- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2010

The State Department has stated in a cable from Peshawar, Pakistan, that it is skeptical about eventually winning the military struggle in Pakistan’s badlands, saying peace talks go nowhere and murderous militants control key towns.

A long cable from the consulate in Peshawar also says eight years of airstrikes, military patrols and added checkpoints have had little effect on securing the border with Afghanistan used by Islamic militants to attack U.S. troops battling the Taliban.

“The borders are porous,” the cable states. “Taliban and militant extremists are constantly crossing the border with Afghanistan and engaging in terrorist and smuggling activity. The rugged terrain makes it difficult to patrol and control the border.”

Military analysts say that as long as militants can move freely from Pakistan into Afghanistan, and back, it will be difficult to defeat the anti-Kabul insurgency.

A consulate officer wrote the cable to inform Washington and U.S. commanders about the cast of characters controlling Waziristan, a key tribal border region, as a prelude to an upcoming Pakistani military offensive, its fourth since the summer of 2009. The tribal areas are infested with al Qaeda and Taliban militants who want to bring down the government in Islamabad, as well as Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The U.S. thinks Osama bin Laden moves within the region.

The offensives have proved inconclusive, with the military making some gains and the U.S. killing a key militant, Baitullah Mehsud, by a drone missile attack. But the main enemy groups remain in place.

The State Department cable helps explain why, revealing the stranglehold that militant militias exert on towns and tribes.

Chief among them is the late Mehsud’s group, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, which is dedicated to overthrowing the Pakistani government.

Pakistan’s “divide and rule” strategy calls for isolating the TTP, but tribal leaders were “too cowed” to move against a man the cable called “the most notorious militant in Pakistan.”

His successor and cousin, Hakimullah Mehsud, is just as ruthless. He masterminded a 2008 suicide bombing of a jirga (peace conference) that, the cable stated, “killed over 50 tribal maliks [leaders] and broke virtually all organized resistance to TTP control.”

The State Department consulate branded such jirgas as futile.

“Our contacts from [South Waziristan] have uniformly dismissed them as entirely cowed by Baitullah and irrelevant in mediation,” it said. “The deaths of over [300] other Waziristan maliks over the past four years appear to have sapped them of the willingness to confront Baitullah in any way and rendered them essentially placeholders in the jirgas for sake of form.”

Hakimullah Mehsud was the leader of regular raids on truck convoys supplying U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The cable included a long list of towns controlled by the TTP.

The other key tribal-area militant is Jalaluddin Haqqani, a close ally of Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who controls an army known as the “Haqqani Network.”

While Mehsud targets Islamabad, Haqqani attacks Afghanistan and is thought to have support from some rogue elements of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI).

“The Haqqanis have generally taken the stance that attacks against Pakistan’s government are illegitimate, and they have worked to keep militant leaders in Waziristan focused on the war in Afghanistan,” the cable stated.

An unnamed Pakistani government source has told the consulate that the ISI secretly advised the government on the “virtues of some Taliban elements.”

The cable writer concludes, “there is a divided loyalty within ISI ranks, which may cause inaction, or assistance to Taliban and anti-U.S. groups.”

Comments from other government contacts “reflect a growing pessimism and frustration concerning the future” of Pakistan’s tribal areas.

A second cable, one of thousands being released by WikiLeaks, lists “hostile third-country intelligence services” operating in Pakistan as Russia, Iran, Cuba and China.

“There is no corroborated information at this time to suggest that these intelligence services are directly targeting U.S. interests in Pakistan or are engaged in anti-American terrorist acts,” the cable stated.

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