Pakistan’s Tribal Militants: A Militant Leadership Monitor Special Report
Profile of Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, Leader of Baloch Liberation Front
by Zia Ur Rehman
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Pakistan’s Tribal Militants: A Militant Leadership Monitor Special Report
Profile of Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, Leader of Baloch Liberation Front
by Zia Ur Rehman
Please Subscribe here so that you can read the full article.
Following the November 26 incident in which two Pakistani Army check posts in the Salala area of the Mohmand tribal agency were hit by a NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, Islamist religious parties and banned militant organizations have joined Pakistani authorities in reacting with outrage to what they perceive as a violation of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty. The Islamabad government has already closed NATO/U.S. supply routes through Pakistan to Afghanistan and has also banned the commercial sale of fuel to Afghanistan, citing domestic shortages and high prices (Daily Times [Lahore], December 4).
Pakistani military spokesperson Major General Athar Abbas claimed that NATO helicopters carried out an unprovoked and indiscriminate attack on a military post in Mohmand Agency, adding that he didn’t believe NATO or Afghan forces had received fire from the Pakistani side, raising the possibility that the attack was a deliberate strike by NATO (Express Tribune [Karachi] November 27; Daily Jang [Karachi] November 27, Guardian, November 27).
On the other hand, Afghan and NATO officials claimed that a small group of U.S. and Afghan forces conducting a nighttime raid on a suspected Taliban insurgent base in Afghanistan’s Kunar province near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border were fired upon from a position inside Pakistani territory, prompting calls for the close air support that wiped out the two Pakistani mountain posts (Tolo News [Kabul], November 27).
Abu Hamza, a senior Afghan Taliban commander who leads the militants in the Kunar Khas area of Kunar province, strongly denied having carried out any attack on NATO or Afghan forces in Kunar the night NATO helicopters bombed the Pakistani military posts. However, Abu Hamza said that a group of Pakistani militants led by Omar Khalid (real name Abdul Wali Khan), a key leader of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), planted an improvised explosive device during the day of November 25 on Kunar’s main road which later struck a U.S. tank (The News [Islamabad] November 30).
Although the Pakistani military claimed that there was no militant activity in the area at the time of the attack, Mohmand is a well-known hub of militancy which has a significant impact on the security situation on both sides of border. Omar Khalid heads the network of Mohmand militants that carries out terrorist attacks in both countries.  The Pakistani military claimed that it had cleared 80% of the Mohmand area of militants and the operation would be completed in a few days. Seventy-two soldiers, including three officers, have been killed during the operation (Dawn [Karachi] September 1).
Afghan officials also regularly complain about cross-border incursions in Kunar province originating in the Mohmand tribal agency. Kunar’s governor says that the Dangam, Shigal and Sarkan districts of Kunar have suffered casualties and losses from cross-border missile attacks from Mohmand Agency (Pajhwok Afghan News, June 18). Former Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh accuses Pakistan of creating the problem that led to the recent NATO attack in Mohmand, asking who is supporting Omar Khalid and who is supporting unrest in Kunar? (Friday Times [Lahore] December 2-8). Many security experts are of the view that Pakistani and Afghan militants have teamed up to attack each other’s border areas, killing civilians and military officials and aiming to disrupt security co-operation between Islamabad and Kabul (see Terrorism Monitor, July 22).
Maulvi Fariq Muhammad, deputy head of the TTP, has said that the recent NATO attack on Pakistani check posts proved that “the United States can never be a friend of Pakistan” and that Islamabad should accept Taliban’s stance after this attack (BBC Urdu, November 29). Mukarrum Khurasani, an aide to Mohmand Agency TTP leader Umar Khalid Khurasani, has said that Pakistan should sever its relationship with the United States. Instead of merely stopping NATO supplies, Mukarrum said Pakistan should take revenge for every person killed (Express Tribune, November 28).
The heated diplomatic row between Pakistan and NATO has escalated since the attack, with Pakistan ordering the United States to vacate the important Shamshi Air Base in Balochistan, closing NATO’s supply routes through Chaman and the Khyber Agency and boycotting an international conference on the future of Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany (Daily Jang, November 27).
The retaliation taken by Islamabad in the aftermath of the NATO attack clearly matches the demands recently made by the TTP as a prerequisite for holding peace negotiations with the government. TTP demands for Islamabad to halt NATO supply convoys and evict U.S. forces from the Shamshi Air Base were made public on November 19 (Daily Aaj [Peshawar), November 20). Speculation regarding TTP-Government peace talks has been widespread since the passage of a resolution endorsing talks with the Taliban at an All-Party Conference held in Islamabad on October 18. The conference was chaired by Pakistani Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani and attended by all the key political parties of the country in a bid to bring peace (The News, December 1).
Following the NATO attack, thousands of enraged Pakistanis, including members of religious parties and banned militant outfits, took to the streets across the country, setting fire to American flags and shouting anti-American slogans. Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a banned outfit whose previous name was Lashkar-e-Taiba, has been in the forefront of protests against the NATO operation.
In rallies across the country, JuD leaders urged the young protestors to prepare for jihad and called on the Pakistani military to give a “befitting response” to the NATO attack. Ahl-e-Sunnat wa’l-Jamaat (ASWJ), the new name of the banned Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), also organized anti-NATO protests in various cities. Opposition parties are also supporting the government’s stance by condemning the NATO attack (Daily Umamt [Karachi] November 29).
Although it is currently unknown what triggered what one analyst described as the “tactical development” along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, it seems the only way to prevent cross border attacks is to tackle the militants operating in the border areas of both countries.  Though the security forces of both countries have begun operations to repel further attacks, the Islamabad and Kabul government as well as NATO must deal collectively with the issue of cross-border militancy in order to avoid the mistrust created by incidents like that of November 26.
Zia Ur Rehman is a journalist and researcher and works on militancy, human rights and development in Pakistan’s tribal areas. He is a Pakistan Pashtun belonging to the Swat Valley and has written for The Friday Times, Central Asia Online, Himal South Asian, New York Times, The News and other media publications.
1. Telephone interview with a Mohmand Agency-based journalist who requested anonymity, November 29, 2011.
2. Telephone interview with Raees Ahmed, a Karachi-based political analyst. December 2, 2011
While Pakistan has directed its focus and significant resources to fighting terrorism in theFederally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), the growing activities of banned militant organizations and their influence in Punjab, the country’s most populous province, have been largely ignored. Militants, most trained in Afghanistan and others ex-inmates of Afghan prisons, have recently surfaced in Punjab and become active in Punjabi jihadi groups.
The Punjabi militant network is a loose conglomeration of members of banned militant groups of Punjabi origin that have developed strong connections with the Tehrki-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups based in FATA and KPK. Members shuttle between FATA and the rest of Pakistan, providing logistical support to FATA and Afghanistan-based militants to conduct terrorist operations deep inside Pakistan.
The main banned organizations with leadership and headquarters in Punjab include Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Jummat ud-Dawa (JuD), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), Harkatul Jihadul Islami (HJI), all working in collaboration with the TTP and al-Qaeda (Central Asia Online, May 10). These sectarian groups are active in the Punjabi cities of Jhang, Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Khanewal, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rahimyar Khan, Muzaffergarh, Layyah, and Gujranwala, leaving the government with the difficult task of eliminating these groups with actions other than those already taken in the tribal areas.  The LeT’s governing offices are located in Muridke and Lahore while the SSP is controlled from Jhang district. Similarly, LeJ takes directions from Rahimyar Khan and the JeM is linked with its center in Bahawalpur (Viewpoint Online [Pakistan], July 16, 2011). 
Media reports suggest that a large number of militants from Punjab have joined hands with the TTP as well as the Afghan Taliban in recent years. With significant numbers of recruits from Punjab-based sectarian organizations, the TTP has proved to be lethal to government efforts to establish order on the frontier (Outlook [Kabul] May 6). According to the figures of the ten largest jihadi organizations, the number of “martyrs” from Punjab is more than 12,000, of which roughly 4,000 have lost their lives in Afghanistan.  An intelligence report recently prepared by the provincial government’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) revealed that 2,487 militants trained in Afghanistan and 556 militants released from Afghan prisons have surfaced in the province and are now active in the Punjabi Taliban Network (Express Tribune [Karachi] August 30).
Terrorist and suicide attacks inside Punjab have increased significantly since the Pakistan military’s offensive in South Waziristan in October 2009. Most of the terrorists involved in the attacks belonged to a variety of Punjabi cities, with most hailing from the province’s southern region:
A large number of “Punjabi Taliban” belonging to the LeJ, the SSP, the JuD, the HJI and other splinter groups, are especially active in the tribal region (The News [Islamabad] August 18).  Interior Minister Rehman Malik has also written to the Punjab government asking them to take action against the anti-Shi’a militants based in Jhang district, following a September 20 attack on an Iran-bound bus in the Mastung district of Balochistan that killed 29 Shi’a pilgrims (BBC, October 4).
According to security officials, Shehbaz Taseer, son of slain Punjab governor Salman Taseer, was abducted from the provincial capital of Lahore on August 6 by Punjab-based militants.  Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said that Taseer has been shifted to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, most probably to North Waziristan (Dawn [Karachi], October 17). The abductee’s family members disclosed that they had received threats from militant groups since Governor Taseer was shot dead earlier this year for urging reforms to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws (see Terrorism Monitor, February 24). Similarly, responsibility for the killing of Pakistan’s Christian Minorities minister Shehbaz Bhatti was claimed by a group calling itself the “Punjabi Taliban” (AP, March 2). Punjabi militant groups have also played an important role in attacking Ahmadis, Shi’a, Sufis and other civilian targets in the province (see Terrorism Monitor, June 12, 2010).
The main reason for the emergence of a militant mind-set in Punjab is the rapid growth of religious madrassas (seminaries), most of them tied to militant organizations. There are a total of 5,500 religious madrassas in the Punjab, the majority of them belonging to the Deobandi sect. Students enrolled in these madrassas are from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and KPK as well as Punjab. Religious madrassas based in Punjab provide 40% of recruits to the jihadi outfits.  A Punjab CTD report reveals that at least 170 madrassas in Punjab are involved in “suspected activities,” a reference to their role in militant networks, preaching of jihad and spreading sectarian violence against the Punjab’s Shi’a and Ahmadi communities (Express Tribune, August 30).
It is also believed that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and Punjab’s ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), have good relationships with the banned militant organizations. The Punjab government is known to have provided nearly $1 million worth of financial assistance to JuD in its provincial budget while senior leaders of PML-N (particularly law minister Rana Sanaullah) are seen campaigning with militant leaders and aggravating interfaith harmony (Express Tribune, June 18, 2010).
Although Punjab is not in imminent danger of a Taliban takeover, the expansion of militant activities in the province, if unchecked, could have serious outcomes for Pakistan’s stability, the war in Afghanistan, the Indo-Pakistani relationship and the future of international terrorism. Unlike the Taliban entrenchment in South Waziristan and Swat, Punjabi militants are scattered across a large province instead of being concentrated in a single region where effective counterterrorism, intelligence and police operations are more likely to be able to contain their operations without massive military intervention. An initial step to dealing with the security crisis in Punjab would involve the provincial government and the national intelligence agencies abandoning their “strategic partnership” and selective attitude in dealing with banned militant groups.
1. Mujahid Hussain, Punjabi Taliban, Nigharshat Publishers, Lahore, 2009.
2. Interview with Muhammad Amir Rana, Director of Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), August 16, 2011. A government ban on these jihadist organizations merely led them to operate under different names. SSP began operating under the names of Millat-e-Islamia and Ahle-e-Sunnat Wal Jammat, JeM as al-Furqan and Khuddamul Islam, and JuD or Lashkar-e-Tayyaba as Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation.
3. Muhammad Amir Rana, A to Z of Jihadi Organizations in Pakistan, Mashal Books, Lahore, 2009.
4. Interview with a Bannu-based journalist who requested anonymity, October 16, 2011.
5. Interview with a Lahore-based senior police official who requested anonymity, October 16, 2011.
6. Muhammad Amir Rana, A to Z of Jihadi Organizations in Pakistan, Mashal Books, Lahore, 2009.
While U.S. pressure on Pakistan for a full-scale operation against the Haqqani Network and other militant groups in the North Waziristan Agency is growing, the Pakistani military is urging the local Wazir and Dawar tribes of the North Waziristan to initiate a “Wana-like uprising” to expel foreign militants from their area and minimize the chance of the government taking military action should the situation grow worse (Daily Times [Lahore] August 18).
With the help of militants led by South Waziristan’s Maulvi Nazir, the Ahmadzai Wazir tribes of South Waziristan successfully flushed out Uzbek militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) from Wana and other Wazir-dominated areas of South Waziristan in a spring 2007 popular uprising sparked by the brutality of the Uzbeks.  Many of the Uzbek militants who arrived in the area when their bases in Afghanistan were closed in late 2001 relocated to North Waziristan after their eviction from South Waziristan.
Elders of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribes said that they would not allow fleeing Uzbeks and militants of the Mahsud tribe in their areas who might attempt to sneak in from North Waziristan if the military goes on the offensive against the Haqqani Network and other local militant groups (Daily Times, June 1).
Located between the Khost Province of eastern Afghanistan and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province of northwest Pakistan, North Waziristan is the second largest tribal region of Pakistan’s Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). It is considered today to be the epicenter 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 tribal militants, the region has become the most important center of militancy in 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 Mohammed Daoud Khan in the early 1970s. His son Sirajuddin, who became a key insurgent leader in Afghanistan in mid 1980s, manages the network’s organization from the North Waziristan and carries out attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan (see Terrorism Monitor, March 24, 2008; August 4). 
The second most important North Waziristan-based militant group is led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a key militant leader known for hosting foreign fighters belonging to al-Qaeda and other Arab groups as well as the Haqqani Network (see Terrorism Monitor, April 10, 2009). Bahadur was announced as Naib Amir (deputy head) under the leadership of Baitullah Mahsud upon the formation of the 2007 Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organization of various militant groups operating in FATA (The News [Islamabad], December 15, 2007). However, Bahadur later formed an anti-TTP bloc by joining hands with Maulvi Nazir’s South Waziristan-based group because of tribal rivalries with the Mahsuds and disagreements over TTP attacks against Pakistan security forces, stating that the bloc had been formed to defend the Wazir tribes in North Waziristan and South Waziristan (Daily Times, July 2, 2008). Bahadur and Nazir belong to the Utmanzai and Ahmadzai sub-clans of the Wazir, respectively.  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.
Besides the Haqqani Network and Bahadur’s group, North Waziristan also provides shelter to several local and foreign 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 Mujahideen, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (The News [Islamabad] August 18). Mir Ali area and Shawal valley of North Waziristan have been a safe haven for successive waves of all sorts of militants fleeing U.S. or Pakistani military operations. 
The United States considers the role of the Haqqani Network and other militant groups in North Waziristan in the insurgency in Afghanistan to be among the most difficult challenges NATO faces. Due to intense American pressure, the Pakistani military is thinking of carrying out a limited operation in North Waziristan primarily targeting al-Qaeda, foreign militants and the TTP rather than the Haqqani Network (Dawn [Karachi] June 1). Because of the reluctance of Pakistan authorities to act in the region, U.S. drones have targeted the Mir Ali, Dattakhel and Miramshah areas of North Waziristan extensively, with five out of six drone strikes in Pakistan now being recorded in North Waziristan. 
North Waziristan elders say that the local population is very frustrated with the presence of foreign militant groups, especially the Central Asians, for their encroachment on Wazir lands and insensitivity to local tribal customs. The foreigners’ land ownership is a direct challenge to the tribal power structure of Waziristan. Unlike the Central Asians, the Arab militants of al-Qaeda never interfered in local tribal affairs. Lately some innocent people belonging to the Utmanzai Wazir tribe have been killed by foreign militants who accused them of spying on al-Qaeda and Taliban movements to direct CIA-operated drones. The murders have only created more hatred for the foreigners among local tribesmen. 
The tense relationship between local and foreign militant outfits operating in North Waziristan has been displayed several times in the past years, particularly in November 2006, when the IMU and IJU openly accused Bahadur and other Waziri militant commanders of betraying them and jumping into the government camp by demanding their eviction from North Waziristan (The News [Islamabad], November 12, 2006). Because of their interference in the local affairs of the territory, Central Asian militants are now compelled to stay in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan, where they have the support of a local militant group led by Maulvi Manzoor Dawar. North Waziristan elders report that General Mehmood told elders of the Utmanzai Wazirs and Dawars that military action will be taken if the two tribes didn’t move against the foreign militants (Daily Times, August 18).
Though members of militant groups in tribal areas have almost the same anti-U.S. and pro-al-Qaeda worldview, they are not especially disciplined when it comes to tribal matters. Pakistan’s military is trying to exploit the tribal nature of Taliban militant groups operating in North Waziristan and South Waziristan. This characteristic has become apparent many times, especially when Bahadur-led militants warned the Mahsud-led Taliban in neighboring South Waziristan not to launch attacks against the Pakistan security forces and formed an anti-TTP coalition based on tribal rivalries with the Mahsuds.  Pakistan military officers in the region are encouraging the tribes of North Waziristan to follow the example of the Ahemdzai Wazir tribes and have announced their support of such actions. However, the situation is quite different from South Waziristan, where local Ahmadzai tribes stood united behind Maulvi Nazir. The North Waziristan situation is complicated by a lack of tribal unity. An offer of money from al-Qaeda or other sources can obstruct such uprisings in North Waziristan. As there is no consensus yet for the launch of a united front against the foreign militants as well as the TTP’s Mahsud militants, the Pakistani military is likely to assign the mission of uniting the Utmanzai Wazir and Dawar tribes to Bahadur (Daily Times, August 18).
A tribal uprising against foreign militants in North Waziristan at the behest of the Pakistani military will not only help in flushing out the foreign militants from the territory but will also maximize the disunity among the militants and put pressure on the Mahsud militants of the TTP. However, the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda will obviously try to obstruct the government’s plan to incite tribal rebellion against foreign militants.
1. Telephone interview with an elder of Ahmadzai sub-tribe, August 26, 2011; see also Terrorism Monitor, January 14, 2008.
2. Telephone interview with Ahmed Wali, a senior journalist and researcher, August 28, 2011.
3. Telephone interview with Bannu-based journalists who wished not to be named, August 26, 2011.
4. Telephone interview with an elder of the Utmanzai sub-tribe, August 26, 2011.
5. Telephone interview with Bannu-based journalists, August 26, 2011.
6. Telephone interview with Abdullah Khan, director of Conflict Monitoring Center, Islamabad, August 22, 2011.
7. Telephone interview with an elder of Utmanzai sub-tribe, August 26, 2011.
8. Telephone interview with Bannu-based journalists, August 26, 2011.
Eleven cross-border incursions over the last four months in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region have taken place despite several army operations in Pakistan and the NATO presence across the border in Afghanistan, demonstrating the continued strength of militants in the border region. The incursions, allegedly carried out by Pakistani militants with help from Afghan allies, have killed 56 people, including security personnel and members of anti-Taliban militias (The News [Islamabad], July 9). Most of the attacks were carried out in Dir region where militants of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) who had dispersed and fled to Afghanistan and adjacent tribal areas during military operations are regrouping and trying to regain a foothold in the region (see Terrorism Monitor, March 3). Other incursions have occurred in Chitral, Bajaur Agency, Momand Agency and South Waziristan Agency.
An account of the largest of these cross border attacks depicts militant groups operating with greater frequency while facing only minimal interference in the frontier region:
• On April 22, a border security post in the Lowere Dir village of Kharkhai came under attack by militants, resulting in the death of more than 16 security personnel (Daily Azadi, April 29).
• On June 1, the deadliest of the cross border raids was carried out in Upper Dir’s Shaltalo village, where hundreds of heavily armed militants targeted a poorly defended security post. They killed 34 people, 26 of them security officials, and captured 16 policemen (Express Tribune [Karachi], June 3). On July 18 the Afghan Taliban released a video showing the bound policemen being executed somewhere inside Afghanistan, allegedly as retribution for the death of six Pakistani children killed during security operations in Swat district (Daily Azadi [Swat], July 19; BBC Urdu, July 19; www.youtube.com/watch.
• On June 6, over 200 militants crossed the border and raided the homes of local anti-Taliban militia members in the Mamond area of Bajaur, killing roughly 15 people (Daily Azadi [Swat], June 7).
• The latest of the cross-border attacks was launched in the Nusrat Darra area of Upper Dir on July 6. A member of the local anti-Taliban militia was killed, several others injured and three schools destroyed during the attack (The News, July 9). 
Residents of Pakistan’s border areas are now requesting the government not install additional security posts in their areas for fear of inciting new attacks while migrations have started abruptly from the border villages. 
Although the Pakistani government blamed the Afghan Taliban for carrying out the cross-border attacks, local security analysts and tribal elders say that the attacks were carried out in Dir region and other tribal areas by Pakistani militants, especially accomplices of Maulana Fazlullah and Maulana Faqir Muhammad, the heads of the TTP in Swat and Bajaur region respectively, with the help of Afghan militants.  Media reports claimed that Fazlullah and several high-profile TTP commanders had fled to the Nuristan or Kunar provinces of Afghanistan due to military operations in Swat in 2009. However, it is possible Fazlullah’s group members have started returning and are now targeting their enemies, especially the security forces. This was seemingly confirmed by TTP leaders when they claimed responsibility for the attacks in Dir region. Omar Hassan Ahrabi, a spokesperson for the TTP Malakand Division, said that his organization had carried out the attack “with Afghan allies” (Pak Tribune, July 7). However, Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, denied involvement in the attack on Pakistani territory, describing it as an internal matter for Pakistan. He further stressed that the Afghan Taliban insurgents limit their operations to Afghanistan and never launch attacks in Pakistan or any other country (The News[Islamabad] July 12).
Current attacks in Dir and adjacent tribal areas might also indicate that Pakistani militants are not only regrouping in these areas, but also adopting a new strategy of large-scale attacks on government targets and security forces. TTP Bajaur leader Faqir Muhammad says their forces have joined with al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban in changing their strategy to focus on large-scale attacks on state targets and security agencies, such as Dir attacks (The News, June 3).
The recent cross-border attacks may be precursors of a battle between the security forces and the Taliban for the social and administrative control of Malakand division and the Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies after high-profile militants were targeted by CIA Predator drones in FATA. One Peshawar-based security analyst suggested that the alliance between the leadership of al-Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban and other national and transnational militant organizations might be looking for a new but familiar safe haven in the shape of Malakand division prior to starting a military offensive in North Waziristan.  Local elders believe the Taliban’s combination of targeted attacks on security forces and indiscriminate assaults on civilians seem designed to create fear amongst the local population so that they do not create armed militias to defend their territory. 
Reports from Afghanistan suggest that the cross-border attacks run both ways, especially in the remote regions of eastern Afghanistan. Afghan authorities, including the governors of Kunar and Nuristan, complain regularly about the incursion of militants from Pakistan, especially from the areas of Dir, Chitral and Bajaur. The largest attack took place in Kamdish district in Nuristan, where hundreds of militants, most of them alleged to be Pakistanis, crossed the border from Dir in Pakistan and targeted the district, killing scores of people, including 23 policemen (Pajhwok Afghan News, July 5). Afghan officials also claim that 760 rockets have been fired by Pakistani security forces into eastern Afghan border provinces of Kunar, Nangahar and Khost in the past six weeks, killing at least 60 people and wounding hundreds more (Wakht News Agency [Kabul], June 24). In the past three months, up to 12,000 civilians in eastern Afghanistan have been displaced by increasingly regular shelling from the Pakistan side of the border.
The attacks on both sides of the border appear to be intended to disrupt the relationship between the two countries and create mistrust at the highest levels.  If this is the case, the strategy seems to be a success; instead of tackling the issue of cross-border incursions directly or cooperatively, both countries are busy lodging official protests against each other, both accusing their neighbor of being responsible for harboring militant groups operating along the border. Pakistani army officials have also said that NATO forces were failing to crack down on militants seeking shelter on the Afghan side of border.
The recent cross-border incursions on both sides of the border clearly show that Pakistan, Afghanistan and NATO have all failed badly in clearing the strategically important border areas of militants, permitting previously dispersed extremist organizations to regroup and prepare new, large-scale attacks on the soil of both countries. Though the security forces of both countries have begun operations to repel further attacks, the Islamabad and Kabul governments are unlikely to be successful until they deal collectively with the issue of cross-border militancy.
1. Author’s telephone interviews with Upper Dir locals, July 12, 2011.
2. Author’s telephone interviews with tribal elders of Upper Dir and Bajour, July 12, 2011.
3. Author’s telephone interview with Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based journalist and security analyst, July 11, 2011.
4. Author’s interview with Khadim Hussain, a Peshawar-based security analyst, July 13, 2011.
5. Author’s telephone interviews with elders of Upper Dir and Bajaur, July 12, 2011.
6. Author’s interview with Khadim Hussain, a Peshawar-based security analyst, July 13, 2011.
A diplomatic staffer of the Saudi Consulate in Karachi, Hassan al-Qahtani, was killed by unknown gunmen riding two motorcycles in Karachi on May 16 (Dawn [Karachi], May 16). A few days earlier, unidentified assailants had thrown Russian-made HE-36 hand grenades at the Saudi Consulate in Karachi, though there were no injuries in this case (The Nation[Karachi], May 11; Dawn, May 12). In both attacks, the assailants managed to escape. The consulate was defended at the time of the grenade attack by paramilitary Rangers and officers of the Foreign Security Cell (FSC – a police unit assigned to diplomatic security), three of whom were subsequently suspended and detained (The Nation, May 12). Privately-hired security also failed to take any action to prevent the assault or pursue the attackers. Following the attacks, the Saudi government recalled non-essential staff and families of diplomats stationed at its Karachi office. The U.S. Consulate in Karachi also announced it had detected threats to its facility and urged American citizens in Karachi to keep a low profile and take precautions in their movements around the city (Pakistan Observer, June 3).
While it is believed that the attack on the Saudi Consulate and the murder of its staffer in Karachi might be retribution for the American May 2 Abbottabad operation that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, there is also speculation that the attacks may have been related to the Saudi troop deployment in Bahrain to suppress Shiite-led protests against the kingdom’s Sunni royal family. As such, one Karachi-based security official suggested they may be intended to reignite long-standing tensions between the Sunni and Shiite communities of Pakistan. 
This assertion was seemingly corroborated by Karachi’s Crime Investigation Department (CID) when they claimed the involvement of the Shiite Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) in the attacks on Saudi interests in Karachi. An official of the CID, which is responsible for operations against banned militant outfits in Karachi, announced the arrest of SMP militant Muntazir Imam, suspecting his involvement in the killing of the Saudi consulate officer as well as twelve other assassinations of rival Islamist leaders (The Nation, May 19; Saudi Gazette, June 8; Express Tribune, May 29). Local authorities said that it was impossible to rule out the diplomat’s assassination was part of a dispute between rival sectarian organizations composed of supporters and opponents of Saudi Arabia (The Nation, May 18). Calling Imam’s arrest a breakthrough, a CID official said that it would be premature to say the SMP was involved in the killing of the Saudi diplomat as the investigation is still underway (Central Asia Online, May 26).
While no group, including the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attacks, they might also have been related to the Saudi government’s reported refusal to accept Bin Laden’s body. Other reports have emerged in recent days revealing the Saudis have been providing intelligence to the United States (Express Tribune [Karachi], May 12). Saudi Arabia stripped Bin Laden of citizenship in 1994 after he criticized the royal family’s reliance on U.S. troops to protect the Kingdom after the Iraqi invasion of neighboring Kuwait. The Saudi government has also refused to accept the repatriation of the three widows and nine children of Bin Laden currently in protective custody in Pakistan. During his recent visit to Riyadh, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik made a formal request to Saudi authorities to accept Bin Laden’s family, but the Saudis declined (Express Tribune [Karachi], May 19).
The killing of the Saudi diplomat may not only be a mark of protest by al-Qaeda against the Saudi Kingdom’s indifferent attitude toward Bin Laden’s family, but also a warning to Pakistan against the possible deportation of the family to the United States.  One media report quoted an anonymous Pakistan security official who claimed that the murdered Saudi diplomat was an intelligence official who was looking into Saudi dissidents who have found refuge in Karachi and this is most probably why he was targeted (New York Times, May 16). Saudi authorities said al-Qahtani was involved in relief operations and facilitating the travel of Pakistani pilgrims taking part in the Hajj (Pakistan Times, June 4).
Saudi interests in Karachi have been targeted in response to the situation in the Gulf, specifically the Saudi military intervention in Bahrain. Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain in March to help the royal family quell the anti-state protests in the tiny Gulf kingdom. However, the deployment angered Shiite Pakistanis, with nationwide protests condemning the Saudi involvement.  Shiites were also angry about local newspaper advertisements seeking to recruit hundreds of former soldiers to work for the Bahrain security forces and help with the crackdown on protestors. The Fauji Foundation, a company which has strong links to the Pakistani Army, announced it was sending 1,000 Pakistanis to join the Bahrain National Guard (Weekly Humshehri [Lahore], March18).
Sunni groups have also jumped into the fray with demonstrations and rallies in support of Saudi Arabia, openly accusing Iran of being behind the unrest in Bahrain and other Gulf states. In a sign of local Shiite-Sunni tensions, walls across Karachi, Lahore and other Pakistani cities are filled with slogans and posters condemning Saudi Arabia and Iran, exacerbating the already tense atmosphere between Sunnis and Shiites.  In this campaign, banned sectarian organizations hailing from the both sects, including the Shiite SMP and the Sunni Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) have become active in marking walls with derisory slogans and organizing sectarian rallies.
The attack on the Saudi Consulate and the killing of its staffer clearly show that the fight for Bahrain has shifted to Pakistan and could ignite the decade-long Sunni-Shiite rivalry in the country, especially in Karachi. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have funded hard-line Sunni militants groups in Pakistan for years, angering the minority Shi’a community, while Iran has channeled money to Shiite militant groups. In the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistan was the scene of an effective proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with Karachi being a particularly bloody battleground in the struggle. The involvement of hard-line religious groups from Afghanistan in Pakistan’s internal affairs has further complicated the sectarian conflict. Since 1989, sectarian fighting has engulfed the entire country, claiming nearly 7636 lives, mostly from the Shi’a community.  Sectarian violence is an unpredictable menace in Pakistan, but the recent activities of Sunni and Shiite religious groups could develop into yet another phase of proxy warfare on Pakistani soil.
1. Interview with a Karachi-based security official who requested anonymity, May 26, 2011. See also Terrorism Monitor Brief, January 7, 2010.
2. Interview with Islamabad-based political analyst Zakir Hussain, May 26, 2011.
3. Interview with Karachi-based senior journalist and researcher Ahmed Wali, May 27, 2011.
5. Sectarian violence in Pakistan 1989-2011, South Asian Terrorist Portal,www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/pakistan/database/sect-killing.htm.
The Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI), a Mangal Bagh-led militant organization based in the Khyber Tribal Agency, is facing a serious threat to its existence after recent clashes with an LeI splinter group comprised of Zakakhel tribesmen. Efforts by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to forge a peace deal between the warring groups have failed. The Ansar-ul-Islam (AI), an arch-rival of the LeI, has now joined hands with the Zakakhel and the resulting clashes have forced hundreds of local families to flee the area.
The Khyber Agency is one of Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies and borders Afghanistan to the east, Orakzai Agency to the south, Mohmand Agency to the north and the district of Peshawar in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province to the east. Sectarian violence, drug mafias and Sunni militant groups aiming to establish a Taliban-style government all fuel conflict in the region. Local militants belong to different extremist groups such as the LeI, the AI, the TTP and Amr Bil Maroof Wanahi Anil Munkar (Invitation to Virtue and Negation of Vice). These movements became active in the region after 2004 and have since wreaked havoc on the lives of Khyber’s residents. Though the militant groups often compete with one another, the LeI, which is loosely allied with the TTP, has a strong base in the region and frequently attacks and loots trucks carrying fuel and other goods to NATO forces in Afghanistan, making passage through the valley unsafe.
The LeI is based in areas belonging to the majority Afridi tribe and are most prominent in the Bara sub-division of Khyber Agency. Recently, however, the strategically located Tirah valley has emerged as a flash point in Khyber Agency and is believed to have been used by al-Qaeda militants escaping into Pakistan in the wake of U.S and NATO attacks on Afghanistan in 2001. Many locals believe the troop surge in Afghanistan has increased pressure on the Khyber Agency to accommodate militants expelled from Afghanistan.  Ibn Amin, an important commander of al-Qaeda and the TTP Swat chapter, was killed with six other militants in one of four drone attacks carried out on December 17-18, 2010 in Khyber Agency. Ibn Amin was reported to be engaged in mediating a reconciliation between the different factions of the LeI at the time (The News [Islamabad], December 20, 2010).
The recent clashes between the LeI and the Zakakhel tribesmen started after a religious scholar of the Zakakhel tribe, Maulana Muhammad Hashim, was kidnapped from the bazaar area of Landi Kotal sub-division on March 21 and beheaded a day later by a group of LeI militants led by Commander Khan, a close aide of Mangal Bagh (for Bagh, see Terrorism Monitor, May 29, 2008).
Hashim, a respected and influential religious cleric living in a remote area of Tirah valley, was a severe critic of Bagh and the un-Islamic and criminal activities of militants under his command.  The abduction and subsequent murder of Hashim enraged militants from his tribe, who then formed a dissident group to rebel against Bagh, warning him to release Khan to the Zakakhel tribe (The News, April 2). Ghuncha Gul, a Zakakhel leader of an LeI breakaway faction, was also abducted by militants loyal to Bagh two months ago and is still in captivity. The Zakakhel demanded the LeI release their fellow tribesman from detention, hand over Commander Khan, who is blamed for the killing of Hashim, and guarantee that LeI militants will not operate in the Zakakhel area again. Their demands were turned down by Mangal Bagh (Express Tribune [Islamabad], April 4).
The armed lashkar (militia) of the Zakakhel is commanded by three senior LeI dissident commanders – Shireen, Tooti and Munshi. The AI, the arch-rival of LeI, joined hands with the Zakakhel fighters against the LeI. Hundreds of people have been killed in clashes between the LeI and AI during the last five years. By the latest account, at least 50 people have been killed and 100 others injured in the fighting that began on April 1. The clashes forced local people to move to safer places and hundreds of families arrived in Peshawar and other safer areas in Khyber Agency. Local media and tribal sources said that the Zakakhel tribesmen have pushed the LeI out of the area of Baazar Zakakhel and have weakened, though not completely evicted, the LeI’s militia in other parts of the valley. 
The AI’s leaders have claimed that Mangal Bagh and his associates recently fled to Afghanistan, taking shelter there with Amin Shinwari, a notorious drug baron in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province. Their flight came in the face of growing public opposition, which resulted from the constant vigilantism and repression imposed locally by the LeI (Daily Mashriq [Peshawar], April 18).
The recent alliance between the Zakakhel and AI has also worried the TTP militants of the Khyber and Orakzai tribal regions. Two important TTP commanders, Maulana Gul Zaman and Commander Saeed, were expelled in March by the AI from Zakakhel areas in Maidan (bordering Orakzai Agency), where they had opened training centers. Zaman has good relations with LeI chief Mangal Bagh and took refuge in the Tirah valley following a military operation against the TTP in his native tribal agency (The News, April 5). The TTP leaders, especially Zaman, held talks with the dissident Zakakhel to bring them back into the LeI fold but did not succeed.  It has also been learned that Bagh appealed to the TTP for help to fight his many enemies. Some Taliban militants have reached the area to fight alongside Bagh’s loyalists. Local residents fear that if the TTP joins hands with the LeI, the fighting would increase in intensity as Hafiz Gul Bahadar-led militants from North Waziristan are likely to come to the aid of the AI, which is ideologically close in its beliefs (Express Tribune, April 6). Many observers suggest that Bagh had the blessing of the Pakistani military establishment because he rebuffed several offers from the TTP to cooperate and merge, but now his alliance with the TTP shows that the LeI has been weakened organizationally. The Zakakhel, once a powerful supporter in the region, has now become their enemy (BBC Urdu, April 18).
The Pakistani government has targeted the LeI in five operations over the past two years in order to relieve pressure on Peshawar and secure NATO supplies through the Khyber Pass, but has failed to dislodge the group. Despite occasional claims about government “successes,” the Khyber Agency remains a serious problem. The LeI remains a serious threat in Khyber and beyond, having the capability to cause trouble in Peshawar and the adjoining Orakzai Agency.  Local elders and security analysts agree that the parting of ways of the Zakakhel fighters from the LeI was a great setback to the LeI as the Zakakhel provided great support to Bagh in the form of manpower and the use of their strategically important territory. If the government plays its cards right by supporting the Zakakhel and putting pressure on the LeI in other parts of Khyber Agency, there is a chance to eradicate a menace from the region. However, tribal dynamics are complicated and if not handled properly, Mangal Bagh and the LeI may yet survive in other parts of the tribal region.
1. Author’s interview with Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based journalist and author of two books on militancy, April 19, 2011.
2. Author’s interviews with Zakakhel tribesmen, April 15, 2011.
4. Author’s interview with a local journalist based in Khyber Agency, April 16, 2011.
5. Author’s interview with Aqeel Yousafzai, April 19, 2011.
Although Pakistani Taliban militants have killed hundreds of people accused of spying for the United States or Pakistan’s intelligence agencies over the past few years in the lawless tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, the incidents of such execution are on rise since the beginning of the year. The killings, some of which were carried out in brutal fashion and videotaped as a warning to would-be-spies, come as many important leaders of al-Qaeda and Pakistani Taliban militant groups have been killed in the escalated drone attacks in the region.
Local tribal elders believe that the recent rise in the incidence of such killings is a warning by the militants to the local population against facilitating the drone campaign in the tribal areas by providing intelligence information.  This was confirmed by the Pakistani military’s official version of U.S. attacks in the tribal region, which claimed that most of the people killed in drone attacks were hardcore al-Qaeda and Taliban militants and a fairly large number of them were of foreign origin. On March 9, Major General Ghayur Mehmood, who commands troops in North Waziristan, said in a briefing in Miramshah that between 2007 and 2011, 164 drone strikes had been carried out and over 964 terrorists had been killed. Of those casualties, 793 were locals and 171 were foreigners. General Mehmood claimed the latter included Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Chechens, Filipinos and Moroccans, though proof of these assertions was not provided (Dawn [Karachi], March 9).
Because of drone attacks, the militants who once freely roamed markets have now receded to compounds. High-value targets move as many as three times a night, avoid funerals and trackable technology, and rely on motorbikes or their feet to move about. Most drone attacks are based on intelligence from sources on the ground and information from local citizens, said Brigadier (Retd.) Mehmud Shah, a former secretary of security for the tribal area (Central Asia Online, January 28).
The killings of important leaders of al-Qaeda, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Haqqani Network and other militant groups have compelled the militants operating in North and South Waziristan to execute people suspected of spying and leave their bodies on the roadside with notes pinned to their chests branding them as “U.S. spies” and traitors.  The bodies are often mutilated and beheaded. In North Waziristan, corpses appear in fields and roadsides almost daily with a dark warning pinned to their tunic: “All U.S. spies will meet the same fate.”
The killings of people accused of spying are mainly carried out by the Ittehad-e-Mujahedeen-e-Khurasan (IMK – Alliance of the Militants of Khurasan), a relatively little-known militant organization. The IMK is a coalition of all the local militant groups and various groups of foreign militants operating in the region. Its main function is intelligence collection and the identification and elimination of spies. The IMK came into existence one year ago at a meeting of all the militant groups in North Waziristan following the deaths of important militant leaders in a series of drone attacks. In order to eliminate the network of local spies providing information on the Taliban to U.S. forces, a 200-member special task force was formed consisting of trusted militants from each group. IMK operatives rely on a strong network of informants in every village and town to find suspected spies. Masked armed men of this secretive organization can select any person belonging to any militant group or clan and kill him if he is proved to be a spy. Except for their top leadership, even the militants do not know the membership or modus operandi of the IMK. 
In North Waziristan, Urdu pamphlets issued by the IMK and posted on the walls of the Miramshah Bazaar said no family should help its members if they spy on the Taliban. The pamphlets also stated that there should be no interference if the Taliban kidnap someone on suspicion of spying for the United States and anyone caught doing so could possibly be “killed immediately” (Daily Times [Lahore], May 19, 2010). Militants belonging to the IMK distributed pamphlets ordering people they describe as “dacoits [bandits] under the guise of Taliban” to return the money they have looted from local residents. The pamphlet threatened that those involved would meet the same fate as the decapitated spies if they did not return the stolen goods (Express Tribune [Karachi] June 27, 2010).
The massive escalation in U.S. drone attacks in North and South Waziristan tribal agencies since the beginning of 2011 has also seen an unprecedented rise in assassinations of suspected spies:
• On February 5, four bodies of tribesmen were found in Karak district, pinned with notes accusing them of spying for Indian and Jewish intelligence agencies (The News [Karachi] February 6; Dawn [Karachi], February 6).
• On February 8, militants killed Afghan refugee Bakht Jan for allegedly spying for the United States in North Waziristan. His body was found on the Miramshah- Datta Khel road (Daily Times [Lahore], February 9).
• The bodies of two khasadars (paramilitary personnel) were found in a sack with a warning that anybody else accused of spying on the Taliban would meet the same fate (Central Asia Online, February 10).
• Four bullet-riddled bodies of unidentified persons were found in a deserted place in the Karak district on February 14. Letters recovered from the pockets of the bodies stated that those spying for Israel and India would meet the same fate (The News [Islamabad], February 15).
• On March 1, militants in North Waziristan Agency killed four tribesmen suspected of providing intelligence to U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agencies and dumped their bodies on a Miramshah roadside. Notes pinned on their chests read: “We killed them because they were spying for the U.S. Anyone who acts like this will face the same fate” (Dawn [Karachi], March 1).
• Four bodies of unidentified persons were found on March 21 in a deserted place in the Datta Khel region of North Waziristan. Notes found in their pockets described their alleged roles in the controversial March 17 drone attack in the region that killed 30 people (Dawn [Karachi], March 21).
• Militants are also reported to have killed more than 50 people in North and South Waziristan since the beginning of 2011, though these murders were not reported in the media because of a lack of media access and other factors. 
According to local tribal elders, in most cases militants execute so-called spies just to terrorize ordinary tribesmen (Central Asia Online, Jan 28). In some cases, the IMK’s militants are also known to put suicide vests on those accused of spying and detonate the vests in front of large crowds to demonstrate the power of the Taliban. An example of this method was found in the public execution of two men accused of being U.S. spies in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan last year (Reuters, May 21, 2010).
The organized vigilance of the IMK in hunting down suspected spies has left local tribesmen frightened and reluctant to provide vital intelligence to guide the United States. No senior al-Qaeda or TTP leaders have been killed in drone attacks in tribal areas since the beginning of 2011, which shows the growing number of executions has had a negative effect on U.S. intelligence collection in the tribal agencies.
1. Author’s interview with a local journalist and elders of the Wazir tribe.
2. Author’s interview with a TTP associate and elders of the Wazir tribe.
3. Author’s interview with a TTP associate.
4. Author’s interview with a Bannu-based journalist.
Despite the Pakistani government’s announcement that its military offensive in the mountainous Dir region of northwest Pakistan had succeeded in securing the area, recent attacks by militants of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have not only belied the military’s claims but have also whipped up fear among local residents. The attacks make it clear that the militants, who had dispersed and fled to Afghanistan and adjacent tribal areas during the operation, are regrouping and trying to regain a foothold in the region.
A former princely state until its incorporation into Pakistan in 1969 and now divided into two districts, lower Dir and Upper Dir, of the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province (formerly the North-West Frontier Province), Dir borders Swat, the Bajaur Agency, the Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtoonkwa and Afghanistan.  Except for the small Dogh Darra area, Dir remained largely undisturbed in recent years, even as militant activities in the region increased. As the Taliban made inroads in the district in early 2007, fighters from Swat, Bajaur and South Waziristan fled to Dir to escape military operations. The Taliban continued their subversive activities under the leadership of Dir TTP Commander Hafizullah and gained momentum during April 2008.  Dir has also remained a strong base for the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM). The hometown of TNSM founder Maulana Sufi Muhammad is in Dir (See Terrorism Monitor, March 26, 2009).
In early 2009, Taliban from neighboring Swat started to assert their authority in the area, leading the military to launch an operation against the militants in April 2009. Operational commander Colonel Nadeem Mirza declared the entire area of Dir clear of militants following the operation (Express Tribune [Karachi], April 22, 2010).
Since the beginning of 2011, however, the Taliban have started targeting “pro-government” elders and police – ¬sending not only shockwaves throughout the population of Dir but also belying the military’s claims of clearing the area of the militants.
On January 25, militants attacked a guest house belonging to Zahid Khan, an Awami National Party (ANP – the ruling party in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa) member of the Senate, killing a guard and inflicting injuries on Khan’s brother. Khan’s family had received several threats from the militants for their ties to the ANP, a main ally in flushing militants out from Dir (Dawn, [Karachi], January 26). Three police officials were severely injured when a roadside bomb went off near a police van in the Samar Bagh area of Lower Dir. Members of a local anti-Taliban militia pursued the militants, killing two of them (Dawn, [Karachi], January 3).
However, there have been successes in counterterrorism operations in the region. On February 4, a tip-off led Lower Dir police to raid the house of militant preacher Maulvi Jalaluddin in the Chakdara Afghan refugee camp, arresting him along with his four sons. Jalaluddin had regular contacts amongst the Pakistani and Afghan militants and police recovered a huge cache of weapons and ammunitions in the raid (Dawn, [Karachi], February 5). Similarly, security forces killed eleven armed militants on the Dir-Swat border on February 10. The men were trying to enter Swat through Dir and police increased their numbers in the area to avoid further penetration of militants into Swat (Daily Shamal [Swat], February 11). On February 23, police in the Khal area arrested two cousins of Commander Hafizullah who were involved in the January attack on Zahid Khan’s guest house (Daily Azadi [Swat], February 23).
Local tribal elders in Dir suggest that accomplices of Maulana Fazlullah, head of TTP Swat, may be behind the increased militancy in the area. Media reports claimed that Fazlullah and his supporters had fled to the Nuristan province of Afghanistan due to military operation in Swat in 2009 (BBC Urdu, November 17, 2009). However, it is possible Fazlullah’s group has started returning and is now targeting its rivals.
Six men logging forest wood, all from Dir, were kidnapped by Taliban militants in August 2010 and taken to Nuristan. A few days later, the throat-slit bodies of the three men were found in Arandu, an area of Chitral near the Afghanistan border. The abductees belonged to Dogh Darra, an area of Dir where the locals of 25 villages had formed an armed anti-Taliban militia and killed many militants in June 2009, including two commanders. The confrontation between the locals of Dogh Darra and the militants started on June 5, 2010 when a suicide attack at a local mosque in Dogh Darra killed 30 tribesmen (The News [Islamabad], October 10, 2010).
An elder of Dogh Darra’s anti-Taliban militia said the network of Taliban militants kidnap “pro-government” people from Dir and its surrounding areas and then haul them to Nuristan (News on Sunday [Islamabad], October 10, 2010). Omar Hasan Ahrabi, spokesperson of the TTP group that claimed responsibility for kidnapping the Dogh Darra men, warned that all those joining the anti-Taliban militias would not be spared, as they were government agents who opposed the enforcement of Shari’a in Swat and Dir (The News [Karachi], Sep 2, 2010). Nuristan governor Jamaluddin Badar has also expressed his concern over the infiltration of militants from the Chitral and Dir areas of Pakistan to Nuristan’s Bargmatal and Kamdesh districts (Weesa Warzpanra, [Kabul], January 24). While the Nuristan governor worried about the penetration of Taliban militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan, Malakand police head Qazi Jamil Ur Rehman announced that police and security forces had established checkpoints in the areas bordering the Chitral and Dir districts in order to stop the infiltration of Taliban from Afghanistan (Central Asia Online, January 26).
Dir has again become a hub of militancy as hundreds of militants flee from neighboring Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies to Dir because of on-going military operations in the tribal areas.  Those Taliban militants ousted from Swat and Dir by military operations are regrouping in neighboring Mohmand Agency to launch guerrilla warfare in Dir and elsewhere. Qari Abdul Jabbar, a militant from Dir, may have become the new face of militancy in the region by replacing Fazlullah. In Dir, locals said they had heard about Jabbar, who is leading a small group of around 400 militants chased out of Malakand division ago (Express Tribune [Karachi], December 9, 2010).
Military and government officials say the resurgent Taliban will not be able to regain control of Dir, but are likely to restrict their fight to hit-and-run tactics, an ideal guerrilla warfare approach in Dir’s rugged terrain. The threat posed by militants regrouping in Dir has had a significant impact on neighboring districts and tribal areas. Because of its location bordering Swat, Chitral, Bajaur and Afghanistan, Dir can provide a strategic base for attacks in these areas as well as providing sanctuary to militants fleeing military operations in neighboring regions.
1. Author’s conversation with Javed Sheikh, a Dir-based journalist, February 15, 2011.
2. Author’s conversation with Aqeel Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based expert and author of two books on militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas, February 16, 2011.
3. Author’s conversation with Aqeel Yousafzai, Feb 15, 2011.