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In Bajaur, I found Pakistan's 26th Brigade catching its breath before pushing northwards up two key valleys still held by the Taliban. Despite the earlier intensity of the action, its enemy was still in ample evidence. The valley on either side of the key eight-mile route rattled with gunfire. Tanks and mortars engaged targets sometimes barely a hundred metres from the road while a gunship strafed Taliban positions on a slope in the middle ground.

Geared for a conventional war with India, the soldiers had found the experience of fighting heavily-armed insurgents through the labyrinths of tunnels, trenches and gullies which lined the main road vexing and costly.

"They have the spirit of the vulture," one colonel remarked of his foe, using words similar to the written record left by veterans of frontier wars a century ago. "As soon as they see a moment of weakness or isolation, they will swarm in to feast on it. If you are strong and can throw them back, in no time they disperse and disappear. It doesn't mean they have gone though. They are still out there, waiting."

A Pakistani soldier on patrol in Bajaur

So were these soldiers, part of an army that in the last six years has lost up to 1,500 men fighting militants, really just pawns to the dual agenda of a government which sacrifices them on one hand while fostering the militancy on the other? At the heart of the riddle, encompassed in a swathe of mountains, wilderness and Pashtun tribes once all too familiar to British soldiers in the days of the Indian Empire, lie Pakistan's seven notorious tribal agencies - Bajaur, South and North Waziristan, Orakzai, Mohmand, Khyber, Kurram. Described today by Britain and America as the primary source of impending international terrorist attacks, and the scene of repeated Hellfire strikes by US Predator drones, these federally administered tribal agencies are known better by the acronym Fata.

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Gary O
February 12th, 2009
5:02 PM
Taliban and islamist extremists are the golden geese for Pakistan that regularly lays golden eggs in the form of billions of dollars in "aid", free military hardware, intelligence training and much more from Western countries, not to mention the almost universal praise heaped upon its politicians by our governments thereby giving boost to their self importance and ego. And what happens if you kill the goose that lays the golden egg?

February 7th, 2009
9:02 PM
"What can the West do about it?" errm mind its business- maybe just for once.

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