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Guardian: Strategic Balochistan (Pak) becomes a target in war against Taliban

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laststeamtrain Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Dec-21-09 08:26 PM
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Guardian: Strategic Balochistan (Pak) becomes a target in war against Taliban
Strategic Balochistan becomes a target in war against Taliban
Declan Walsh in Islamabad
Guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 December 2009 21.18 GMT

Look around Balochistan, and you may not see much. Pakistan's largest province is also its poorest and least inhabited an expanse of rocky deserts and ramshackle villages where hardy tribesmen live by ancient laws. But to outside eyes, Balochistan's barren sands glisten with hidden value.

Mining companies eye its natural riches: vast and largely untapped reserves of copper, natural gas and possibly oil. Criminals see easy money: the world's heroin superhighway, a network of smuggling trails, cuts through its lonely borders. Foreign governments consider its location: wedged between Iran and Afghanistan, and covering two-fifths of Pakistan, Balochistan occupies highly strategic real estate.

But for the black-turbaned clerics commanding the Afghan Taliban, the desolate province offers something else: a welcoming rear base. As the Taliban insurgency oozes across Afghanistan, Nato generals complain that the fighting is being directed from Balochistan.

In a bleak report to President Barack Obama last September, the US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, said the "Quetta shura" a 15-man war council based in or around the Baloch capital and led by Mullah Muhammad Omar, his deputy Mullah Baradar and his military commander Abdullah Zakir was dictating the pace of the war. It posed the greatest threat to western troops, and was already planning for the 2010 fighting season, McChrystal said. "Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. The Quetta shura conducts a formal campaign review each winter, after which Mullah Omar announces his guidance and intent for the following year." Yet efforts to break up the Taliban's Pakistan sanctuary have so far been concentrated to the east, in Waziristan. Here, CIA-led drone strikes hit al-Qaida and Taliban hideouts, while the Pakistani army battles with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan a militant faction that strikes Pakistani cities with suicide bombs. On 17 December, drones fired 10 missiles at a house in North Waziristan, killing at least 12 people.

But in Balochistan militants broadly known as the "Afghan Taliban" operate without fear or hindrance. The long and largely unpatrolled border touches Kandahar, Zabul and Helmand, where almost 10,000 British troops are stationed. Commanders there complain that the Taliban are supplied in men, weapons and bomb parts from Balochistan. But British diplomats are strangely silent, worried that criticism could jeopardise counter-terrorism co-operation with Pakistan.

The Americans, however, are taking a more direct approach. Obama's announcement of another 30,000 troops for Afghanistan has triggered a diplomatic offensive across the border in Pakistan. Officials including the CIA director Leon Panetta and the military chief, Admiral Mike Mullen, have visited, urging Pakistan to act forcefully. Specifically, they want action against Sirajuddin Haqqani, a warlord with a network of fighters in North Waziristan. They also want to extend the controversial drone campaign to include the Quetta shura in Balochistan.

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http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/dec/21/us-taliban-...
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