Why Tensions Brewing in Waziristan Suddenly Matter

Waziristan has not commonly been included in the central Asian conglomerate of post-Soviet and Islamic states stretching from the Aral Sea in the west to the Himalayas in the east. But that doesn't mean it's not important.

Students of conflict and probably everyone else at this point, should be watching Waziristan, a lawless region on the Pakistani-Afghan border as the next scene of engagement between the American military and the Taliban.

President Obama has dispatched a corps of 21,000 troops to Afghanistan since he entered office. He still is reluctant to use the word "surge" in describing the influx, but it is a significant prelude to a heightened engagement nonetheless.

American intelligence experts are betting on a robust show of force along the northern region with Pakistan where once rival Taliban forces on both sides of the border have united in recent weeks to confront the Americans and their Afghan coalition partners.

Obama announced new standards yesterday in the regional effort to confront the Taliban including potentially $1.5 billion in aid to the enfeebled Pakistani government in Islamabad, counter-insurgency training for Afghan forces, opium eradication and infrastructural improvements in the impoverished regions in both countries where disaffected populations tend to engender fresh insurgents.

But even these efforts may be undercut by the Taliban forces grouping in Waziristan. Young commanders are being groomed for combat and a galvanizing new figure, Mullah Abdullah Zakir, who was formerly a leader in the Taliban government of the late 90s and a detainee in Guantanamo Bay, has re-emerged. Zakir is rumored to have close ties to both Al Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence.

In a phone conversation with Big Think, former Afghan diplomat and foreign policy expert Masood Aziz, although positive on the overall strategy that was announced, expressed doubts about any quick results from the goals set by the President. Especially since Obama stressed that one of his chief goals was to eliminate al Qaeda, who are operating within Pakistan, Aziz pointed out that today's announcement included no details on confronting the group within Pakistani territory. He said that "no one should be under the illusion that any of these are going to bear fruit in the very short term."

Further viewing and reading:

Masood Aziz's Failure Is Not Realism on the need for a realistic strategy in the region

The Guardian's lonely helicopter tour of Pakistani forces isolated on the Waziri border

Frontline's The War Brieifing, a comprehensive five-part series on American outposts in the river valleys west of Waziristan

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