A recent upsurge in violence in Pakistan’s tribal regions (or Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province) is a cause for great concern for the United States and her allies in the War on Terror. In the past, Pakistani forces conducted several offensives in the region, with mixed results.
The tribal area of North Waziristan has seen an increase in clashes between Pakistani forces and pro al Qaeda and Taliban forces. A rocket attack against a Pakistani outpost in Sarbandji village near the town of Miran Shah killed seven Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan claims fourteen “terrorists were killed when our forces returned fire, and they included some foreigners and a local commander of the miscreants” , with “miscreants” being code for al Qaeda.
Pakistani troops are said to be “continuing a siege of Hasokhel and Milagan villages in search of suspects wanted in last week’s soldier deaths.” This follows news that Pakistani tribal leaders are accusing U.S. helicopters of firing across the border, purportedly killing eight civilians. Cross border operations in Pakistan are nothing new. al Qaeda member Haitham al-Yemeni was killed in a missile strike from a U.S. predator drone in May of 2005. And Hamza Rabia, according to counterterrorism analyst Dan Darling, was an Egyptian who “certainly was the head of al Qaeda in Pakistan” was killed in a “CIA missile attack on an al Qaeda safehouse in Asorai in Waziristan”
The unrest in Waziristan highlights the very trouble state of affairs in Pakistan and their fragile role in the War on Terror. On one hand, they have provide some of the most stunning successes against al Qaeda operatives, including the capture or deaths of some of the most senior leaders, including warlord Nek Mohammed, Abu Farraj al-Libbi, al Qaeda’s former commander in Pakistan and purported number three in command, Abu Zubaydah, the former operations chief of al Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramsi Binalshibh, senior al Qaeda operatives and masterminds of 9-11. It is estimated up to a thousand al Qaeda operatives have been detained or killed.
On the other hand, Pakistan has taken few lasting steps to dismantle terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), al Qaeda’s regional affiliate in Pakistan. Political pressures in the country, which include powerful Islamist parties and the support for LeT’s (and other domestic terrorist groups associated with al Qaeda) actions in Kashmir make President Pervez Musharraf’s fight against al Qaeda impossible at times. Pakistan’s security services and military is said to be riddled with sympathizers and supporters of the Islamist cause.
Complicating Pakistan’s problem is the ever present problem in Balochistan, the autonomous province in the southeastern region of the country. The Balochi people are fiercely independent and have the luxury of sitting on over one-half of Pakistan’s natural energy resources. Pakistan has fought a violent insurgency in the past, and violence is ever prevalent in the region. The Pakistani government recently accused India of fueling the Balochi insurgency, and claims to possess evidence of this.
Pakistan has succored terrorist groups as a strategic reserve against India, their mortal enemy in the subcontinent. The creation of the Taliban was predicated on the theory of creating a strategic depth to their west. This has created the conditions for al Qaeda to make inroads into the tribal regions, as al Qaeda ideology is very appealing to Islamist elements. Pakistan is always looking east towards its Indian enemy, yet is increasingly having to look at the enemy within. The current problems in Waziristan bear close watching, both for the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.