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"That was the turning point for Mohmand," the man told me. "After that no one challenged the Taliban."

But if the militants are linked by an ability to capitalise on local disaffection and a willingness to use terror at its extreme, the wider threat they pose is an issue so divisive that it seems set to ensure their survival.

"The UK's core objective is not about tribal militants in Fata," a British diplomat told me in Islamabad in autumn 2008. "It is to eliminate the safe haven there for violent extremists planning to attack the UK." Yet Brown's comments in Pakistan in December suggest the UK is equally keen to eliminate safe havens for terrorists planning attacks not just on the UK but on Britain's regional allies too.

The militants' elimination would be easier if there were only a single foe, a single extremist group with a single objective, instead of the kaleidoscopic mix that exists in Fata today. The very definition of "enemy" differs in the eye of each national beholder and it is difficult to segregate those with a localised agenda from those with regional and international aims.

Guns are easily available in Peshawar

The Taliban are nominally Fata's militant kingpins. They are in turn divided between the Pakistani Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP), commanded by Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan, and the Afghan Taliban. Mullah Omar remains the generic spiritual leader of both groups. However, seasoned regional officials and soldiers insist that Mullah Omar's Quetta-based headquarters has been sidelined. They say that the dominant force in the Taliban now is the group based at Miranshah in Fata's North Waziristan, led by the Afghan Sirajuddin Haqqani. Some government officials go so far as to claim that Haqqani has united all of Fata's militants under the umbrella of an "Islamic Emirate of Waziristan". "The emirate co-ordinates them all," a leading Pakistani politician told me, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Haqqani acts as the link man between al-Qaeda, the ISI, the Afghan Taliban and Baitullah [Mehsud]. They have some differences. But they co-ordinate. Basically the emirate runs the war."

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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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