NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies are openly controlled by the Taliban; yellow are under threat. Click map to view.
Uzbek, Taliban infighting halted by a delegation of senior Taliban commanders, including Mullah Dadullah and Baitullah Mehsud; Pakistani government manipulates results
The fighting between Uzbeks and Taliban in the tribal agency of South Waziristan has been halted after four days of fighting and over 135 reported deaths, including 100 Uzbeks and 25 Taliban fighters. The fighting ended after senior Taliban commanders from Afghanistan and Pakistan, backed by the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazlur (JUI-F) political party, conducted a jirga, or tribal meeting.” Baitullah Mehsud, Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of senior Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, and an unnamed Taliban commander from across the Afghan border reached undisclosed locations in South Waziristan to take part in the ceasefire negotiations,” according to the Daily Times.
“They are all monitoring the situation and discussing with key local militant commanders how things can be cooled down,” tribal sources told the newspaper. The Nation reports Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban’s senior military commander himself, attended the jirga. The Asia Times claims Baitullah Mehsud, the most powerful Taliban commander in South Waziristan, traveled from Helmand province. “He immediately rushed to South Waziristan on the orders of Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah. He put his foot down, and the fighting has now eased.”
Predictably, the Pakistani government used the fighting in Waziristan to make the claim the failed Waziristan Accord is actually working. The Pakistani media campaign was in high gear working to convince the West the fight was about pro-government tribes uprooting foreign Uzbeks. “Pakistan Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said the battle proved the government’s policy of trying to get local tribesmen to expel foreign militants was working. A military spokesperson for the government of Pakistan called the local tribesmen ‘heros’.”
The Pakistani position on the fighting has bled through the reporting. Today’s Financial Times lays out the case for further ‘peace’ deals. “The claim [that fighting has destroyed the Uzbek’s training camps], if true, could mark not only a success in Pakistan’s war against militants hiding on its soil, but could also vindicate Pakistan’s position on two controversial agreements [the North and South Waziristan Accords] signed by the government with tribal elders in the region bordering Afghanistan.”
Syed Saleem Shahzad explains the fighting stems from a major policy disagreement between the Uzbeks and their Taliban allies, and the Taliban led by Mullah Dadullah. The Uzbeks and their Taliban backers believe the primary target in jihad should be the Pakistani government. Dadullah believes the current situation in the tribal areas is advantageous to the Taliban, and they should fight NATO and the Karzai government in Afghanistan.
The Taliban and al Qaeda have a vested interest in turning international attention away from the Pakistani tribal areas, hence the speed in which senior emissaries were sent in to diffuse the fighting. Mr. Shahzad predicted the Dadullah wing would win out. “The most likely outcome will be their surrender and agreement that from now on all fighting will be done in Afghanistan. Such unity of purpose would be a boon for the Taliban’s looming offensive against NATO.”
The fighting has the dual advantage of exposing the Taliban and al Qaeda’s utter dominance of the region and culling a few terrorists from the region, but the short term gains are fleeting. The Taliban and their allies have tens of thousands of fighters available (with the upward estimate at 200,000). One hundred plus Uzbeks and Taliban killed for the sake of the al Qaeda position being solidified in South Waziristan is a relatively small price to pay. The real identity of Mullah Nazir’s Taliban is being lost on all the media save the Pakistani press. The Musharraf regime is expertly navigating the media coverage and is succeeding in promoting the fighting as local, pro-government tribes versus foreign fighters. This will allow the government to push forward with further Waziristan-like deals, as is being done in Bajaur.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.