madrassahs. For example the spokesman of Swat Taliban, Haji Muslim Khan isn’t a graduate of any madrassah. He stayed for a long time in America and in Saudi Arabia and this is why he can speak fluent Arabic and English. One of his sons studied at the agricultural university which has been built with American help.
Now people are using taliban brand name but their ranks are filled with all kinds. Those who detested America or the Pakistani government, and those who wanted to settle their score with local khan or police, joined taliban. Unemployment was at its peak in the area and when the youth saw that a forum can solve this as well as (supposedly) will endear them to God; they joined taliban. Criminals, who used to curry favour with police and officials, saw that the balance of power has shifted to taliban and so they also joined the bandwagon to continue their own activities. Those who abducted for ransom now did the same in the guise of taliban and the weakness of government’s writ only furthered this business.
I think those who limit talibanization to Pukhtoons or think that talibanization is the problem of Pukhtoon belt; are fools. I sincerely believe that taliban and the supporters of their philosophy are present in the whole of Pakistan. The problem came to be identified with Pukhtoon belt because it is on the border with Afghanistan and these elements needed a center for such activities in the beginning. This thinking has not only spread in South Punjab but the whole of Punjab, Karachi and Islamabad are filled with such people. Right now the In-charge of Al Qaeda for Southern Afghanistan, is a Punjabi. Many trainers of the suicide bombers in Waziristan are from central Punjab. I have a CD from Afghan Taliban in which one Engineer Muhammad Ashraf from central Punjab is shown carrying out a suicide attack against the Americans in Jalal Abad. Our Interior advisor says that these people carry out suicide attacks for the sake of half a million rupees, but in this video Engineer Muhammad Ashraf, in his will to his mother, asks her to sell his share of land and give the money to taliban. Likewise, those organizations which were banned, have their real base in Punjab. Thousands of their workers are present in these areas and the real strength of Maulana Fazlullah of Swat isn’t local, It comes from these same people. The situation now is that some people from a few main stream religio-political parties have not only gone to these areas but are also involved in getting trained as suicide bombers. These relations aren’t new and in many respects have been longstanding and durable. We forget that the mouthpiece of Afghan Taliban was published and distributed, not from Peshawar or Quetta, but from Karachi. When ISI’s ex chief, Gen. Mahmood, in the company of ‘Ulama’ went to see Mullah Omar after 9/11m, he took along three of them from Karachi. I have personally watched the video of the leader of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Qari Tahir Yeldishev, in which he spoke for one hour about Red mosque. He says that we had promised the people in the red mosque that we will save them but we couldn’t fulfill that promise therefore they hold us in their debt. Then he declares that they will surely avenge the red mosque. In the same sequence, footages of an attack on security forces and their bodies are shown; declaring that this is the first installment of that revenge.
I only want to state that these dots do link. If taliban is the name of madrassah graduates then they are too few in this business from Swat to Waziristan. But if Taliban is the name of elements who hate America, are fed up with the Pakistani state and wants to implement the penal system as a prelude to the implementation of sharia; then these are spread all over Pakistan. They are not only in contact with each other but they will also be resurrected as they did in Swat.
As a measure of incorrect perceptions about Taliban, people consider Maulana Sufi Muhammad as the leader of taliban whereas he has neither any link with Al Qaeda nor any organizational link with Pakistani taliban. People consider him the leader of taliban only because he went to Afghanistan in the past to fight or because he was given an important role in Swat agreement. Who is Maulana Sufi Muhammad? What does he want? And how is he different from taliban? We will leave these questions for another sitting.

Finding Fear: Neuroscientists Locate Where It Is Stored In The Brain

[SEE: Trauma-based conditioning]

http://www.sciencedaily.com/images/2009/07/090707093753-large.jpg

Finding Fear: Neuroscientists Locate Where It Is Stored In The Brain

ScienceDaily (July 8, 2009) — Fear is a powerful emotion, and neuroscientists have for the first time located the neurons responsible for fear conditioning in the mammalian brain. Fear conditioning is a form of Pavlovian, or associative, learning and is considered to be a model system for understanding human phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders.

Using an imaging technique that enabled them to trace the process of neural activation in the brains of rats, University of Washington researchers have pinpointed the basolateral nucleus in the region of the brain called the of amygdala as the place where fear conditioning is encoded.

Neuroscientists previously suspected that both the amygdala and another brain region, the dorsal hippocampus, were where cues get associated when fear memories are formed. But the new work indicates that the role of the hippocampus is to process and transmit information about conditioned stimuli to the amygdala, said Ilene Bernstein, corresponding author of the new

study and a UW professor of psychology.

The study is being published on July 6, in PLoS One, a journal of the Public Library of Science.

Associative conditioning is a basic form of learning across the animal kingdom and is regularly used in studying how brain circuits can change as a result of experience. In earlier research, UW neuroscientists looked at taste aversion, another associative learning behavior, and found that neurons critical to how people and animals learn from experience are located in the amygdala.

The new work was designed to look for where information about conditioned and unconditioned stimuli converges in the brain as fear memories are formed. The researchers used four groups of rats and placed individual rodents inside of a chamber for 30 minutes. Three of the groups had never seen the chamber before.

When control rats were placed in the chamber, they explored it, became less active and some fell asleep. A delayed shock group also explored the chamber, became less active and after 26 minutes received an electric shock through the floor of the chamber. The third group was acclimated to the chamber by a series of 10 prior visits and then went through the same procedure as the delayed shock rats. The final group was shocked immediately upon being introduced inside the chamber.

The following day the rats were individually returned to the chamber and the researchers observed them for freezing behavior. Freezing, or not moving, is the most common behavioral measure of fear in rodents. The only rats that exhibited robust freezing were those that received the delayed shock in a chamber which was unfamiliar to them.

“We didn’t know if we could delay the shock for 26 minutes and get a fear reaction after just one trial. I thought it would be impossible to do this with fear conditioning,” said Bernstein. “This allowed us to ask where information converged in the brain.”

To do this, the researchers repeated the procedure, but then killed the rats. They then took slices of the brains and used Arc catfish, an imaging technique, which allowed them to follow the pattern of neural activation in the animals.

Only the delayed shock group displayed evidence of converging activation from the conditioned stimulus (the chamber) and the unconditioned stimulus (the shock). The experiment showed that animals can acquire a long-term fear when a novel context is paired with a shock 26 minutes later, but not when a familiar context is matched with a shock.

“Fear learning and taste aversion learning are both examples of associative learning in which two experiences occur together. Often they are learned very rapidly because they are critical to survival, such as avoiding dangerous places or toxic foods,” said Bernstein.

“People have phobias that often are set off by cues from something bad that happened to them, such as being scared by a snake or being in a dark alley. So they develop an anxiety disorder,” she said.

“By understanding the process of fear conditioning we might learn how to treat anxiety by making the conditioning weaker or to go away. It is also a tool for learning about these brain cells and the underlying mechanism of fear conditioning.”

Co-authors of the study, all at the UW, are Sabiha Barot, who just completed her doctoral studies; Ain Chung, a doctoral student; and Jeansok Kim, an associate professor of psychology.


Journal reference:

  1. Sabiha K. Barot, Ain Chung, Jeansok J. Kim, Ilene L. Bernstein. Functional Imaging of Stimulus Convergence in Amygdalar Neurons during Pavlovian Fear Conditioning. PLoS ONE, 2009; 4 (7): e6156 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006156
Adapted from materials provided by University of Washington.

NOT the Amero! Medvedev Unveils New Global Currency at G-8

Medvedev Shows Off Sample Coin of New ‘World Currency’ at G-8

new currency

July 10 (Bloomberg) — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev illustrated his call for a supranational currency to replace the dollar by pulling from his pocket a sample coin of a “united future world currency.”

“Here it is,” Medvedev told reporters today in L’Aquila, Italy, after a summit of the Group of Eight nations. “You can see it and touch it.”

The coin, which bears the words “unity in diversity,” was minted in Belgium and presented to the heads of G-8 delegations, Medvedev said.

The question of a supranational currency “concerns everyone now, even the mints,” Medvedev said. The test coin “means they’re getting ready. I think it’s a good sign that we understand how interdependent we are.”

Medvedev has repeatedly called for creating a mix of regional reserve currencies as part of the drive to address the global financial crisis, while questioning the U.S. dollar’s future as a global reserve currency. Russia’s proposals for the G-20 meeting in London in April included the creation of a supranational currency.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lyubov Pronina in L’Aquila, Italy at lpronina@bloomberg.net

[This disclosure signals the end of the dollar.  Just to remind you, it has been alleged in this story, that there will be a "bankers' holiday" in September, where all withdrawals are frozen, to be followed by the introduction of a totally new global currency when they reopen.

Anyone who prefers to have cash in their pockets better take heed!  Tomorrow will be very different from today.  Better hurry with those last minute purchases of shotguns and canned goods.]

Christians in Jerusalem want Jews to stop spitting on them

more about “Redress Newsblog: Israeli settlers th…“, posted with vodpod

Christians in Jerusalem want Jews to stop spitting on them

By Amiram Barkat

A few weeks ago, a senior Greek Orthodox clergyman in Israel attended a meeting at a government office in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul quarter. When he returned to his car, an elderly man wearing a skullcap came and knocked on the window. When the clergyman let the window down, the passerby spat in his face.


The clergyman prefered not to lodge a complaint with the police and told an acquaintance that he was used to being spat at by Jews. Many Jerusalem clergy have been subjected to abuse of this kind. For the most part, they ignore it but sometimes they cannot.

On Sunday, a fracas developed when a yeshiva student spat at the cross being carried by the Armenian Archbishop during a procession near the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City. The archbishop’s 17th-century cross was broken during the brawl and he slapped the yeshiva student.

Both were questioned by police and the yeshiva student will be brought to trial. The Jerusalem District Court has meanwhile banned the student from approaching the Old City for 75 days.

But the Armenians are far from satisfied by the police action and say this sort of thing has been going on for years. Archbishop Nourhan Manougian says he expects the education minister to say something.

“When there is an attack against Jews anywhere in the world, the Israeli government is incensed, so why when our religion and pride are hurt, don’t they take harsher measures?” he asks.

According to Daniel Rossing, former adviser to the Religious Affairs Ministry on Christian affairs and director of a Jerusalem center for Christian-Jewish dialogue, there has been an increase in the number of such incidents recently, “as part of a general atmosphere of lack of tolerance in the country.”

Rossing says there are certain common characeristics from the point of view of time and location to the incidents. He points to the fact that there are more incidents in areas where Jews and Christians mingle, such as the Jewish and Armenian quarters of the Old City and the Jaffa Gate.

There are an increased number at certain times of year, such as during the Purim holiday.”I know Christians who lock themselves indoors during the entire Purim holiday,” he says.

Former adviser to the mayor on Christian affairs, Shmuel Evyatar, describes the situation as “a huge disgrace.” He says most of the instigators are yeshiva students studying in the Old City who view the Christian religion with disdain.

“I’m sure the phenomenon would end as soon as rabbis and well-known educators denounce it. In practice, rabbis of yeshivas ignore or even encourage it,” he says.

Evyatar says he himself was spat at while walking with a Serbian bishop in the Jewish quarter, near his home. “A group of yeshiva students spat at us and their teacher just stood by and watched.”

Jerusalem municipal officials said they are aware of the problem but it has to be dealt with by the police. Shmuel Ben-Ruby, the police spokesman, said they had only two complaints from Christians in the past two years. He said that, in both cases, the culprits were caught and punished.

He said the police deploy an inordinately high number of patrols and special technology in the Old City and its surroundings in an attempt to keep order.

being carried by the Armenian Archbishop during a procession near the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City. The archbishop’s 17th-century cross was broken during the brawl and he slapped the yeshiva student.

Both were questioned by police and the yeshiva student will be brought to trial. The Jerusalem District Court has meanwhile banned the student from approaching the Old City for 75 days.

But the Armenians are far from satisfied by the police action and say this sort of thing has been going on for years. Archbishop Nourhan Manougian says he expects the education minister to say something.

“When there is an attack against Jews anywhere in the world, the Israeli government is incensed, so why when our religion and pride are hurt, don’t they take harsher measures?” he asks.

According to Daniel Rossing, former adviser to the Religious Affairs Ministry on Christian affairs and director of a Jerusalem center for Christian-Jewish dialogue, there has been an increase in the number of such incidents recently, “as part of a general atmosphere of lack of tolerance in the country.”

Rossing says there are certain common characeristics from the point of view of time and location to the incidents. He points to the fact that there are more incidents in areas where Jews and Christians mingle, such as the Jewish and Armenian quarters of the Old City and the Jaffa Gate.

There are an increased number at certain times of year, such as during the Purim holiday.”I know Christians who lock themselves indoors during the entire Purim holiday,” he says.

Former adviser to the mayor on Christian affairs, Shmuel Evyatar, describes the situation as “a huge disgrace.” He says most of the instigators are yeshiva students studying in the Old City who view the Christian religion with disdain.

“I’m sure the phenomenon would end as soon as rabbis and well-known educators denounce it. In practice, rabbis of yeshivas ignore or even encourage it,” he says.

Evyatar says he himself was spat at while walking with a Serbian bishop in the Jewish quarter, near his home. “A group of yeshiva students spat at us and their teacher just stood by and watched.”

Jerusalem municipal officials said they are aware of the problem but it has to be dealt with by the police. Shmuel Ben-Ruby, the police spokesman, said they had only two complaints from Christians in the past two years. He said that, in both cases, the culprits were caught and punished.

He said the police deploy an inordinately high number of patrols and special technology in the Old City and its surroundings in an attempt to keep order.

Security forces kill 10 Taliban in Zhob gunbattle

Security forces kill 10 Taliban in Zhob gunbattle

By Saleem Shahid

QUETTA: At least 10 Taliban were killed and several others injured in a clash with security personnel in the Sambaza area of Zhob district on Friday.

Official sources told Dawn that a group of Taliban attacked a security post near the Afghan border, killing one soldier and injuring two.

Security personnel cordoned off the area and returned fire.

‘We have information about the death of 10 Taliban in the fierce gunbattle,’ a security official in Quetta said.

He said the militants had taken away the bodies of their associates while escaping.

‘We found their caps and weapons used in the attack,’ the official said. He said the militants belonged to the Mullah Shamsullah group.

QUETTA: At least 10 Taliban were killed and several others injured in a clash with security personnel in the Sambaza area of Zhob district on Friday. Official sources told Dawn that a group of Taliban attacked a security post near the Afghan border, killing one soldier and injuring two.

Security personnel cordoned off the area and returned fire.

‘We have information about the death of 10 Taliban in the fierce gunbattle,’ a security official in Quetta said.

He said the militants had taken away the bodies of their associates while escaping.

‘We found their caps and weapons used in the attack,’ the official said. He said the militants belonged to the Mullah Shamsullah group.

S. Waziristan Offensive to Be Air Power Only

Pakistan scaling back its plans for Waziristan offensive

By Saeed Shah | McClatchy Newspapers

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s forthcoming military operation in Waziristan will rely on air power rather than on ground offensives, an approach that isn’t likely to eliminate the homegrown extremists and probably will disappoint Western allies, according to Pakistani officials and analysts.

The Pakistani army is wrapping up its operation against Taliban militants in the Swat valley, just 100 miles northwest of Islamabad, the capital, and will move shortly against the fountainhead of the Pakistani Taliban movement in Waziristan, which is about 240 miles to the southwest, on the Afghan border

However, while the Swat offensive saw some 20,000 ground troops sweep across the area and surrounding districts, the plan for Waziristan, a region that plays host to al Qaida commanders and is strategically important to the West, is for a wholly different type of operation.

Artillery, jet fighters and attack helicopters will be used to wear down the Islamist guerrillas, but ground forces will play a limited role in the mountainous landscape of Waziristan, which strongly favors guerrilla warfare and where the Taliban are deeply entrenched, the officials and analysts said. U.S. pilotless drones, which are armed with missiles and sophisticated technology to home in on individuals, might augment Pakistani air power.

The operation is unlikely to destroy the enemy, however, and will leave in place some Taliban warlords whom the United States and its NATO allies in Afghanistan regard as a significant cross-border threat. It will raise questions about the seriousness of Pakistan’s fight against insurgents after the country won international praise for its concerted efforts in Swat.

“The nature of the operation is totally different from what we did in Swat,” said a senior Pakistani security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “It is just blocking the entrance. Nothing goes in, nothing comes out. We’ll keep punishing (the enemy) with long arms, air (power), Cobra (helicopters).

“The tactics have been reversed. Initially they (the Taliban) used to wear us out; now the army is planning to wear them out.”

The operation is limited to the South Waziristan area _known as an “agency” of the country’s tribal territory — even though Pakistani Taliban also control North Waziristan. In South Waziristan, the offensive is aimed solely at the large area that warlord Baitullah Mehsud controls, the head of the main faction of Pakistani Taliban. Ground forces already have been sent to surround the area.

“It won’t be the army physically moving and attacking, with your combat power dwindling with each passing day, and the need to put in additional” troops, the security official said, adding that the military couldn’t afford to open up more than one front.

Officially, the Pakistani army has refused to comment on the nature of the Waziristan offensive, the number of troops involved or when it will begin. The army has said only that the operation is in its “preliminary stages.”

A security expert who’s knowledgeable about Pakistan’s plans said that the aim of the South Waziristan move was to “disrupt” and “punish” Mehsud’s network, not to engage in a ground battle that could lead to significant casualties among soldiers. He said ground troops would be used for “search and cordon” incursions against high-value targets: Mehsud and his senior commanders. The expert asked not to be identified, as he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Pakistani jets have been pounding militants’ positions for almost four weeks in South Waziristan, and U.S. drone aircraft have been used — seemingly in close coordination with Pakistan — to target Mehsud’s group, killing dozens. A suspected drone strike Friday in Mehsud’s area was at least the seventh such American attack since June 23.

A complication with the army’s plan in South Waziristan is the possibility of casualties among the region’s 500,000 civilians, particularly other members of the Mehsud tribe. Despite the warnings about the offensive, surprisingly few people have left the area. The army expects no more than 70,000 to flee — compared with an epic 2 million-person exodus from Swat — and has expressed confidence that it can avoid civilian casualties in South Waziristan by precision targeting.

The perils of operating in the region were laid bare last month, when a Pakistani army convoy was ambushed in North Waziristan while passing through a narrow valley, resulting in the deaths of at least 23 soldiers.

According to news reports, the army hadn’t provided air cover as the convoy moved through an area that a supposedly “friendly” Taliban warlord, Gul Bahadur, controlled. He subsequently declared that he’d stage more attacks, allying himself with Mehsud, but the army has insisted that it won’t extend hostilities to North Waziristan.

“There are no plans to extend the operation to North Waziristan,” army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said in Islamabad this week. “The operation in South Waziristan is against a terrorist group, not against a tribe or an agency.”

Pakistan has mounted multiple offensives in Waziristan since 2004 under U.S. pressure, but it agreed to a truce each time, which left the militants in control. In 2007, Mehsud’s men surrounded an army convoy and kidnapped some 200 soldiers, who were released after protracted negotiations. The military has signed three secret peace deals with Mehsud in the past, the most recent in February 2008. While the army appears to be more determined this time, many locals remain skeptical, and some military experts said that ground forces were necessary.

“If it’s not going to be a ground forces operation, then the foot soldiers of the Taliban will remain. They have to go in, quickly and efficiently, do the job and then pull out to re-establish the civilian writ,” said Javed Husain, a retired brigadier formerly with the Special Services Group, a Pakistani commando unit, who said he didn’t know the details of the offensive. “It’s a ridiculous thought that air power (alone) can win it.”

Pakistan is anxious that its forces not be overextended, a danger from an all-out Waziristan offensive. Although the Swat operation is largely over — the government announced this week that those displaced by the fighting there could start returning Monday — the army has pledged to keep a presence there for at least a year.

Elsewhere in the tribal area, there are frequent skirmishes and continuing fallout from an earlier operation against Taliban in the Bajaur and Mohmand areas. Four security personnel were killed Friday in an attack on a checkpoint in Bajaur. The military later bombarded the area with fighter jets.