ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Suspected U.S. drone strikes in the lawless border region of South Waziristan yesterday seemed to complicate Pakistani efforts to win over a local warlord targeted by the missile attacks.
The assault targeted Maulvi Nazir, whom Pakistan is courting in hopes he will stay out of an offensive it is planning against warlord Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, according to a senior Pakistani security official who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to discuss the issue.
Mehsud also is seeking a pact with Nazir, however, in what officials and militants described as a fierce competition with the government.
Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan is a center of extremist activity on both sides of the border.
Nazir does not fight inside Pakistan, but his men are a significant challenge for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, where he sends his jihadists. The U.S. drone strikes yesterday targeted a compound squarely in Nazir's area, used by one of his commanders, named Malang, reportedly killing eight people.
"Pakistan still has this idea of 'good' militants and 'bad' militants," said Christine Fair, an analyst at RAND Corp., a U.S. research center. "Baitullah is Pakistan's problem. For securing U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, Maulvi Nazir remains important."
Mehsud, Pakistan's public enemy No. 1, leads the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, a Taliban umbrella group focused on battling the authorities in Pakistan. He does not send many fighters into Afghanistan, however.
A branch of his group is fighting Pakistani forces in the Swat valley, which also is in the country's northwest, and he runs a "school" for suicide bombers at his Waziristan base, where he is said to have 10,000 armed men under his command.
Waziristan, part of the tribal area that runs along the Afghan border, has two major warrior tribes, the Wazirs and the Mehsuds.
According to tactical wisdom going back to British colonial times, any military action must take on either the Wazirs or the Mehsuds, but tackling both at once invites disaster. Nazir is a Wazir, Baitullah a Mehsud.
"It doesn't pay if you push all the Taliban into one corner and start fighting them," said Mehmood Shah, a former senior security official for the tribal area. "It's better to divide them."