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PAKISTAN: Khyber Agency: Another Futile Operation

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By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

On May 16, 2012, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Governor Masud Kausar declared that about 90 percent of the seven tribal agencies in Federally Administered Tribal areas (FATA) and Frontier Regions (FRs) were under complete Government control, as a result of ‘successful action’ by the Security Forces (SFs): “I must say, apart from North Waziristan Agency and some parts of South Waziristan Agency, the remaining FATA is clear now and the Government writ is being consolidated.”

Governor Masud Kausar’s observations, however, fail to reconcile with the ground realities in FATA. Significantly, a ‘targeted operation’ has been going on in Khyber Agency, a stone’s throw away from Peshawar, KP’s provincial capital, since October 2011. FATA has, in fact, witnessed 1,225 fatalities, including 214 civilians, 133 SF personnel and 878 militants, in just first four months of 2012; as against 977 fatalities, including 125 civilians, 95 SF personnel and 757 militants in the last four months of 2011, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database. Out of the 1,225 fatalities in 2012 (first four months), at least 928 have been outside the North and South Waziristan Agencies. Since May 1, 2012, FATA has added 240 fatalities, including 61 civilians, 45 SF personnel and 134 militants (all data till May 27, 2012).

Meanwhile, the ‘targeted operation’ in Bara was launched four days after Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) militants attacked a SF convoy in the Akkakhel area of Bara tehsil (revenue unit) of the Khyber Agency, on October 17, 2011, killing nine personnel. 14 terrorists were killed in retaliatory fire by the SFs. Since then, the Agency has witnessed 598 fatalities including 211 civilians, 50 SF personnel and 337 militants. The Agency has, in fact, recorded a total of 2,582 fatalities, including 678 civilians, 188 SF personnel and 1,549 militants since 2008, notwithstanding Governor Kausar’s claims of the ‘Government writ’. During this period, the Agency recorded 190 major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities), including, among the most prominent, since January, 2012:

May 14: Eight LI militants were killed and two soldiers were injured in a clash with SFs at Qamberabad Chowk in Bara tehsil.

May 9: At least 10 Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants were killed and several others were injured when Army helicopter gunships heavily pounded suspected hideouts in Tirah Valley.

April 29: Ten persons, including five militants, were killed and 14 were injured in a clash between LI militants and volunteers of Akkakhel Peace Committee in Bara tehsil.

March 2: 25 people were killed and another 18 were injured in a suicide attack targeting a mosque after Friday prayers in Tirah Valley.

23 LI militants and 10 Army personnel were killed in fresh clashes in Lakaro Baba area of Tirah Valley.

February 18: At least nine members of Zakhakhel lashkar were killed and four others injured when a bomb planted by militants exploded at the Stana Checkpoint in the Nari Baba area of Tirah Valley.

January 4: At least six LI militants and a volunteer of the Zakhakhel lashkar were killed in renewed clashes between LI and the Zakhakhel lashkar in the Bazaar-Zakhakhel area of Khyber Agency.

Fatalities in Khyber Agency: 2008-2012

Years

Incidents

Civilians

SFs

Militants

Total

2008

49

34

5

122

161

2009

106

120

48

623

791

2010

177

180

56

331

495

2011

239

204

49

203

695

2012

125

140

30

270

440

Total*

696

678

188

1549

2582

Source: SATP, *Data till May 27, 2012

The uneven pattern of fatalities visible in the table is attributable to the four ‘operations’ that have been conducted by the SFs since 2008. While no militancy related fatalities was recorded in Khyber Agency before 2008, the activities of local militant groups like LI and Ansarul Islam (AI) had been a major cause of concern in the region. A total of 27 persons, including 25 civilians and two militants had been killed before June 27, 2008. On June 28, 2008, Operation Sirat Mustaqeem (Righteous Path) was launched in the Bara tehsil, after the abduction of 14 Christians from Academy Town in Peshawar, by LI terrorists, on June 21, 2008. The Operation was halted on July 9, 2008, as the political administration and LI signed an agreement making it binding on the banned group to accept the Government’s writ in the Bara tehsil. 12 persons, including seven civilians and five militants, were killed during the operation, and 87 militants were arrested.  

A second operation, codenamed Daraghlam (Here I Come), was launched in Bara on December 29, 2008, with an aim to root out militancy from the area. The operation was, however, halted after a few days, as militants retaliated massively. Again on March 30, 2009, the Khyber Agency Political Agent, Tariq Hayat Khan, announced that Operation Daraghlam-II had been launched in the Khyber Agency. There was, however, no subsequent official statement or media report about the fate of this operation. However, in the period between the announcement of this operation and the following Bia Daraghlam (Here I Come Again) Operation, a total of 220 persons, including 117 civilians, 25 SF personnel and 78 militants were killed. Another operation, the Bia Daraghlam, was launched on September 1, 2009. Details of its course and outcome remain unknown. 

The strategic location of the Khyber Agency, which borders Afghanistan to the east, the Orakzai Agency to the south, Mohmand Agency to the north and Peshawar District to the east, has always attracted the militants. The Agency provides a buffer zone between Afghanistan and Peshawar. Moreover, in recent times, it has provided safe heaven to militants escaping from the adjacent Agencies, when they are targeted by major ‘military operations’. Thus, Operation Koh-i-Sufaid (White Mountain) was conducted in the Kurram Agency between May 2, 2011, and August 17, 2011; while Operation Brekhna (Thunder) has been in progress in the Mohmand Agency since April 6, 2011, pushing significant numbers of militants towards the Khyber. Crucially, no operation was conducted in Khyber Agency between June and September 2011.

Three major Islamist terrorist groups currently operate in the Khyber Agency – LI, AI and TTP. While LI and AI are local outfits, the TTP is trying to consolidate its base in the area. LI is the most active group locally, and is presently led by the warlord, Mangal Bagh. AI is now led by Maulana Gazi Mehboob ul-Haq. TTP, which is a new player in the region, is under the local command of Tariq Afridi. Turf wars between these three groups have contributed to a great deal of disturbances and violence. In the latest of series of such clashes, at least 13 persons, including eight LI militants, were killed, and another four were injured, when a TTP suicide bomber blew himself up at Dars Jumat Mosque in Sandapal area of Bara on March 23, 2012.

Frustrated by the persistent violence in the region, a jirga (tribal council) comprising elders of Bara tehsil reportedly met LI chief Mangal Bagh on March 28, 2012, to persuade him to abandon violence. The jirga reportedly failed to convince Mangal Bagh. Earlier, on March 7, 2012, a jirga of the Kukikhel tribe had asked all armed groups to vacate their areas in Bara immediately, threatening action against those who provided shelter to militants in the region. The effort of the jirgas failed to have any impact on extremist depredations.

Meanwhile, on May 4, 2012, the SFs decided to open a new front in the Sholabar area of Bara tehsil, following reports that the Sholabar tribes are giving refuge to militants escaping the Bara ‘targeted operation’. The expansion of current operations into Sholabar is expected to further aggravate the problem of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). IDP camps in Jalozai, Peshawar, Nowshera and Kohat are already running short of basic amenities, and a further influx of IDPs will make conditions even more chaotic. Significantly, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) on May 2, 2012, estimated that, out of more than a quarter million IDPs from the Khyber Agency since January 2012, 50 per cent are children, of which 12 per cent are less than two years old and 28 per cent are younger than five.

More worryingly, there is every possibility of militants leaving the operational areas in the guise of civilian IDPs, only to return at the appropriate time. Indeed, this has been the trend in almost all past operations, where IDP movement have provided an ‘escape route’ to the militants.

The latest operation in the Khyber Agency, consequently, is likely to be just another ill-conceived and futile effort to contain the rising graph of militancy in FATA and its adjoining areas. 

[Source: SATP]

 

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