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In Pakistan, who will win the war?

Thousands of troops are all set to launch a major military offensive against the increasingly aggressive Taliban in a do-or-die war that appears to have united Pakistan like never before against the Islamist outlaws.

world Updated: Oct 20, 2009 14:13 IST

Thousands of troops are all set to launch a major military offensive against the increasingly aggressive Taliban in a do-or-die war that appears to have united Pakistan like never before against the Islamist outlaws.

As Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar still reel from the spate of audacious terror strikes, nearly 30,000 troops are moving towards the lawless South Waziristan region close to Afghanistan for Operation "Rah-i-Nijat" (Road to Deliverance).

Officials say this would be the final and perhaps the most challenging of military assaults on the Pakistani Taliban, which has grown exponentially and now taken on Islamabad with unprecedented viciousness.

The security forces are targeting the Mehsud-tribe dominated area in the rugged terrain, mainly comprising the areas of Makeen, Ladha and Sararogha. Makeen is considered the hub of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

The offensive has been launched from three sides -- Razmak, Mirali and Miranshah in the north and Jandolla in the south.
The Mehsud area in South Waziristan does not border Afghanistan from any side. The forces are looking to isolate the terrorists before taking them out.

The strategy is likely to be the same as in Swat and Malakand earlier: soften the target with air strikes and artillery fire before moving the ground forces.

After the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the TTP is now led by the more ruthless Hakeemullah who (unlike Baitullah) is media savvy and takes huge pride in flaunting power and challenging the writ of the state.

Qari Waliur Rehman, the new Ameer (chief) of the Mehsud tribe after Baitullah Mehsud, is considered the brain behind the devastating terror attacks on the army and police across the country that has stunned Pakistan.

Qari Hussain is chief instructor of suicide bombers. Notwithstanding initial reports of infighting in the TTP after the killing of Baitullah, these three top men are firmly united in the war against Pakistan.

Local sources claim that the TTP has more than 10,000 men in its militia. The number of foreigners, mainly Uzbek fighters, is more than 2,500.

These Uzbeks have been stationed in the area since the time of the jehad against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They have very close family ties with the Mehsud tribe in Waziristan.

Afghan Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani has been working as a link between Afghan and Pakistan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban though have never publicly supported attacks on Pakistani government and security forces and are believed to have distanced themselves from their Pakistani counterparts because of these differences.

Pakistani officials suspect the involvement of external elements in the worsening law and order situation in the country.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the recent upsurge in terrorist activities were an attempt to demoralise the security forces and generate a wave of fear.

"We cannot rule out a foreign hand behind these incidents." he said.

When the army went on the offensive in Swat and Malakand in April 2009, people and media were divided: was this really a war the state should fight?

A wave of terror attacks since then has however united Pakistanis like never before. Most people now feel that the country will suffer if this confusion prevails any further.

Defence analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi believes that this paradigm shift in the mindset of society will help in defeating the terrorists.

"This is the first time in history that the civilian government, the opposition, the military establishment and the general public are united. They want their country liberated from militancy," he said.

But who is going to win this war? A clear answer will come in the next two months when the military will try to wrap up the operation against the indigenous Taliban.