In the last few days a number of sources have reported that Pakistan is ratcheting down its search for the al-Qaida chief in South Waziristan, a semi-autonomous area bordering Afghanistan. Though many security experts believe the region to be a sanctuary for al-Qaida members driven out of Afghanistan, some Pakistani military officials are saying that bin Laden isn’t anywhere near it. According to Reuters, one Pakistani army commander went so far as to declare that “there is not an inch of South Waziristan agency or the tribal area which we have not swept time and again and if he was here, I assure you he could not have escaped my ears and eyes.”
Meanwhile, the Swiss government-funded news service ISN reports that the withdrawal of government troops from the region is in progress, and that the region’s governor, Iftikhar Hussain Shah, has promised the area’s tribal elders that “militants” who were “apologetic for their misdeeds” would be freed.
Pakistani military operations along the Afghan border have been a controversial issue inside the country, increasing tensions between the fragile government of President Pervez Musharraf and opposition groups who despise it for toadying to American interests. Now that President Bush has been reelected, perhaps White House pressure on Islamabad to hunt down America’s number-one bogeyman has grown less urgent.
The Bush administration is keeping up appearances in its own right. “Well, again, we work very closely together in the global war on terrorism,” said chief White House spokesman Scott McClellan during a press briefing Monday. “And we work together to go after those al Qaeda member and Taliban remnants who remain in that Pakistan-Afghanistan area, those are issues we discuss very closely with Pakistan. And we have a very good, cooperative working relationship to address those security challenges and to go after those terrorists.”