By Zia Ur Rehman
Dec 7-13, 2012
Key Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir survived a deadly suicide attack on November 29, when he and his associates were visiting Rustam Bazaar in Wana, the administrative headquarters of South Waziristan. At least seven militants were killed and a dozen others were injured in the attack.
Nazir suffered minor injuries on his face and legs, his spokesman Amir Nawaz told local reporters. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far, and security analysts say Nazir has a long list of enemies. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) are the main suspects. Maulvi Nazir has also been targeted by US drones on several occasions, but survived each time. The most recent such attack was in June 2012.
Nazir belongs to the Kakakhel tribe, which is a sub-clan of the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe. His family lives on both sides of the Durand Line. During the Soviet Afghan war, he was affiliated with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami and later joined the Taliban. He became the head of the Wana Taliban in late 2006 after challenging local commanders Haji Sharif and Haji Omar. Nazir’s group is allied with militant commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur who US officials believe is sheltering the Haqqani network in the neighboring North Waziristan Agency.
Bahadur was made the deputy chief of TTP when it was formed under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud in 2007. TTP is an umbrella organization of various militant groups operating in FATA. After disagreements over attacks on Pakistani security forces and because of tribal rivalries, he joined hands with Maulvi Nazir and formed his own anti-TTP bloc. The two leaders fall in the military establishment’s ‘good Taliban’ category because they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan.
There are two main tribes in South Waziristan – the Ahmedzai Wazirs and the Mehsuds. The Ahmedzai Wazirs live in Wana subdivision, while the Sarawakai and Ladha subdivisions are dominated by the Mehsuds. With the help of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribes, militants led by Nazir threw out Uzbek militants of the IMU from Wana and other Wazir-dominated areas of South Waziristan in a spring 2007 uprising against Uzbek brutality.
The Uzbek militants had arrived in the area after their bases in Afghanistan were closed down in late 2001. Many of them relocated to North Waziristan and Mehsud-dominated areas of South Waziristan after their eviction from Wana. The IMU lost around 250 militants in the clashes with Nazir’s group. Pakistani security forces helped Nazir’s men secure the bases vacated by the Uzbeks.
“It seems that the attack (on Nazir) was masterminded by the IMU-linked Uzbek militants,” a local tribal leader said. He said the frustrated Uzbeks had also killed Maulana Noor Muhammad, a prominent elder of the Ahmedzai tribe and former parliamentarian, along with 30 other people in a suicide attack in a mosque in Wana in August 2010.
Two days after the November 29 attack, loudspeakers in Karikot, Shakai, Azam Warsak, Spin and Toi Khulla towns of Wana announced Nazir’s ultimatum to the Mehsud tribesmen to vacate the areas by December 5. Locals found guilty of sheltering the Mehsuds would be fined up to Rs 1.5 million and their houses will be demolished, said the warning.
The announcement indicates Maulvi Nazir holds the TTP responsible for the attack, security analysts say. “The TTP is largely dominated by Mehsud tribesmen from South Waziristan, and Nazir made no distinction between the internally displaced Mehsud tribesmen and the militants,” said a local journalist based in Wana. A large number of Mehsud families have moved to other areas after the warning, he said. Hours after the attack, militants loyal to Nazir gunned down two TTP militants in Wana, local sources said.
The Mehsud population had to leave their homes when a military operation codenamed Rah-e-Nijat (Path to Salvation) started in October 2009. The operation has not ended yet. The Mehsuds were sheltered in IDP camps or began living in rented houses in Wana, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan and Karachi.
Nazir has been at loggerheads with the TTP leadership over a September 2009 incident in which he alleges 11 of his men were killed by TTP militants in Mehsud territory in Salay Rogha, South Waziristan. They were on their way to Wana. Mehsud Taliban fighters have also been warned by the Nazir group not to use their soil for attacks against security forces.
Pir Zubair Shah, a former New York Times reporter from South Waziristan, believes the attack on Nazir was likely planned by local Wazir commanders Haji Omar and Maulvi Abbas, who had sided with the Uzbek militants and were thus evicted from Wana in 2007. “Although some of these Waziri militants had made peace deals with Nazir and were allowed to come back, it seems the tension still exists,” he said.
Security analysts and tribal elders think the Ahmedzai jirga’s decision to ask the Mehsuds to leave Wana could trigger a bloody clash between the Mehsud and Wazir tribes. “I don’t think this attack will result in an all-out war between the Nazir-led group and the TTP. The clash between the two will be actually a clash between the Mehsud and Wazir tribes,” Shah said. He said the eviction notice was an effort by the government to sideline the TTP which draws its strength from the Mehsuds.
Similar efforts are also being made in North Waziristan where the local Utmanzai tribal elders and Bahadur-led militants decided in a November 22 jirga to form a militia (lashkar) against “criminals and terrorists”.
“Kidnappers, terrorists and those involved in attacks on security forces should leave the North Waziristan Agency immediately,” the jirga announced.
Creating divisions between Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and the TTP has long been part of the American strategy in the region, and Pakistan’s goal has been to weaken the TTP, said Arif Ansar, a security analyst associated with PoliTact, a Washington-based think tank. “Far from media attention, one can sense that the US and Pakistan have agreed on some kind of a quid pro quo in this regard,” he said.
The writer is a journalist and a researcher and covers militancy in Pakistan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: zalmayzia