By Arthur I. Cyr
The Taliban has carried out a stunning raid and successful mass prison break in the town of Bannu, Pakistan, near North Waziristan, a tribal area where sympathy for Islamic radicalism is strong. Highly visible Taliban attacks in Afghanistan have distracted attention from this event. A lengthy gun battle climaxed by freeing approximately 400 prisoners, Speculation continues that there was inside assistance. The Pakistan military has been extensively engaged in counter-insurgency operations in the area but did not arrive in time to prevent the mass escape. The U.S. has been actively pressuring Pakistani forces to be more aggressive. The latest mass prison breakout provides dramatic demonstration that the Taliban, and their al-Qaida allies, maintain virulent capacity to create chaos in South Asia. Just a year ago, an estimated 475 inmates fled a sizable prison in Kandahar, Afghanistan through an underground tunnel.
Shortly thereafter, a number of individuals were arrested, including the director of the incarceration facility, Ghulam Dastagher Mayar. Ronald Noble, secretary-general of Interpol, criticized Afghanistan officials for inattention to record keeping, including fingerprints, photographs, and DNA. Afghanistan and Pakistan are notorious for lax security. Over the years, the Taliban has made spectacular devastating events a top priority. In mid-June 2008, another dramatic prison break in Kandahar freed approximately 1,000 people, including an estimated 400 hard-core insurgents. On New Year’s Eve of that year, the Taliban scored a major tactical military as well as political victory through killing members of the security force of Abdul Salaam, the governor of Musa Qala, a long-contested area in southern Afghanistan. During that same time period, the Group of Eight (G-8) foreign ministers decided to devote massive financial resources to combating the narcotics trafficking and poverty in Afghanistan, focused on areas where these problems are most severe. A G-8 coordinating body was created to oversee approximately US$4 billion in aid, concentrated in tribal areas bordering Pakistan where al-Qaida and the Taliban are strong. Assistance has included police and military training as well as expanded anti-drug efforts. The thrust, however, is economic, not military.