by Zia Ur Rehman
January 11-17, 2013
On January 3, Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir and his key aides were killed when a missile fired from a US drone hit their pickup truck in the mountains of Sara Kandaah in Wana area of South Waziristan.
Seven militants including Nazir, his deputy Ratta Khan, and commanders Allaudin, Haneef Afghani aka Kochee, Ehsanullah Wazir and Maulvi Attaullah were killed in the attack, said an Ahmedzai tribal elder.
Nazir was the chief of one of the four major militant outfits operating in South and North Waziristan regions. The other three are the Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led group, the Haqqani Network and the Hakimullah Mehsud-led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Nazir fell in the Pakistani military establishment’s “good Taliban” category because he focused his attacks on US forces in Afghanistan and avoided attacks on Pakistan. The TTP attacks Pakistani security forces and interests. Nazir had survived several attacks, including two drone strikes – one in February 2008 at the house of Maulana Haroon Wazir in which he was wounded, and another in October 2011 in Azam Warsark area in which his younger brother and a deputy were killed. Most recently, he survived a suicide bomb attack in November.
Maulvi Nazir had been an influential Taliban commander and tribal chief and had ties to various militant groups operating in the region, including Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. Several key Al Qaeda leaders, including Ilyas Kashmiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, Osama al Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, and Abu Zaid al Iraqi, had been killed in drone attacks in South Waziristan while being sheltered by Nazir. Nazir is also one of only three top-level Pakistani Taliban leaders to have been killed by a drone. The other two were Nek Muhammad and Baitullah Mehsud.
Nazir had been at loggerheads with the TTP leadership and Central Asian militants, especially those belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). With support of the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe and assistance of the Pakistani military, Nazir had successfully flushed out the Uzbek militants from Wana in 2007.
Most analysts believe that Nazir’s death may be a serious setback to Taliban fighters who attack the US and allied forces in Afghanistan. Pentagon spokesman George Little said Nazir’s death, if true, would be “a significant blow” to extremist groups in the region. He said that it would be helpful not only to the US and Afghanistan but also to Pakistan because “this is someone who has a great deal of blood on his hands”.
His killing will damage the insurgency in the provinces of Afghanistan that share a border with Pakistan, especially Paktika and Khost, and may hurt Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in the Pakistani tribal areas, said Ashraf Khpalwak, a Kabul-based security analyst.
Other analysts foresee a greater challenge for Pakistan’s security forces, as they lose an ally against the TTP and as the area copes with a likely fallout. “Nazir’s death will complicate the situation for Pakistan,” said Abdul Basit, a senior analyst at Singapore-based International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism (ICPVTR). “Through Nazir’s outfit, Pakistani security forces were trying to launch a tribal (Ahmedzai) uprising against the TTP in South Waziristan to flush out the TTP’s Mehsud militants from the territory.”
After the November 29 suicide attack on Nazir, his faction ordered the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the Mehsud tribe to leave the Wana area. The attack was blamed on the TTP, which draws its strength from the Mehsud tribe.
Basit says Nazir’s death could be a contentious issue between Washington and Islamabad. This view was corroborated by a retired military officer who is of view that the Pakistani military views commanders like Nazir as key to keeping peace internally, and his death will create a power vacuum in the area, sparking a tribal war leaving Pakistani forces to deal with the consequent instability.
“The killing of Nazir and his key lieutenants has hurt the network they led. That may take some pressure off the TTP, and allow the outfit to strengthen and expand its influence in Wana again,” said a tribal journalist based in Wana.
That may also lead to an increase in violence. “A dangerous scenario for the Pakistani military would be the joining of hands of Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir supporters with the TTP,” Asad Munir, a former Pakistani Army brigadier and security analyst, told New York Times, adding that Nazir’s forces had been “relatively peaceful” but that his death increased the chances of attacks on military targets.
The shura (council) of Wana Taliban has named Salahudddin Ayubi, whose real name is Bahawal Khan, to lead Nazir’s outfit after his killing. “Ayubi’s appointment to lead the Taliban in the Ahmedzai Wazir areas of South Waziristan is supported by both tribal and religious leaders,” Ainullah, a local Taliban commander, told reporters. A militant known as Taj Wazir was named the group’s new deputy chief to replace Ratta Khan. Local tribal elders who know Ayubi say the new chief is hot-tempered, unlike his predecessor. They think Ayubi will find it difficult to maintain a tribal consensus in his favor to keep his power base around the town of Wana largely peaceful.
The writer is a journalist and security analyst who covers militancy in Pakistan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: zalmayzia