The South Asia Channel

Pakistani Taliban hold ground in northwest Tirah Valley

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Valley redoubt

Pakistan's military is struggling to push the Taliban out of the Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency, where some 30 soldiers and 100 militants died in five days of fighting recently (NYT). The Taliban remain entrenched, though, using a combination of honed guerrilla warfare tactics and extensive tribal connections to avoid defeat, which current and former Pakistani officials worry will allow the insurgents more influence over the upcoming elections.

The Taliban defeated a local pro-government militia in the Tirah Valley last month, then joined forces with another militant group, Lashkar-e-Islam, and on Tuesday made local tribal leader Mangal Bagh the supreme leader of both groups (Dawn). In neighboring Orakzai Agency, at least two Pakistani security forces and eight militants were killed in clashes on Tuesday (Dawn).

Meanwhile, Taliban threats continue to prevent Pakistan's main secular parties from convening large campaign rallies, even in the country's urban centers, forcing them to conduct small-scale door-to-door campaigns for votes (ET).

A Pakistani policeman was shot and killed while escorting a group of health workers administering polio vaccinations to children in the northwestern town of Mardan (AFP, Dawn). Three members of a human trafficking ring have been arrested in Balochistan for their roles in illegally smuggling almost 100 Pakistani Hazaras last June from Indonesia to Australia, on a boat that sank and killed 94 of the asylum seekers (ET).

Just hangin' around

The eight or so Taliban officials who flew to Qatar in 2010 to begin a process of peace negotiations with the United States remain there even though peace talks have been stalled since early 2012 over a proposed prisoner exchange of five Taliban leaders being held at Guantanamo Bay in return for U.S. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl (NYT). "They are just living here enjoying the air-conditioning, driving luxury cars, eating and making babies," according to one Afghan diplomat in Qatar who sees the Taliban officials when they come to the Embassy to register the birth of a child. "It's all they can do; they have no work to do."

A helicopter crashed in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar on Tuesday, killing the two U.S. service members on board (Reuters, AP). An Afghan National Army soldier reportedly shot and wounded two Lithuanian forces on Sunday in what appears to be the latest insider attack (Pajhwok). And one Afghan civilian was killed when NATO forces opened fire on a vehicle in the western province of Herat on Wednesday (Pajhwok).

Party platform? Everything

Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) unveiled a 13-page manifesto on Tuesday that presents a buffet of lofty promises to the Pakistani people (ET). Under the PTI, "there will be no difference between rich and poor," corruption will be eliminated within 90 days after the party comes to power, the nation will withdraw completely from the U.S.-led "war on terror," and Pakistan's women, minorities, impoverished, dispossessed, and disabled will see justice.

-- Jennifer Rowland

A. MAJEED/AFP/Getty Images

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