Pakistan army battles legacy of mistrust in Taliban heartland

Sun Feb 3, 2013 5:07am EST
 
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By Mehreen Zahra-Malik

CHAGMALAI, Pakistan (Reuters) - In a Pakistan army base high in the mountains on the Afghan frontier, a general explains a strategy for fighting the Taliban he calls simply "WHAM".

The name has a distinctly bellicose ring. But the soldiers are learning to fight a new kind of war in a region U.S. President Barack Obama has called the most dangerous on Earth.

"WHAM - winning hearts and minds," explains the straight-talking General Nazir Butt, in charge of converting the army's gains on the battlefield into durable security. "The plan is to turn militant sanctuaries into safe havens for the people."

The term WHAM has been used before, but the focus this time is South Waziristan, an enclave on the Afghan border once the epicenter of a spreading Pakistan Taliban insurgency that shocked the country with its challenge to the authority of the nuclear-armed state.

According to the army narrative, the campaign includes winning over the region's ethnic Pashtun tribes through dialogue, creating commercial opportunities and providing education in new schools and colleges.

During a three-day trip with the army, Reuters got a rare glimpse not just into the scale of the army's state-building project in South Waziristan, but also the challenges that lurk in the inhospitable territory.

However well-meaning the new approach, there are problems that won't go away - threats of retaliation by the al Qaeda-linked militants, a lack of effective civilian administration and endemic corruption.

And the campaign to win hearts and minds has an ignoble track record in other conflict zones which serve as a reality check for even the most optimistic Pakistani officials.   Continued...

 
Students sit near an image of Pakistan's national flag during class at the Musa Neka Public School in Wana, the main town in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan November 28, 2012. In a Pakistan army base high in the mountains on the Afghan frontier, a general explains a strategy for fighting the Taliban he calls simply "WHAM" - winning hearts and minds. According to the army narrative, the campaign includes winning over the region's ethnic Pashtun tribes through dialogue, creating commercial opportunities and providing education in new schools and colleges. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood