By Zia Ur Rehman
July 25, 2014
Residents of North Waziristan who fled the tribal area during the military operation against the Taliban are now describing their life under the influence of local and foreign militants.
Nearly a million people left North Waziristan, a tribal district bordering Afghanistan’s Khost province that security experts call the center of national and international terrorism, and where local and global militant groups operated with virtual impunity until the launch of the military operation on June 15.
“Because of its geographic isolation, difficult terrain and relatively stable coalition of militant groups, the region had become the most important hub of militancy in FATA,” says a retired military officer who served in FATA, adding that the presence and operation of militants caused local residents unimaginable suffering and humiliation.
Locals say the Taliban faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur was the most influential in North Waziristan, providing shelter to other local and foreign groups – especially the Haqqani Network of Afghanistan, Mehsud and Punjabi leaders of various factions of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, and other Pakistani Jihadi and sectarian outfits.
“There were several incidents of flared tensions between local tribesmen and Uzbek militants”
Prominent foreign militant groups who were hiding in North Waziristan region included Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, the Islamic Jihad Union, and other small Central Asian and European cells, media reports suggest.
Foreign militants arrived in North Waziristan when their bases in Afghanistan were closed down in late 2001. “We did not welcome them. They were not our guests. It was the Pakistani government’s policy at that time to keep them there,” says an elder of the Dawar tribe. “Their arrival completely destroyed the social, cultural and religious fabric of our society, and most importantly, brought violence and terrorism in our area.”
Gun-toting militants rode through Mir Ali and Miranshah markets and everyone could see them patrolling the area every day, according to local residents.
“Our social structure and the institution of Jirga was specifically targeted by the militants. They killed the elders of the area,” says a college student from the Spinwam area. He says the locals did not approve of the presence of foreign militants, especially the Uzbeks and Punjabis, because they encroached the tribes’ lands and were insensitive of local customs.
Gun-toting militants rode through the markets of Mir Ali and Miranshah
In the neighboring South Wazirstan’s Wana area, local Ahmadzai Wazir tribesmen successfully flushed out Uzbek militants of IMU from the Wazir-dominated areas of the region in a spring 2007 uprising sparked by the brutalities of the Uzbeks. When they were forcibly expelled from South Waziristan, all of them came of North Waziristan.
“There were several incidents of flared tensions between local tribesmen and Uzbek militants, but the issues were resolved with the efforts of the leaders of the Haqqani Network,” a resident said.
Some residents of North Waziristan interviewed for this report in Bannu spoke reluctantly and carefully, because they feared the Taliban and also did not want to offend the security forces. Leaders of the Christian community living in North Waziristan said in a group discussion that they were living peacefully and Taliban militants did not harm them.
But a young activist said privately that a 50-year-old Christian man sitting in the discussion, who was not able to walk, was picked up and severely beaten by militants of Gul Bahadur. A number of non-Muslim families had moved to Punjab in the last few years, he said, because of fear of the Taliban.
Some locals said the foreign militants had moved to Afghanistan days before the launch of the military operation, and local militants – especially those loyal to Gul Bahadhur, Sheharyar Mehsud and Khan Said alias Sajna – have moved to the neighboring tribal agencies.
Media reports citing local residents, including barbers in North Waziristan, said many Taliban fighters disguised themselves with new haircuts in the weeks before the Pakistan Army assault.
“We thought that since the militants had started fleeing the area, there would be no military operation, but we were wrong,” said Muhammad Din, who ran a shop in Miranshah bazaar.