Pakistani Army rejects Waziristan operation

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?”

Related:

Taliban have not split from al Qaeda: sources

Oct. 7, 2008

Pakistan engages the tribes in effort to fight the Taliban

Sept. 29, 2008

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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11 Comments

  • KW64 says:

    Petreaus may be better off talking to the lashkars’ leaders before reaching out to the maliks and khans or directly to Taliban. The lashkar leaders have already put their lives and fortunes on the line so you know where they stand. If they point out possiblely receptive people from the other groups you could chance discrete contacts. Public talk about direct contact with the Taliban is counterproductive.
    Agreements reached have to be based on observable actions on their part that get reaction on our part. Give nothing on promises alone. That is how the Pakistani Government got embarrassed.

  • Kidartbai says:

    Not surprising, not enough assets and resources are available, especially aviation for any simultaneous operation in Waziristan.

  • bard207 says:

    Kidartbai
    “Not surprising, not enough assets and resources are available, especially aviation for any simultaneous operation in Waziristan.”
    The Pakistani Army will have troops and other resources available after they clear Bajaur. Then the military will proceed to clear both North & South Waziristan of militants? Or is there a different area that they will clear next?

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    Does not sound like the P-stani Army has any intention of going after T-ban/AQ elements in W-stan. The status quo will remain. Our enemies will be allowed to launch attacks on US troops, using this area as a base of ops. Unless the camps are hit, HVT’s captured or killed, this can go on indefinately. The P-stani’s whine and moan about “sovereignty” while a terror group uses thier soil for a base. They can’t have it both ways. How many agreements have the militants broken? If God forbid another attack occurs in the US, or the UK, I would hope we would act with/without P-stani permission. They have made a deal with the devil, and you reap wat you sow.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    Good article.
    1) Does anyone have even a rough number of forces that the AQAM tribes can field in the NWFP/FATA areas vis a vis the lashkars mentioned above? Based on some of Bill’s earlier reports, it appears that AQAM are starting to field larger (brigade?) forces. Is there any realistic chance of lashkars surviving against concerted AQAM action without outside assistance?
    2) In follow up to #1, is there any realistic chance that the lashkars can receive outside assistance against AQAM? It does not sound like the Pstan Army/govt. is likely to intervene (and some of the lashkars do not even want the govt. help assuming that it would be offered). Is there any realistic chance that the U.S. can provide meaningful assistance at this point?
    3) It seems that we may have one thing going in our favor that is a constant of human nature all over the world: greed. If we could inspire some Pashtun leaders on the A-stan side of the “border” with dreams of greater power and wealth by accepting U.S. assistance (as needed) to expand their influence across the border into the adjoining Pstan tribal areas that might be a sustainable way to expand friendly tribal influence into Pstan from Astan while presenting to the Pstan tribes at least a plausible alternative to AQAM. In other words, we have to show them that there is a ‘winning team’ of tribes, backed by the U.S., that can kick AQAM’s rear end whenever it wants and these Pashtuns get not only awesome military assistance but economic goodies as well– a better life for their people.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 10/09/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Kidartbai says:

    bard207, I can’t say. What I do know is that any fight in Waziristan would be brutal and require immense resources, especially aviation assets that would need to be diverted from all other parts of FATA and the eastern border. The current lack of enough night vision equipment for ground troops and night vision capability for fighters would be a huge limiting factor. Until these gaps are closed, a fight in Waziristan would just get bogged down as before.
    When is the US/NATO planning to taken out the terrorist supply lines in Kunar? Any word on that? Why can’t the US/NATO forces stop the reverse flow of terrorists back into Pakistan if it’s so easy to do with all resources available to a superpower?

  • bard207 says:

    Kidartbai
    bard207, I can’t say. What I do know is that any fight in Waziristan would be brutal and require immense resources, especially aviation assets that would need to be diverted from all other parts of FATA and the eastern border. The current lack of enough night vision equipment for ground troops and night vision capability for fighters would be a huge limiting factor. Until these gaps are closed, a fight in Waziristan would just get bogged down as before.
    When is the US/NATO planning to taken out the terrorist supply lines in Kunar? Any word on that? Why can’t the US/NATO forces stop the reverse flow of terrorists back into Pakistan if it’s so easy to do with all resources available to a superpower?

    The US and much of the rest of the world is concerned about another major terrorist incident with the planning being done in the Pakistani border areas. That is an extremely serious thing to contemplate.

    People in Pakistan should be concerned about the possible loss of their country to the militants
    . That should be enough to elevate the militants to Enemy #1 in the minds of the Pakistani public. Based on what I have read from numerous news sources and several Pakistani Forums, the militants are still seen as #3 behind India and Afghanistan/US as threats to the Pakistani nation.
    The US hasn’t devoted overwhelming numbers of troops to Afghanistan. The fact that the supply line has to cross through Pakistan is a serious problem to escalating the number of troops on the ground.
    Taliban seize Nato supplies in Pakistan

    The suspected mastermind behind Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has stolen sophisticated Nato equipment by raiding the alliance’s supply lines running through Pakistani territory.
    Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban commander who American officials hold responsible for Miss Bhutto’s death, has emerged as a threat to the flow of supplies for British and American forces fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan.
    Mehsud’s increasing prominence shows how Pakistan under President Pervez Musharraf is steadily falling under the sway of Islamist militants.
    Mr Musharraf, who is touring Europe, will speak in London today on “a vision for Pakistan and regional harmony”. His critics believe, however, that turmoil in Pakistan is fuelling the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and helping to destabilise South Asia as a whole.
    A senior government official, based near the frontier town of Tank, told The Daily Telegraph that Mehsud’s men regularly ambushed container lorries carrying hardware bound for Nato forces in Afghanistan.
    Their latest target was a supply convoy outside the town of Dera Ismail Khan on the Indus Highway, one of Pakistan’s main arteries.
    “They managed to single out the most important lorries, removed the drivers and then vanished the consignment lock stock and barrel,” said the official.
    “Among the booty they discovered trucks carrying cargos of pristine 4×4 military vehicles, fitted with the most modern communications and listening technology,” he added.
    The official added that Mehsud’s gunmen lacked the expertise to operate the equipment. So they enlisted the help of Uzbek and other foreign militants who are based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas lining the north-west frontier.
    Gen Athar Abbas, Pakistan’s military spokesman, declined to comment on this incident. A Nato spokesman in Kabul did not rule out that material had been stolen in transit through Pakistan, but denied that any weapons or military equipment had been lost.
    “This may hinge on what people’s definition of ‘equipment’ is,” he said. “I have been assured that no military equipment has been lost.”
    About 40 per cent of the supplies needed for Nato’s 42,000 soldiers in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan. The vital supply routes follow the Indus valley from the port city of Karachi to the border town of Peshawar.
    They enter Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass. Other border crossings from Pakistan’s province of Baluchistan are also used.

  • Kidartbai says:

    bard207, I understand that, but I repeat, the Pakistani military cannot defeat the Wazir and Mehsud tribes on their home turf with their current conventional capability on hand. Handing the area away to the US, will result in civil war is the rest of Pakistan.

  • bard207 says:

    Kidartbai
    I understand that the Pakistani public is not thrilled with the war against the militants. I have read numerous discussions like this:
    People cheering when Pakistani forces or tribesman fire on US aircraft and/or forces.
    The CIA, RAW and Mossad are supplying and controlling the militants so it will lead to the breakup of the Pakistani state.
    AQ Khan is a hero and they are proud to have nuclear weapons.
    That Zardari is a US puppet and that the Pakistani Army/ISI is just waiting to stage another military coup.
    Some urging that Zardari and others should be killed after the coup occurs.
    That the Army/ISI is the only salvation for Pakistan
    and ultimately efforts should be made to form a Caliphate
    etc
    I am not saying that everybody in Pakistan thinks like that, but enough do to show that there isn’t general agreement about the direction Pakistan should head in.
    If the threat of the militants had just popped up in the past few months, then it would be understandable about the lack of agreement. Since they have been causing mayhem for the past several years and gradually expanding their reach – control, then the failure by Pakistan to reach a consensus to fight them is frustrating to outside observers.
    In regards to selling (giving) more equipment to the Pakistani Army to fight the terrorists, past Pakistani actions have left a distaste – distrust with the US. The peace jirgas with the tribals – militants several years ago have failed to stop the mayhem.
    The reluctance by the Pakistani military to send regular troops to fight – quell the militants is also an irritant. Yes, the Frontier Corps are poorly armed and trained, but to see better armed and trained regular Army just idling on the Eastern border is galling to many (myself included).
    The US military was rusty when it came to COIN in Iraq, but they worked at it and figured it out. Over roughly the same timespan, the Pakistani Army also had an opportunity to learn how to do better against the militants, but the resolve wasn’t there and the Frontier Corps were mainly used instead. Again, if the problems with the militants had just popped up in the past few months, then the excuse about not being up to the task would be understandable.
    Now things look fairly dire for Pakistan. The militants have expanded and yet Pakistan lacks consensus on goals and how to handle the problem.

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    The P-stani Army has no intention of launching ANY operation in North or South W-stan. Since the tribes there have no intention of overthrowing the Pak Gov., they will leave these tribes be. Thier aim is to throw out NATO forces and subvert Karzai’s shaky government. So, don’t expect any help from the P-stani’s on this one, they will whine and moan about thier “soveriegnty” while the US and NATO let the camps operate right across the border. Have to make a stand sooner or later, or this conflict will go on for too long. Striking the camps, compounds, madrosses, may be the only way to put these people on the defensive, since the P-stani’s seem to be helping our enemies. Its not gonna be pretty, but I bet its legal, since P-stan does NOT govern these areas, often ceding territory. We have let this go on for too long.

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