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Hoping against Hope

By Imtiaz Gul

 Weekly Pulse, June 29, 2012

Within two days (June 24/25) Pakistan Army lost 17 soldiers in twocross-border attacks in Upper Dir district. In surprise raids, MaulanaFazlullah-led militants from Afghanistan’s Kunar province inflicted the heaviest loss thus far on the security forces, beheading sevenPakistani soldiers.

A team comprising 11 soldiers was patrolling the Pak-Afghan border when the militants attacked it after crossing the border, local reports said. It appeared a repeat of what had happened almost a year ago in the same region. Consequently tensions flared up between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the ministry of foreign affairs summoned the Afghan deputy head of mission to lodge a strong protest over theintrusion of militants in the Pakistani territory from the Afghan side.

MaulanaFazlullah’s brazen attacks into the Dir region followed on the heels of a renewed wave of terror across KPK and FATA, which has left over 250 people dead in June sofar. 

The Iranian news agency – IRNA – quoted the spokesman for Pakistani Taliban, Sirajuddin, as claiming that 17 Pakistani soldiers were killed by fighters of MaulanaFazlullah, the former chief of Taliban in Swat Valley, who is now reportedly based in the border region of Afghanistan. 

The latest incursions not only underscored the fragility that marks the bilateral relationship but also exposes the hazards that the non-state actors pose to the Pakistani security apparatus. This may also scuttle prime minister’s impending Kabul visit . As a whole, the latest string of terrorist attacks across KPK and FATA, represent an alarmingly trend in the security landscape. The context for these strikes is the grueling Pakistan-US stalemate as well as a reported a realignment of militants among various Taliban factions in the border regions. 

MullaNazir Ahmed, who controls the AhmedzaiWazir regions of South Waziristan, has reportedly permitted several Tehreeke Taliban Pakistan (TTP) activists and supporters back into Wana and its vicinity, including those relatives of MaulviSharif who had been forced out of Wana in the March 2007 operation against the Uzbek militants. Hafiz GulBahadur, on the other hand, continues to play the dual role; he serves as the guarantor for peace in most of North Waziristan, facilitating the ongoing construction of the Bannu-Miranshah road, and at the same time his contacts with the Haqqani Network as well as tolerance for some TTP elements uch as HakimullahMehsud have reportedly increased. And in the areas around Peshawar, Tariq Afridi, the dreaded TTP operative in DarraAdamkhel and the Khyber Agency, has reportedly hooked up with Haji MangalBagh, the elusive chief of Lashkare Islam (LI). Until recently, both the TTP and LI had been at loggerheads, but have apparently patched up.

Both Bahadur and MangalBagh also provide social protection to the TTPand LashkareJhangviand splinters of LashkareTaiba – all of them“bad Taliban” as far as Pakistan is concerned. 

These realignments are taking place in view of the impending US drawdown in two years from now. Similarly, the so-called Quetta Shura, too, is preparing for the D-Day i.e. July 2014, and has delegated power to younger fighters. 

As a whole, the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan provides the glue that binds all Afghan and Pakistani Taliban factions. That is why the growing synergy of strategy among all those who justify their militant approach by pointing to the US-NATO forces in Afghanistan. 

It is indeed a scary scenario that the “good or cooperative Taliban” like Hafiz GulBahadur and MullaNazir become the social cover for anti-Pakistan, anti-US violence perpetrated by TTP, LashkareJhanvgiand other Al Qaeda affiliates. Collectively, these groups constitute an indirect source of instability to Pakistan itself; all those Pakistani militant forces inimical to the US-NATO presence in Afghanistan, including Al Qaeda, consider Pakistan as an equal culprit (for the sufferings of Afghans) and that is why do not refrain from directly or otherwise delivering the proverbial pin-pricks Pakistani society 

Similarly, Al Qaeda’s shield in Waziristan, the Haqqani Network, remains the thorn in the Pak-US relations, because both Kabul and Washington talk of “Haqqani Signature” every time militants strike in Kabul or elsewhere. 

Regardless of the veracity of the US-NATO claims on the Haqqanis, theNetwork remains the major irritant, with all American officials projecting Haqqani’s as the biggest source of violence in Afghanistan, and thus asking Pakistan to go after it. Sooner or later Pakistani security apparatus shall have to make the choice; stay in alliance with pan-Islamists of all shades, or divorce and crackdown on them in the long term interests of the country. 

Pakistan shall have to move swiftly, lest MaulanaFazlullah also joins the Taliban brigade comprising TTP, Tehreeke Taliban N.Waziristan(Bahadur), Tehreeke Taliban S.Waziristan (MullaNazir). There is no way around a determined crackdown on all those who are directly or indirectly jeopardizing Pakistan’s medium to long term security interests.

The writer is executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies


Email: imtiaz@crss.pk