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FATA: Festering Wounds

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By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Maulvi Nazir was among 10 militants killed in a US-operated drone strike in the South Waziristan Agency (SWA) of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on January 3, 2013. The drone targeted the Taliban leader’s moving convoy while it was on its way to Wana, the SWA’s headquarter, from Birmal tehsil (revenue unit).

The hit occurred in Sarkundi area (in Birmal tehsil). Maulvi Nazir’s key aide Rata Khan was among the militants killed. Maulvi Nazir was the second top TTP leader to be killed in a drone strike after Baitullah Mehsud, who was the chief of TTP when he was killed in 2009. Bahawal Khan alias Salahuddin Ayubi has been named the new chief of the outfit.

Maulvi Nazir had earned notoriety in the Spring of 2007, when he led a successful uprising against foreign militants in the Ahmedzai Wazir-held areas, ousting Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants, then led by Tahir Uldashev, along with their local supporters. Immediately thereafter, Nazir’s group entered into a peace agreement with the Government, avoided attacking Government and Security Forces’ (SFs) installations in the tribal region, and cooperated with the local administration. The military is believed to have struck a non-aggression pact with Nazir ahead of its 2009 operation against extremists in SWA. Moreover, Nazir was understood to be close to the al Qaeda-linked, though Inter Services Intelligence (ISI)-backed, Haqqani Network. Nazir had property in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, and was earlier a member of the Hizb-i-Islami, an Afghan terrorist formation. He survived a suicide bombing in November 29, 2012. On December 4, 2012, he ordered all Mehsud tribesmen, including loyalists of the rival TTP led by Hakimullah Mehsud, to leave Wana, by December 5, 2012, presumably blaming them for the attack, though TTP (Hakimullah Mehsud) ‘spokesman’ Ehsanullah Ehsan announced that his group had nothing to do with the attack. A grand jirga (tribal assembly) of the Nazir group, a 120-member peace committee formed in 2007 representing the Ahmedzai Wazir clan and the elders of all nine Ahmedzai tribes and their sub-tribes, warned all internally displaced Mehsud tribesmen who had taken refuge from fighting in the Mehsud area between SFs and militants, to vacate their homes in the Ahmedzai Wazir area. Tribesmen loyal to Mullah Nazir subsequently extended the December 5, 2012, deadline by 10 days, following a second jirga meeting.

Meanwhile, in a bomb blast allegedly orchestrated by the Nazir group, pro-Uzbek TTP 'commander' Maulvi Abbas was killed on December 21, 2012, along with three others, in Wana. Sources said that a bomb went off at the office of Abbas's brother in the vegetable market, killing Abbas and two others, including his son. Another four people sustained injuries. Maulvi Abbas had recently been allowed to resettle in the Ahmedzai Wazir areas after he was expelled in a popular uprising led by Maulvi Nazir, in spring 2007. Senior TTP 'commander' Nek Muhammad, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2004, and Abbas, had come under sharp criticism in the past for harbouring Uzbek, Tajik and other Central Asian militants. Abbas and his fighters left SWA after Maulvi Nazir became ‘commander’ of the terrorists in the region and launched a campaign against them for harbouring the foreigners.

As in previous year, violence continues wrack the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, though a marginal dip in fatalities was registered, in the country’s most volatile region. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), FATA registered a four per cent decline in overall terrorism-related fatalities, from 3,034 in 2011 to 2,901 in 2012. However, fatalities among civilians (549) and SFs (306), remained very high, increasing by 12.5 and 31.33 per cent, respectively. Terrorist fatalities declined from 2,313 in 2011, to 2,046 in 2012, principally due to the suspension of Army operations in many areas. Progressive suspension of military operations also resulted in a marginal decline in the major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities). A total of 261 major incidents were recorded in 2012, as against 281 in 2011.

Fatalities in FATA: 2009- 2013

Years

Civilians

SFs

Militants

Total

2009

636

350

4252

5238

2010

540

262

4519

5321

2011

488

233

2313

3034

2012

549

306

2046

2901

2013

12

0

72

84

Total*

2225

1151

13202

16578

 Source: SATP, *Data till January 6, 2013

 

Another indicator of the region’s rising volatility was the spike in bomb blasts and resultant fatalities. In comparison to 203 fatalities in 185 bomb blasts in 2011, year 2012 recorded 441 fatalities in 297 bomb blasts. Similarly, fatalities in suicide attacks increased to 151 in 10 incidents in 2012, as against 77 fatalities in eight such incidents in 2011.

The most significant suicide attacks in FATA in 2012 were:

September 10: At least 15 Shias were killed and another 40 were injured in a suspected sectarian suicide attack in the crowded Hamid Market in the Kashmir Chowk area of Parachinar town, headquarter of the Kurram Agency.

May 4: A suicide attack targeting SFs killed at least 29 persons, including four Policemen, and injured more than 73, at Khar Bazaar in the Khar town of Bajaur Agency.

March 2: 23 people were killed and another 18 injured in a suicide attack targeting a mosque after Friday prayers in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency.

February 17: At least 43 Shias were reportedly killed, and another 21 were injured, after a suicide bomber detonated his explosives just near the targeted mosque in Kurmi Bazaar, Parachinar, the main town of Kurram Agency.

With all the seven agencies facing the brunt of militancy, the Khyber Agency has recorded the highest number of subversive acts during 2012, as compared to other parts of FATA. The data compiled by the offices of the Political Administrator in FATA records a total of 96 bomb blasts, suicide and rocket attacks in Khyber Agency between January and October of 2012. The volatile Agency has also topped the list of abduction-for-ransom incidents among all tribal units, with 40 recorded cases (only a fraction of such cases are reported). The main militant groups operating in the area include the Lashkar-e-Islam (LI), Tawheed-e-Islam (TI), Ansarul Islam (AI), Haji Namdar group and Abdullah Azzam Brigade.

Sectarian violence, which has been a persistent phenomenon in FATA, saw an augmentation in 2012. In addition to the Kurram Agency, the only tribal Agency with a significant Shia population, agencies such as Orakzai and Bajaur also witnessed sectarian attacks in 2012. While 2011 saw only three incidents of sectarian violence, with 27 killed and 26 injured, 2012 recorded eight incidents with 75 fatalities and 103 injured. The worst of these incidents was the February 17 suicide bombing near the Imambargah (Shia place of worship) in the Kurmi bazaar of Parachinar, which killed 43 Shias and injured 21 others. The Fazal Saeed Haqqani-led Tehreek-e-Taliban Islami (TTI) – a breakaway faction of the TTP – claimed responsibility for the attack.

Meanwhile, the emboldened militants escalated attacks on SFs and security post throughout the region. There were 13 incidents of terrorists targeting SF camps in 2012. In the latest of such attacks, more than 400 TTP militants stormed security checkpoints in Frontier Region Peshawar in FATA late in the night of December 26, 2012, killing two Levies personnel and abducting 22 others. On December 29, the 22 abducted Levies personnel were executed.

In the absence of military operations in the region, US drone operations continued to target top ranking terrorists, especially in North Waziristan Agency (NWA), despite severe criticism from both within and outside Pakistan. According to the SATP database, at least 344 terrorists were killed in 46 drone strikes in 2012 in the region, as compared to 548 terrorists in 59 such attacks in 2011. Some top terrorists terminated in drone strikes in 2012 included: 

October 11: TTP’s Punjab chapter ‘commander’ Umar Haqqani and Maulvi Shakirullah were among 18 militants killed in a US drone attack at a militant compound in the Baland Khel area of Orakzai Agency. The building belonged to Maulvi Shakirullah, a 'commander' of the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group.

September 24: Seleh al-Turki, a mid-level al-Qaeda operative and Abu Akash al-Iraqi, a senior al-Qaeda operative, were among eight terrorists killed when a US drone fired missiles on a house near Khaisura road in the Mir Ali subdivision of NWA.

June 4: Abu Yahya al-Libi, the ‘second-in-command’ of the al Qaeda, was killed in Hisokhel, in the east of Miranshah, in NWA. Another 14 terrorists were killed in the attack.

February 9: Badr Mansoor, a Pakistani citizen who served as al Qaeda's Pakistan chapter ‘commander’ and a key link to the Taliban and Pakistani jihadi groups, was killed near Miranshah.

The success of US drone attacks in eliminating top leadership figures of terrorist formations located in NWA underlines the fact that the Agency remains a terrorist citadel and urgently needs to be sanitised. Islamabad, however, has demonstrated no inclination to take on the terrorist groups concentrated in the region. Indeed, despite an assurance by the Federal Minister of Interior, Rehman Malik, on October 12, 2012, after the Taliban attack on Malala Yusufzai on October 9, that, "if needed” operations would be launched in NWA after a decision “by political and military leadership of the country in harmony", the Government failed to move resolution on military operation in NWA in National Assembly on October 18. Indeed, Islamabad’s inconsistent and opportunistic approach to Islamist terrorist groupings – some of which it continues to support in order to further its expansionist ambitions as well as for domestic political management – remains the principal cause of terrorism within the country. The internal damage inflicted by the terrorists appears, within the calculus of the country’s military and political leadership, an acceptable price to pay for the potential strategic advantages that the sponsorship of terrorism is expected to yield.

[Source: SATP]

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