With military operations underway in Swat and the tribal agency of Bajaur, the Pakistani Army moved to quell rumors of a pending operation in the Taliban stronghold of North Waziristan, according to reports from Pakistan. In South Waziristan, the Waziri tribes are calling for the government to abide by a peace deal.
Brigadier General Khushnood Iqbal Kiyani, the commander of the garrison in Mirali, sought to reassure the “Utmanzai tribal militants” after rumors spread that an operation would be launched in North Waziristan on Oct. 10. “He made it clear that the government would abide by its peace agreement, which it had signed with Utmanzai tribesmen on February 17,” The News reported.
The rumored target of the operation was Hafiz Gul Bahadar, a senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan. Bahadar was one of the signatories of the Feb. 17 peace agreement that ended clashes in the region. He also signed the Sept. 2006 North Waziristan Accord, along with other senior Taliban leaders. Bahadar has opposed fighting the Pakistani military but sponsors al Qaeda camps and sends fighters into Afghanistan.
In neighboring South Waziristan, the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe sought to dissuade the government from launching an operation. Tribal leaders met with Taliban leader Mullah Nazir “to seek assurance for peace in the Wazir areas and he committed to maintain peace,” Daily Times reported.
“I want peace, but the government appears uninterested in peace in the Wazir areas,” Nazir told the tribal committee. “I will stick to the peace deal as long as the government does.” Nazir refused to meet with government officials, but the tribal leaders said the government was interested in maintaining a dialog to stave off fighting.
Nazir is a rival of Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud. Nazir is often described as a “pro-government” Taliban leader as he does not advocate overthrowing the Pakistani government. He ejected Uzbeks from the al Qaeda-allied Islamic Jihad Union from the Wana region in 2007.
But Nazir openly supports al Qaeda and its leadership and admitted he would provide shelter to senior al Qaeda leaders. “How can I say no to any request from Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar under tribal traditions, if they approach me to get shelter?” Nazir asked the Pakistani press in the spring of 2007.
Arab al Qaeda operatives help finance Nazir’s operations. He also openly supports the continuation of the jihad in Afghanistan and vowed to provide fighters to support the Taliban.
Pakistan’s tribal problems
The government’s hesitance to move against the Taliban and al Qaeda camps in North and South Waziristan highlights the problems Pakistan faces with the tribes in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. The Utmanzai Wazir tribe in North Waziristan and the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe in South Waziristan are firmly behind the Taliban, as the interactions with Bahadar, Nazir, Mehsud, the Haqqanis, and other Taliban leaders in the region shows.
While the government has had some success in getting tribes to oppose the Taliban in Bajaur, Swat, Khyber, Dir, and Buner, the tribes are being pealed off piecemeal. And the major tribes do not back the government’s efforts to raise tribal lashkars, or militias, to drive out the Taliban and al Qaeda entrenched in the region.
“Most of the current resistance is centered around the Shia in Gilgit and Parachinar or among the Barelvi Muslims and Nuristani polytheists of the region,” the source said. “The Deobandi Pashtuns from the Ghilzai and Yusufzai tribal confederations that make up the bedrock of Taliban and al Qaeda support in the FATA/NWFP (Federally Administered Tribal Agencies/Northwest Frontier Province) and southern Afghanistan” do not support the tribal uprising and back the Taliban.
“Tribal engagements work both ways,” a senior US military intelligence source familiar with Pakistan’s tribes told The Long War Journal on the condition of anonymity. “The Taliban can manipulate the tribes to their advantage, and do. They’ve been at this a long time and have real support.”
“Tehrik-e-Taliban (the movement of the Taliban in Pakistan) and al Qaeda have been endorsed by the overwhelming majority of the leadership of the Khattak, Wazir, Bhittani, Mehsud, Banuchi, Orakzai, and Niazi tribes that conservatively number in the hundreds of thousands,” the source stated. “While the Pakistani state has endorsed the lashkars, none of the leading maliks or khans have, making it very difficult for the lashkars to gain the local legitimacy that they require to champion the necessary resistance.”
The source also noted that the current rumors that NATO is willing to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan is undermining the effort to court tribes in Pakistan. “Assuming that you are a khan or malik in the FATA or NWFP, are you going to risk your neck to oppose the Taliban or play it safe and wait to see who ends up on top?”
Oct. 7, 2008
Sept. 29, 2008