As foreign militants gather in North Waziristan and the Haqqani Network relocates, local tribes say their fears and concerns are being ignored
by Zia Ur Rehman
October 14-20, 2011
Although the United States is putting pressure on Pakistan for a full-scale operation against the Haqqani Network and other militant groups operating in the North Waziristan for a long time, the region has once again become the centre of a heated debate, especially following direct warnings and accusations by senior US officials claiming that the Haqqani Network is responsible for majority of attacks on US in Afghanistan.
Located between the Khost province of eastern Afghanistan and Khyber Pakthunkhwa of northwest Pakistan, North Waziristan is the second largest tribal region of Pakistan’s Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). According to security experts, the area is considered today to be the epicentre not only of violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan but also a major source of International terrorism. Along with its geographic isolation, difficult terrain and relatively stable coalition of militant groups, they believe that the region has become the most important centre of militancy of FATA because of the impunity with which militants in the area have operated.
The most important militant group operating in the region is the Haqqani Network, an Afghan insurgent group led by Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani. Haqqani left his native Khost province and settled in North Waziristan as an exile during the republican Afghan government of Sardar Mohammad Dauod Khan in early 1970s. His son Sirajuddin, popularly known as Khaleefa, who became a key insurgent leader in the Afghanistan in mid 1980s, manages the network’s organisation from the Danday Darpakhel village near Miramshah in North Waziristan and carries out attacks on US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, according to security experts and local elders.
The second most important group in North Waziristan is led-by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a key militant leader known for hosting foreign militants. Bahadur was announced as Naib Amir (deputy head) under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud upon the formation of the 2007 Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organisation of various militant groups operating in FATA. However Bahadur later formed an anti-TTP bloc by joining hands with Maulvi Nazir’s South Waziristan based group because of disagreements over TTP attacks against the Pakistani security forces and tribal rivalries of Mehsuds. The Haqqani Network and Bahadur are considered ‘good Taliban’ by the Pakistan military authorities as they don’t carry out attacks inside Pakistan and focus only on Afghanistan.
North Waziristan also provides shelter to several other local, foreign and international militant groups, such as the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Army of Great Britain , Ittehad-e-Jihad Islami (IJI), the TTP, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami, the Fidayeen-e-Islami, Harkat-ul-Mujaheen, the Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, according to a latest report published in The News. Elders and political activists of North Waziristan say that many of the foreign militants, especially Central Asians, Arabs and Afghans, arrived in Pakistan’s tribal areas when their bases in Afghanistan were closed down in late 2001. They say that the local population does not approve of the presence of foreign militants, especially the Uzbeks and Punjabis, because they encroach the tribes’ lands and are insensitive to local customs. “We need neither good Taliban nor bad Taliban. The Pakistani government should abandon their policy of using militant groups against each other and should take stern measures to flush out all of these monsters from the area. They are not only carrying out subversive attacks in Afghanistan but also destroying peace in Pakistan,” said an elder from Dawar tribe of North Waziristan.
“We hate Taliban and there are no two opinions about it, but we are compelled to bear the atrocities of these militant outfits because the state has no writ,” said another elder from the Utmanzai tribe. “Our voices are not heard and we are not given appropriate space and airtime in the mainstream media.”
Because of the reluctance of Pakistani authorities to carry out a military operation in the region, US drone have targeted the Mir Ali, Dattakhel and Miramshah areas of North Waziristan extensively, with five out of six drone strikes in Pakistan now being reordered in North Waziristan. Residents of the tribal region say that they live in a constant state of fear of being hit, because of local and foreign militants. The attacks occur without any warning and are often not related to the Pakistani military’s operations.
“The drone frightens women and children who sometimes become the victims, especially if the intended targets are close to their homes,” the Utmanzai elder said.
Tribal elders believe many foreign and local militant leaders have been killed in drone strikes in North Waziristan. New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, estimates on basis of media reports that 80% of the people killed in drones were Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. The accuracy rose to an astonishing 95% in 2010. This assertion was corroborated by Pakistani security official Maj Gen Ghayur Mehmood, who commands troops in North Waziritan, in a March 9 media briefing. Between 2007 and 2011, he said, 164 drone strikes had carried out and over 964 terrorists had been killed. Of those killed, 793 were foreigners – Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Filipinos and Moroccans.
When drones kill a key militant leader or fighter, the Ittehad-e-Mujahedeen-e-Khurasan (IMK), a relatively less-known alliance of all local and foreign militant outfits, kill innocent people belonging to local Utmanzai and Dawar tribes, accusing them of spying. The murders have created more hatred for the foreigners. Most of the killings are carried out by Uzbek and Arab members of the IMK, tribal elders say.
Some Pakistani militant groups have abandoned the IMK because of the brutal ways in which they murder people. “We tried our best to reform the IMK but repeated attempts to correct them failed,” Bahadur said in a recent statement issued after pressure from local Wazir tribesmen.
It is pertinent to mention here that with the help of militants led by Nazir, the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe of South Waziristan successfully flushed out Uzbek militants of IMU from Wana and other Wazir-dominated areas of the region in a spring 2007 uprising sparked by the brutality of the Uzbeks.
Similarly, the tense relationship between local and foreign militant outfits operating in North Waziristan has been displayed several times in the past, particularly in November 2006, when the IMU and the IJU accused Bahadur of betraying them and jumping into the government camp by demanding their eviction from the North Waziristan. Differences between Gul Bahadur and Central Asian militant outfits were solved after the Haqqani Network intervened.
Security experts say that the Haqqani Network has been playing the role of bridge between the local and foreign militants, especially Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda. It was the Haqqani Network that brokered a truce between the Nazir-led militant group and the TTP in South Waziristan when they were fighting over expulsion of Uzbek militants from the region, said a Bannu-based journalist, adding that that the Haqqani Network has strong presence not only in North Waziristan but also in South Waziristan, Kurram and Orakzai tribal agencies.
The Shia Turi tribes of neighbouring Kurram Agency say the growing drone attacks that killed dozens of Al Qaeda, Haqqani Network and TTP leaders, and the US pressure on Pakistani government to begin an operation in North Waziristan, has increased the importance of Kurram for the Haqqani Network. The network will also find in Kurram Agency new passages into Afghanistan, especially with help from former TTP leader Fazal Saeed Haqqani. And it will bring new problems for the Shias of Kurram Agency.
The writer is a journalist and a researcher who works on militancy and human rights. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org