Pak­istani Army Op­er­a­tions in North Waziris­tan

North Waziris­tan (NW) is in­hab­ited by a very large num­ber of ter­ror groups of all hues and colours. Most of the groups have got af­fil­i­ated with TTP or Al Qaeda or the Haqqani net­work. All high pro­file ter­ror­ist at­tacks since 2010 have em­anated from NW.

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Lt Gen­eral V.K. Kapoor (Retd)

North Waziris­tan is in­hab­ited by a very large num­ber of ter­ror groups of all hues and colours

NORTH WAZIRIS­TAN (NW) IS a part of Fed­er­ally Ad­min­is­tered Tribal Ar­eas (FATA) in Pak­istan. FATA is a semi-au­ton­o­mous tribal re­gion in north-western Pak­istan, bor­der­ing Pak­istan’s prov­inces of Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochis­tan to the east and south, and Afghanistan’s prov­inces of Ku­nar, Nan­garhar, Pak­tia, Khost and Pak­tika to the west and north. FATA com­prise seven tribal agen­cies (dis­tricts) and six fron­tier re­gions, and are di­rectly gov­erned by Pak­istan’s fed­eral gov­ern­ment through a spe­cial set of laws called the Fron­tier Crimes Reg­u­la­tions (FCR). The ge­o­graph­i­cal ar­range­ment of the seven tribal ar­eas in or­der from north to south is: Bajaur, Mohmand, Khy­ber, Orakzai, Kur­ram, North Waziris­tan and South Waziris­tan. The ge­o­graph­i­cal ar­range­ment of the six fron­tier Re­gions in or­der from north to south is: Pe­shawar, Kohat, Bannu, Lakki Mar­wat, Tank and Dera Is­mail Khan. The ter­ri­tory of FATA is al­most ex­clu­sively in­hab­ited by the Pash­tuns, who also live in the neigh­bour­ing Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan.

The ter­rain of NW com­prise high moun­tains, caves, and small pock­ets of ur­ban cen­tres. Hence it is con­sid­ered ideal ter­ri­tory for wag­ing in­sur­gen­cies and guerilla war­fare. The reg­u­lar forces will find it more dif­fi­cult to fight here as com­pared to other types of ter­rain un­less they have been ad­e­quately trained in sim­i­lar ter­rain ear­lier. Pak­istan Army has op­er­ated in this area ear­lier and they have been car­ry­ing out specif­i­cally tar­geted op­er­a­tions, small raids and am­bushes etc. But now the scale of op­er­a­tions in­volves much larger forces with heavy weaponry who are out to sub­due the ter­ror­ists and the in­sur­gents in the re­gion with a heavy hand.

Ter­ror Groups in NW

NW is in­hab­ited by a very large num­ber of ter­ror groups of all hues and colours. Th­ese in­clude, Tehrik-e-Tal­iban (TTP), Pun­jabi Tal­iban, rem­nants of Al Qaeda, el­e­ments of Is­lamic Move­ment of Uzbek­istan, Lashkare-Jhangvi, Khurasan group, Asian Tigers, Jaish-e-Muham­mad, late Ilyas Kash­miri group, and Haqqani net­work and some oth­ers. Some say there are over 30 groups in NW. Most of the groups have got af­fil­i­ated with TTP or Al Qaeda or the Haqqani net­work. All high pro­file ter­ror­ist at­tacks since 2010 have em­anated from NW.

Ground Op­er­a­tions Fol­low Air Op­er­a­tions

The Pak­istan mil­i­tary an­nounced the op­er­a­tion on June 15 which in­volved to airstrikes while giv­ing time to hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple to pack up their be­long­ings and leave to safer ar­eas. Pak­istan Army launched a ground of­fen­sive in NW against mil­i­tant strongholds near the Afghan bor­der on June 30, 2014, af­ter evac­u­at­ing nearly half a mil­lion peo­ple from the tribal re­gion, the army said. The ground of­fen­sive is the sec­ond phase of a long awaited op­er­a­tion against mil­i­tants in NW District.

Pak­istani army claims that since the start of op­er­a­tion “Zarb e Azb” on June 15, 376 ter­ror­ists have been killed while 19 have sur­ren­dered to the se­cu­rity forces. They also claim to have de­stroyed 61 “ter­ror­ist hide­outs”. Even if the claims are gen­uine, what is also ob­vi­ous is that with the evac­u­a­tion of half a mil­lion civil­ians from NW, what is the guar­an­tee that most of the ter­ror­ists have not faded away ac­cord­ing to a plan in or­der to con­cen­trate at a time and place of their own choos­ing. And if this were to hap­pen Pak­istan should ex­pect much more chaos and may­hem in the hin­ter­land. Se­nior Pak­istani of­fi­cials have warned that the op­er­a­tion, named “Zarbe-Azb” af­ter a sword used by the Prophet Muham­mad, would lead to re­tal­ia­tory at­tacks by mil­i­tants in Pak­istan’s main cities, where they have en­trenched net­works and sleeper cells.

Mi­ran­shah and the sur­round­ing vil­lages, es­pe­cially the set­tle­ment of Dan­day Darpakhel, have been known as the head­quar­ters of the Haqqani net­work, an Afghan mil­i­tant group that the US has placed on its of­fi­cial list of ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions. The Haqqani net­work’s ac­tiv­i­ties have been fo­cused on Afghanistan. As a re­sult, it was long re­garded as a threat pri­mar­ily by Kabul and Wash­ing­ton, not Is­lam­abad. Many North Waziris­tan res­i­dents said Haqqani net­work mem­bers, based in the area since the 1970s, had slipped away be­fore the of­fen­sive. Pak­istan Army is known to be soft on Haqqani net­work as they have been con­sid­ered as strate­gic as­sets and have never been tar­geted by them.

Ear­lier Op­er­a­tions in South Waziris­tan in 2009

The gov­ern­ment in Is­lam­abad had ear­lier come un­der crit­i­cism for not quickly fol­low­ing its 2009 op­er­a­tion against mil­i­tants in ad­ja­cent South Waziris­tan with an of­fen­sive in North Waziris­tan. Athar Ab­bas, a re­tired Pak­istani gen­eral who served as the mil­i­tary’s spokesman from 2008 to 2012, said the army had been pre­par­ing to launch a North Waziris­tan op­er­a­tion in 2011, but the then Army Chief Gen­eral Ash­faq Parvez Kayani, de­cided against it, be­cause Pak­istan would be seen as mov­ing into North Waziris­tan “at the be­hest of the US,” which had, at the time, in­ten­si­fied its op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan. Gen­eral Kayani was also wor­ried about the im­pact of ter­ror­ist re­tal­i­a­tion against Pak­istan. Ab­bas de­scribed it as “a case of anal­y­sis and anal­y­sis lead­ing to paral­y­sis”.

Rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion of Pak­istan Mil­i­tary

Pak­istan is slowly but surely slid­ing into a culde­sac. Brig (Retd) Arif Ha­roon Raja, a war vet­eran in his ar­ti­cle “North Waziris­tan Re­quire Thor­ough Prepa­ra­tions,” in Septem­ber 2012 had writ­ten: “I have a hunch that af­ter NW; an­other venue would be propped up for a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion. Al­ready re­ports are in cir­cu­la­tion that Pun­jabi Tal­iban feel­ing ne­glected in NW have started shift­ing to Mul­tan and it is spec­u­lated that Mul­tan re­gion will be the next battleground. We also must not for­get that once the ISAF de­parts, bulk of the weight of ter­ror­ism will fall upon Pak­istan. I there­fore do not fore­see war on ter­ror com­ing to an end in the fore­see­able future.”

To­day the state of Pak­istan is not in con­trol of fairly large swathes of ter­ri­tory. The ji­hadi ter­ror groups pay no heed to any in­struc­tions passed by the gov­ern­ment. They are a law unto them­selves and find sup­port among the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. The youth of Pak­istan have been rad­i­calised to a large ex­tent. Quite a few are of­fer­ing their ser­vices to var­i­ous ter­ror groups fight­ing in Syria, Su­dan and Iraq. Pak­istan mil­i­tary has also been rad­i­cal­ized. May 2011, at­tack against the Karachi Naval base which saw six Tal­iban mil­i­tants hold off se­cu­rity

forces for more than 16 hours and kill a dozen naval per­son­nel, had caused par­tic­u­lar alarm. One naval of­fi­cer said that the at­tack­ers knew the base “in­side out” and were likely to have re­ceived in­tel­li­gence on the US-sup­plied air­craft and the pres­ence of US and Chi­nese tech­ni­cians.

The US has long wor­ried that Pak­istan’s 5,00,000-strong army has be­come rad­i­calised and is un­able to shake off the al­le­giances with ex­trem­ist mil­i­tant groups that it forged over the last three decades in its ef­forts to desta­bilise Afghanistan and In­dia. A trail of US diplo­matic ca­bles, re­leased by WikiLeaks, re­flects the rea­sons for the un­ease.

One for­mer par­lia­men­tar­ian says the Pak­istan Army’s tra­di­tions have be­come so en­twined with re­li­gious dogma and obei­sance over the last 30 years that they are al­most in­dis­tin­guish­able from those of the mil­i­tants. “To­day it is not enough to die for one’s coun­try. Rather a sol­dier has to achieve mar­tyr­dom for Is­lam,” says the par­lia­men­tar­ian.

It is gen­er­ally felt that in Pak­istan pub­licly ex­press­ing th­ese fears is dan­ger­ous. Syed Saleem Shahzad, a jour­nal­ist, got in­ad­ver­tently in­volved in a con­tro­versy by writ­ing that Tal­iban and Al Qaeda mil­i­tants had taken a strate­gic de­ci­sion to desta­bilise the army and had deeply in­fil­trated its ranks. He was mur­dered in May 2011.

It has been re­ported by James La­mont that in the days that fol­lowed the killing of Osama bin Laden by US forces, one of the most ur­gent tasks for Gen­eral Ash­faq Kayani, head of the Pak­istan mil­i­tary, was to ad­dress restive gar­risons in Rawalpindi, Sialkot and Khar­ian. There he was con­fronted by of­fi­cers out­raged not at the dis­cov­ery of the Al Qaeda leader in the coun­try but at the au­dac­ity of the US in tram­pling Pak­istan’s sovereignty.

It is in light of the above facts that seem to have de­terred Pak­istan from launch­ing op­er­a­tions against North Waziris­tan in 2011 de­spite US pres­sures. There­fore it re­mains to be seen as to what are the re­ac­tions within the Pak­istan mil­i­tary of the op­er­a­tions launched in June 2014 against North Waziris­tan.

The Future

The North Waziris­tan-based Tal­iban have threat­ened to launch a counter-of­fen­sive in re­tal­i­a­tion to the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions which com­menced on June 15, 2014. The Tal­iban shura af­ter a meet­ing have de­cided to launch a war for self-de­fense against the gov­ern­ment in North Waziris­tan. Ah­madul­lah Ah­madi, a spokesman for the North Waziris­tan Tal­iban com­manded by Hafiz Gul Ba­hadur, told the me­dia on phone from an undis­closed lo­ca­tion that the shura had ad­vised their fighters to re­tal­i­ate against the use of force by the gov­ern­ment in North Waziris­tan. In re­sponse to the mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziris­tan, the Tal­iban an­nounced Zarb-e-Momin, which means the strike of the true Mus­lim. He said they had no af­fil­i­a­tion with the Tehrik-e-Tal­iban Pak­istan (TTP), led by Maulana Fa­zlul­lah, who has taken refuge in Afghanistan.

The Hafiz Gul Ba­hadur-led Tal­iban, who un­til now were con­sid­ered pro-gov­ern­ment, had signed a peace ac­cord with the Pak­istan Gov­ern­ment in 2006 and re­newed it in 2007. Both sides un­der the agree­ment had promised not to at­tack each other.

The future has to be con­sid­ered in the larger con­text of the geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion pre­vail­ing in the Afghanistan – Pak­istan re­gion and the at­ti­tude adopted by all Tal­iban fac­tions af­ter the with­drawal of US and ISAF troops from Afghanistan. Would the Afghan Tal­iban, the TTP and other ter­ror groups in Pak­istan join hands to launch op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan and Pak­istan or would they con­cen­trate on Afghanistan alone in the first in­stance? If Pak­istan were to be desta­bilised how would that im­pact In­dia? Th­ese is­sues need de­lib­er­a­tions by both Pak­istan and In­dia and per­haps this is an im­por­tant enough rea­son to shed past in­hi­bi­tions and strate­gize to­gether!

A vin­tage photo of South Waziris­tan’s moun­tains

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