Waziristan and after

Waziristan and after
The News, July 20, 2009
By Asad Munir
The writer is a former brigadier who served as chief of the Military Intelligence and the ISI for NWFP, FATA and the Northern Areas.

The armed forces are all set to start an operation in South Waziristan, the stronghold of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other foreign militants.

In 2002, the agency served as the headquarters of Al Qaeda with Hadi Al Iraqi as the operational commander. Abu Laith Al Libi was the commander in North Waziristan, with headquarters in Norak. In South Waziristan, three different groups were operating, Arabs, a mix of Libyans and Algerians, other Africans and Central Asians. The Ahmedzai Wazirs initially provided them shelter in Wana and surrounding areas, while subsequently they moved to Mehsud territory. Their strength kept on increasing in South Waziristan.

Initially the militant stayed in groups of 30 to 35 in compounds provided by local Wazirs, but after an operation in June 2002, they preferred to stay in small groups of five to six living in one house. Meetings were held in the village madrasa after sunset where instructions for operations and raids against NATO forces were passed on by leaders. There was no movement during the day.

The militants raised their strength in the next three years, courtesy several “peace agreements,” which allowed them to spread their influence to other tribal areas and some settled districts of the NWFP. Had a decision been taken in 2004, the army would have had to clear only two tribal agencies. Now the situation is quite different.

Formal operations against terrorists in Waziristan have not yet started. The ambush of an army convoy by Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s men is not because of drone attacks, for the simple reason that in 2008 there were several such attacks in North Waziristan and he never protested. The reason for his protest is simple – Al Qaeda, the jihadis, sectarian groups and the local and Afghan Taliban do not want to lose the safe havens of Waziristan. Losing this area will have a great setback to their overall strategy and future designs, especially with the loss of Swat.

If the operations are confined to only the Mehsud area of South Waziristan, initially the foot soldiers of Taliban are likely to give stiff resistance from their fortified positions. The leadership would have planned their escape routes, their future hideouts, well coordinated with local facilitators. The likely hideouts are the Dawar area of North Waziristan, Upper Orakzai Agency and the Pakhtun areas of Balochistan. However, if the operations are conducted in both Waziristan agencies, than Zhob and other Pakhtun areas of Balochistan are going to be places where the militants will flee.

Once Baitullah realizes that the establishment is serious, he may well ask for a deal, But this time, it is unlikely that he will get a positive response, and in all likelihood will flee. The command and control system, logistics and supply lines of the Taliban have been made ineffective, and that is why suicide attacks have declined. The army needs to persist with its operation and must not pause. The fact of the matter is that the Taliban assumed that they were invincible because they were never handled this way. After North and South Waziritan, the battle will have to be taken to Orakzai Agency, Darra Adam Khel, Mohmand Agency and part of Bajaur Agency. If at all a deal has to be offered – after they are vanquished – it should be that they lay down their arms and do not run a parallel administration. And an amnesty can be considered only for their foot soldiers.

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