KARACHI - Under constant pressure from
Washington, since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan
in late 2001 Pakistan has launched several operations of
varying sizes in its tribal areas to flush out Taliban
and al-Qaeda fugitives, the first major one beginning on
June 22, 2002, at Azam Warsak, South Waziristan.
In the Azam Warsak operation, the Pakistani army
launched its first-ever attack against al-Qaeda. The
assault included paramilitary forces from the Frontier
Corps and the Waziristan Scouts. A total of 17 people
were killed - 11 members of the security forces and six
Chechen and Uzbek militants. More than 50 foreigners are
believed to have fled the attack.
operation, Pakistani security forces clashed with
foreign militants on December 20, 2001, when they
intercepted a group of 60 militants while they were
crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan. The militants
were taken to jail, where they managed to snatch some
rifles and in an ensuing gunfight 13 people were killed,
including six security people and seven foreign
fighters. The rest of the militants escaped.
June 22 operation failed because of the sympathy of the
Pakistani tribals toward the defeated Taliban regime and
foreign fighters, and extreme anger at the US-led
invasion of Afghanistan. When the Pakistani armed forces
tried to catch the fleeing members of al-Qaeda, the rage
also turned toward Pakistan's rulers. In particular, the
Mehsood tribe heavily resisted the military, and
provided safe passage to the foreign fighters.
The chief of Waziristan and other tribal elders
clearly warned Pakistan of retaliation. The said the
operation was US-sponsored and any further ones would be
tantamount to open war against the tribals.
June 27, 2002, Pakistani army officers, including
Shaukat Hayat and Colonel Saeed Khan, met with the
tribal jirga (council) and pledged that before
any further action was taken against al-Qaeda, the
tribals would be taken into the military's confidence,
and then the tribals themselves could take action
against the militants. The army would only enter the
fray if the tribals failed to deliver.
Nevertheless, Pakistani security forces and the
local political administration continued to undertake
small operations in which a few foreigners were
arrested. The tribals expressed their anger, but did not
Then on October 2, 2003, Pakistan
blatantly violated its agreement with the tribals when,
without any warning, it air-dropped 2,500 commandos into
the village of Baghar, near Angor Ada, with aerial
support from 12 helicopter gunships. According to local
residents, some of the helicopters flew from Machdad Kot
US air base from across the border in Afghanistan.
According to witnesses, 31 Pakistani soldiers and 13
foreign fighters and local tribals died. A large number
of militants fled.
The operation left behind
deep resentment against the Pakistani army, which itself
now became a target. Previously the militants - often
led by former Taliban commander Nek Mohammed - would
only attack US targets in Afghanistan, then melt back
into the Waziristan tribal areas. Now the Pakistani army
and US forces were an "equal enemy". The militants also
received renewed support from angered tribals.
On February 24 this year the Pakistani army
launched another operation against the panthers and the
wolves of the terrain - during British rule, the Mehsood
tribals of Waziristan were called wolves, and the Wazirs
panthers. During this operation, US helicopters were
clearly seen overhead supervising the operation.
Twenty-five people were arrested, but all were released
as none of them were "high-value" targets.
this time, the Pakistani army had lost its moral and
political ground in Waziristan, and the tribals were
actively opposed to it: military camps, patrolling
vehicles, army installations and scout forts were all
now the targets of heavy weapons and rocket launchers.
The Pakistani army intensified its action
against militants, but unfortunately it targeted two
passenger vehicles in which 13 people were killed and
six wounded. Initially, the Army Inter-Services Public
Relations claimed that the dead were militants, but
later admitted that it was a case of mistaken identity
and announced monetary compensation to the families.
Then President General Pervez Musharraf declared
(falsely, it later proved) that top al-Qaeda leaders,
including Osama bin Laden and his deputy Aiman
al-Zawahiri, were hiding in the tribal areas, and
Musharraf alleged that a murder attempt on his life had
been hatched in South Waziristan. For the first time,
Musharraf also admitted to the presence of US officials
in South Waziristan providing intelligence support to
Pakistani security forces. At the same time, the US Army
commander in Afghanistan, Lieutenant-General David
Barno, admitted that US forces were pinpointing targets
for the Pakistani army.
These factors further
convinced the tribals that the Pakistani army's presence
in the tribal areas was US-sponsored and Pakistan would
have to go through with it at all costs, and that
negotiations would only be a showcase.
environment, on March 16 the army began a new offensive
centered on Wana involving the Frontier Corps, the
Baloch Regiment, the Punjab Regiment, the Waziristan
Scouts, the Khasadar Force and elite commandos of the
Special Services Group of the army.
Just a day
before the operation began, in Kalosha village, all top
al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders gathered, including
legendary commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, al-Qaeda
commander Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, alias Abu Mohammed,
Qari Rashi Maqtoom of al-Qaeda's special training cell,
Taliban commander Abdul Bari Sayyaf, and the supreme
commander of the Harkatul Islami Uzbekistan, Tahir
Yuldevish. By the time the offensive began, they had all
fled, apart from Tahir Yuldevish, who got away after
sustaining some injuries.
The offensive ended
after 10 days, with several hundred soldiers and tribals
killed. According to sources in the army, 500 soldiers
surrendered, either because they came under attack or
because they refused to fight their countrymen. They now
face court-martial. Asia Times Online has acquired a
letter written on a General Headquarters Pakistan
letterhead, part of which says:
It was the first time in the history of
the Pakistan army when officers and soldiers refused
to fire bullets on their fellow nationals. As a
result, help from US forces was sought and tribals
were brutally killed. At present, a big number of
soldiers and officers belonging to 37 Division - 313
Brigade - 24 Sindh, 31 Baloch Regiment, 12 Punjab
Regiment and Frontier Corps Peshawar have been
arrested. These people have been detained in
Gujranwala, Mangla and Jhelum and they will be
As a consequence of the
Wana operation, 20 candidates at the Pakistan Military
Academy had their beards forcibly shaved. A similar
thing happened at the Naval Academy.
outcome of the Wana operation was the arrest of 163
tribals, but once again they turned out to be local
people. Eleven of them were released on April 29 and 78
on May 1. Several of the arrested included school-going
children. No Taliban or al-Qaeda suspects were
Worse, the operation caused a
severe backlash. A religious ruling signed by 500
leading scholars called militants who died in the action
martyrs, and warned the public not to say prayers for
the dead soldiers "who died for the cause of the US".
The ruling demoralized the army and gave a moral boost
to the insurgent tribals.
On April 24, the Corps
Commander Peshawar endorsed the failure of the operation
and confirmed Pakistan's retreat when he declared an
amnesty for all wanted people. Nek Mohammed was even
decorated with garlands of flowers, and the officer
vowed not to operate in the tribal areas again.
But such euphoria was to be short-lived. The
Pakistani army once again put its troops in forward
positions and on June 9 a new operation was launched. It
continued for several days, culminating in the death of
Nek, who sustained fatal injuries when the house in
which he was sheltering was attacked with laser-guided
missiles, which many believe were fired by US forces.
At the time of his death, Nek had become
somewhat isolated, with tribes going their different
ways and differing over the presence of the foreign
militants in the area. However, his end brought all the
tribes together again under his slogan, "No compromise
on the question of foreigners." That is, no handing them
over to the authorities.
In this context, the
comments of a former US Central Intelligence Agency
official are pertinent. Writing under the name
Anonymous, his book Imperial Hubris: Why the West is
Losing the War on Terror dismisses two of the most
frequent boasts of the Bush administration: that bin
Laden and al-Qaeda are "on the run" and that the Iraq
invasion has made the United States safer.
recent interview with a British newspaper, the official
described al-Qaeda as a much more proficient and focused
organization than it was in 2001, and predicted that it
would "inevitably" acquire weapons of mass destruction
and try to use them. He said bin Laden was probably
"comfortable" commanding his organization from the
mountainous tribal lands along the border between
Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Pakistani army
claimed a big success in the "war against terror" with
the killing of Nek, who was one of al-Qaeda's protectors
in Waziristan. But Anonymous, who had been centrally
involved in the hunt for bin Laden, said: "Nek Mohammed
is one guy in one small area. We sometimes forget how
big the tribal areas are." He believes that Musharraf
"cannot advance much further into the tribal areas
without endangering his rule by provoking a Pashtun
Yet this is exactly what the US is
forcing Pakistan to do, with a major attack expected any
time soon. Anonymous believes that President George W
Bush is taking the US in exactly the direction bin Laden
wants, toward all-out confrontation with Islam under the
banner of spreading democracy.
The first steps
down this deadly path could well have been taken already
in Pakistan's tribal areas.
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