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    South Asia
     Jun 20, 2012

Waziri 'oasis' braces for attack
By Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud

Residents in Wana, headquarters of Pakistan's restive South Waziristan Agency, fear that a recent spate of insurgent violence will spur a major new government offensive in the unruly tribal belt. A fragile ceasefire between militants, a local warlord and authorities in the town has been put under severe strain by the increasing number of US drone attacks in the region.

In the past few months, militants purportedly affiliated with Pakistan's largest militant umbrella organization, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or Pakistani Taliban, have carried out a flurry of deadly ambushes on military camps and checkpoints in Wana. It is widely believed these attacks were carried out by rogue members of a Taliban faction led by the warlord Mullah


Nazeer, who has wielded de facto control over Wana for the past five years.

Wana has been an oasis of relative peace in the violence-plagued region, where development could continue despite the ongoing attacks nearby. Although seen as the birthplace of the Tehrik-e-Taliban-led militancy that has ravaged Pakistan, the situation had been normal in Wana since the signing of a 2007 peace agreement between Nazeer and the government.

A recent visit to the town before the spate of attacks revealed a number of development projects underway. "If the situation remains peaceful for some more time, Wana would become a model town for the Pakistan tribal area," a local official said at the time.

In the past few years, Wana was seen as a "no-go" zone for the TTP. However, this the situation has changed this year with the inception of the "Shura-e-Muraqaba" a consultative body that has joined various heterogeneous militant groups based in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Shura-e-Muraqaba - a council of five top Pakistani Taliban groups - has united outfits that were formerly rivals, paving the way for TTP-linked militants to set up sanctuaries in Wana. The al-Qaeda leader for AfPak, Abu Yahya Alibi - who the US claims was killed in early June by a drone strike - was believed to have played a pivotal role in formation of the Shura-e-Muraqaba with the help of Mulla Sangeen Zadran, one of the Haqqani Network's top military commanders in Afghanistan.

"Basically Shura-e-Muraqaba is a reformatory body formed by mujahideen to bring reforms in our ranks and files. This is also aimed at unifying different mujahideen factions including our Arab mujahideen brothers. This shura is also for defensive purposes, we will keep defending ourselves against any external threat," TTP deputy chief, Mualana Wali-u-Rehman Mehsud, told Asia Times Online though an intermediary.

The situation deteriorated recently when a major Pakistani military camp in Wana came under heavy rocket fire from unknown miscreants. Local security officials said TTP-affiliated militants were responsible for the attack and that Mullah Nazeer was allowing them to live in Wana with impunity, in clear violation of the 2007 non-aggression agreement with Islamabad.

In response, local Taliban have blamed security forces for violating the agreement by carrying out indiscriminate attacks against civilians in the main Wana bazaar.

"Wana was one of the most peaceful parts of Pakistan's tribal region. But recent steps taken by the government to demolish innocent tribesmen's shops and rob their goods demonstrate well who is the real threat to peace in the area, army or Taliban," read a statement from Nazeer forwarded exclusively to ATol.

"If this conflict continues, it could spark a fully fledged conflict in the area," said Taj Muhammad Wazir, a leading political activist in Wana.

"Our demand is to expel the army from Wana, we have defended and will keep defending ourselves against any aggression. If the army uses its presence here to fight against the tribesmen then we know how to defend ourselves," said Nazeer in the written statement.

The people of Wana now fear a Pakistani military operation which could result in a mass exodus from an area in which they have lived for centuries. They have witnessed the misery of neighboring Mehsud tribesmen who in 2009 had to flee South Waziristan in the wake of the Pakistani Army's Operation "Rah-e-Nejat" (Path to Salvation) against the TTP.

Displaced persons, estimated to number around 41,500, were given promises by the government that they would be able to return to their ancestral hometowns as soon the operation ended. However, due the fraught security situation aid workers say only around 6,700 had been able to return as of April.

"Mehsuds are the prime victims of the Pakistan-led war on terror. They suffered almost in all aspects, physically, financially, psychologically. But there is no one to heal their wounds. They are left abandoned," Riaz-u-Din Mehsud, said a human-rights activist from Waziristan. For tribesmen across the region, military operations have only resulted in death and destruction.

Nazeer was once considered an arch-rival of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, founded in 2007 by the late Baitullah Mehsud. One of the main reasons behind the acrimony between Nazeer and the TTP was his decision to expel TTP-linked Central Asian militants from Wana sub-division. According to militant commanders linked with Nazeer, he was left with no other option but to expel the militants from his territory.

The rising number of drone strikes in the area in recent months is seen as a major reason behind the growing trust deficit between Pakistani security forces and "good Taliban" in both North and South Waziristan. In recent months, Nazeer has lost prominent figures of his group including Shamasullah, Haleemullah, Amir Hamza and one of his own brothers, Hazrat Omar in US drone attacks.

Local militants affiliated with Nazeer say he is under immense pressure from leading commanders of his group to repudiate the 2007 peace accord and join hands with the TTP against security forces, to avenge the deaths of fellow commanders.

"The drone attack on [leading commander] Mullah Malang [on June 3], who luckily survived, could be a tipping point that leads Nazeer to renounce the peace accord. The majority among us believe that Pakistani authorities are complicit in providing ground intelligence to Americans for a drone strikes against us", a militant commander loyal to Mullah Nazeer said on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized by his group to interact with media.

Since the eruption of tensions between the two camps, efforts are also being made at a local level to seek a peaceful solution to the evolving crisis. "Hectic efforts are underway by the local tribal elders and clerics to resolve the differences between the two and to stop the worst from happening," local journalist Din Muhammad said by phone from Wana.

Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud is Pakistan-based freelance investigative journalist.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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