Washington: Pakistan has moved 100,000 troops from its borders with India, thinning the lines, to bolster its campaign against Taliban and other militants on its restive border with Afghanistan, the Pentagon said on Thursday.
The mass shifting of troops is an acknowledgement of the fact that terrorism and internal insurgency were posing more threat to Pakistan now, the Pentagon said in a report to the US Congress.
“More than 100,000 Pakmil troops were moved from the eastern border with India. This unprecedented deployment and thinning of the lines against India indicates that Islamabad has acknowledged its domestic insurgent threat,” the department said in its latest report on Afghanistan.
The Pentagon did not specify the regions’ from where the troops had been pulled out, but said it estimated that more than 140,000 Pakistani forces were now taking part in the ongoing offensive against the Taliban in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal region, known as FATA.
The Pentagon report was issued hours before the crucial meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani in the Bhutanese capital Thimphu on the sidelines of the Saarc Summit.
The US Defence Department while acknowledging that Pakistani military operations in tribal areas of NWFP had placed “a high degree of pressure on militants and reduced their safe havens”, but was unlikely to have an immediate impact on the US-led war in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon report said that there was a broad syndicate of extremist groups operating in the AfPak region with multiple short and long term goals.
It identified the groups as Al Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban and Lashkar-e Taiba (LeT) which it said threatened security of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and elsewhere.
“The three major groups include the Quetta Shura Taliban, Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), and the Haqqani Network (HQN). These groups cooperate and coordinate at times and their areas of operations tend to be geographically and demographically determined,” it said.
“They operate mainly in the Pashtun-majority areas of Afghanistan in the south and east, and in Pashtun pockets in the north. The common goals of these groups are to expel foreign forces from Afghanistan (although there is no mention of foreign fighters allied with them or Al Qaeda) and to undermine the central government,” the report added.
Pentagon said Pakistan military crackdown so far has focussed only on internal threats, but outlined that these could be more productive depending on how they evolve in future.
It acknowledged that Pakistan military had suffered attacks from terrorists in response to its successful operations.
“These attacks include mass casualty events in Mingora, SWA (South Waziristan Agency) -- close to clearing operations -- as well as in Lahore, far away from the fighting.
“While these attacks do not appear to have shaken Pakistan’s commitment, they do demonstrate, for the time being, insurgent ability to continue attacks despite reported successful Pakmil operations,” said the report which runs into nearly 150 pages.
According to the report, Pakistan military is beginning to acknowledge the ties and threats posed by Afghan and Pakistani Taliban.
“The Pakistani operations have focused almost exclusively on internal threats. These operations reduce the space available to all insurgent and extremists groups,” it said.
“While this evolving approach is unlikely to have significant impact on the Afghan insurgency in the short term, it offers opportunities in coming months to have a greater impact on the conflict in Afghanistan, depending on how Pakmil operations evolve,” the report said.
Despite discussions regarding the possibility of transfer of Afghan Taliban captured in Pakistan to Afghanistan, most notably Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, no transfers have taken place, it said.
The Pakmil has also offered to provide military training to Afghan army and security personnel. The Afghan ministry of defence is reviewing the offer, but is evaluating it cautiously based on Afghan Government political concerns, the report said.
“In conjunction with ISAF’s Operation Moshtarak, the Pakistan military has maintained an increased presence along Afghanistan’s southern border.
“Pakistan reports these operations have succeeded in extending the writ of the Pakistan Government within the area including the former insurgent stronghold of Damadola, native home of Maulana Faqir Muhummad,” it said.