By Syed Saleem Shahzad
An all-out battle for control of Pakistan’s restive North and South Waziristan is about to commence between the Pakistani military and the Taliban and al-Qaeda adherents who have made these tribal areas their own.
According to a top Pakistani security official who spoke to Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity, the goal this time is to pacify the Waziristans once and for all. All previous military operations – usually spurred by intelligence provided by the Western coalition – have had limited objectives, aimed at specific bases or sanctuaries or blocking the cross-border movement of guerrillas. Now the military is going for broke to break the back of the Taliban and a-Qaeda in Pakistan and reclaim the entire area.
The fighting that erupted two weeks ago, and that has continued with bombing raids against guerrilla bases in North Waziristan – turning thousands of families into refugees and killing more people than any India-Pakistan war in the past 60 years – is but a precursor of the bloodiest battle that is coming.
Lining up against the Pakistani Army will be the Shura (council) of Mujahideen comprising senior al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders, local clerics, and leaders of the fighting clans Wazir and Mehsud (known as the Pakistani Taliban). The shura has long been calling the shots in the Waziristans, imposing sharia law and turning the area into a strategic command and control hub of global Muslim resistance movements, including those operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“All previous operations had a different perspective,” the security official told ATol. “In the past Pakistan commenced an operation when the Western coalition informed Pakistan about any particular hide-out or a sanctuary, or Pakistan traced any armed infiltration from or into Pakistan.
“However, the present battle aims to pacify Waziristan once and for all. The Pakistani Army has sent a clear message to the militants that Pakistan would deploy its forces in the towns of Mir Ali, Miranshah, Dand-i-Darpa Kheil, Shawal, Razmak, Magaroti, Kalosha, Angor Ada. The Pakistani Army is aiming to establish permanent bases which would be manned by thousands of military and paramilitary troops.”
According to the security official, an ultimatum had been delivered to the militants recently during a temporary ceasefire. The army would set a deadline and give safe passage into Afghanistan to all al-Qaeda members and Taliban commanders who had gathered in Waziristan to launch a large-scale post-Ramadan operation in Afghanistan. They, along with wanted tribal warrior leaders, would all leave Pakistan, and never return.
After their departure, under the direct command and surveillance of newly appointed Vice Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani (who will replace President-elect Pervez Musharraf as Chief of Army Staff), fresh troops and paramilitary forces would be sent in to establish bases at all strategic points and disarm the local tribes. The Durand Line (the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan), would be fenced and border controls would be tightened.
The militants rejected the ultimatum.
What’s at stake
A qualified estimate by intelligence officials is that Pakistani military pacification of the Waziristans would slash the capability of the Afghan resistance by 85% as well as deliver a serious setback to the Iraqi resistance.
The militants have little option but to stand and fight, rather than slip across the border or melt into the local population. Aside from the sanctuary and succor afforded them in the Waziristans, most of the fighters there are either Waziris, or from other parts of Pakistan, or foreigners. They would be unable to support themselves in Afghanistan, especially as most of the non-Waziris do not speak Pashtu – a fact that also prevents them from disappearing into the Waziristan populace.
Their presence in the Waziristans also has a direct bearing on their funding: money can be transferred through bank and non-bank channels, including the informal fund transfer system known as “hawala”.
Western intelligence that has been shared with Pakistan has determined that the two Waziristans alone provide the life blood – a steady stream of fighters, supplies and funds – for the resistance in all of southeast Afghanistan, including the provinces of Ghazni, Kunar, Gardez, Paktia and Paktika, as well as for attacks on Kabul. In addition, the Waziristans supply trainers to guerrillas in the Taliban heartland of Zabul, Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan provinces.
According to intelligence sources, during Ramadan, the Taliban’s entire top command, including Moulvi Abdul Kabeer, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin Haqqani, Nasiruddin Haqqani, and Mullah Mansoor Dadullah were in North Waziristan to launch a post-Ramadan offensive in southeast Afghanistan. The Pakistani military engaged the militants well in advance to block their offensive plan, but the same militant command is believed to still be in North Waziristan.
In addition, the town of Shawal hosts the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s command. The Uzbeks are trying to reorganize themselves to stage an armed revolt against the government of Uzbekistan.
There is also a Kurd presence in the area, which has a direct bearing on the US’s Iraqi occupation. A small number of fresh Kurd recruits come through Iran into Waziristan, get few months’ training, and then return to Iran before infiltrating Iraq to fuel insurgency in Iraqi Kurdistan against this important US ally.
“If the planned battle is successful and Waziristan is pacified, the global Islamic resistance would be back where it was in 2003, when it had fighters but no centralized command or bases to carry out organized operations, said a Pakistani security official. “As a result, the guerrilla operations were sporadic and largely ineffective.”
The safety of Taliban and al-Qaeda assets in Waziristan is a matter of life and death and, therefore, the militants have devised a forward strategy to target the Pakistani cities of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, hoping to break the will of the Pakistani armed forces. The Pakistani military, meanwhile, is trying to break the will of the militants with ongoing bombing raids.
Underscoring the seriousness with which the military is planning for the coming battle, it is reported that Shi’ite soldiers from northern Pakistan are being sent to the Waziristans. In the past, the Pakistani Army has been plagued by desertions of Pashtun and Sunni troops who refuse to fight fellow Pashtuns or Sunnis.
Syed Saleem Shahzad is Pakistan Bureau Chief, Asia Times Online. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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