Deprecates Pakistan when it seeks peace

By Brig Asif Haroon Raja

After the capture of Afghanistan by US forces and their allies in late 2001, most of the Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders managed to flee and take shelter in neighboring FATA.  Their flight was made easer because of the inactivity of ISAF. Some say that that they were deliberately pushed into Pakistan to stoke terrorism in its northwestern tribal belt and under the plea of terrorism enable CIA and FBI to gain entry and destabilize Pakistan. In line with its game plan, Pak Army was moved into South Waziristan Agency (SWA) for the first time in 2002 and subsequently made to fight the tribesmen who had all along remained loyal to the concept of Pakistan. The first major military operation was launched in 2004 in Ahmadzai Wazir inhabited SWA under Nek Muhammad who had emerged as a popular militant leader.

When the Army signed peace agreement with Nek Muhammad in SWA in July 2004 after he agreed to help in nabbing foreign elements, he was killed by a US drone. When another peace deal was inked with Baitullah Mehsud in Mehsud tribe dominated part of SWA in 2005, it consternated USA. Peace deal with Gul Bahadur heading Othmanzai Wazirs in September 2006 in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) was strongly resented by USA. Intense pressure was applied to get the peace deals scrapped. When another peace accord with Faqir Muhammad led militants in Bajaur was about to be inked in October 2006, it was thwarted as a consequence to a drone attack on a religious seminary killing 80 students. Baitullah and Bahadur broke peace accords in July and August 2007 respectively in the aftermath of botched up Lal Masjid operation.

In December 2007 Baitullah established Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which had its tentacles in all seven tribal agencies and some settled areas of Khyber Pakthunkhwa. Peace accords were inked with Maulvi Nazir, the new leader of Ahmadzai Wazirs in SWA in July 2008 and with Gul Bahadur in August 2008, which have remained intact. Despite the peace deals, the TPP affiliated with al-Qaeda and militants of banned groups as well Fazlullah led militants in Swat and Malakand had spread their influence far and wide and had gained an upper edge. Major reason of their upsurge was that CIA, RAW, Mossad and RAAM were providing colossal funds and arms to Baitullah, which enabled him to recruit large number of young fighters, train suicide bombers and win loyalties of leaders of other militant groups. 

Other than activities of TTP in FATA and settled areas of KP, Swat had also become restive. Fazlullah, son-in-law of TNSM leader Maulana Muhammad Sufi became popular in Swat and Malakand Division due to his fiery speeches on FM Radio. Two operations had to be launched to curb his anti-state activities. As a consequence to second operation under Maj Gen (now Lt Gen) Nasser Janjua in November 2007, Sufi and Fazlullah agreed to shun militancy in return for application of Nizam-e-Adl in Swat-Malakand. Peace agreement was inked on 16 February 2009 and Nizam-e-Adl agreement on 14 April. Peace accord was received with mixed feelings. Sufi basking in the glory of victory stated in his interview to the media that he neither believed in democracy nor in Pakistan’s legal system and constitution. The situation took a sudden turn when Fazlullah unilaterally broke the accord by recommencing militancy in Swat and terrorizing the people and then sending his men to occupy Buner and Lower Dir. Western press raised an alarm that militants had become too powerful and were very near to capturing Islamabad and nuclear arsenal. As part of strategy to make supply lines vulnerable, militants started targeting moving convoys along Mardan-Buner, Mardan-Swat, Peshawar-Darra-Kohat, Kohat-Banu-Miranshah, Bannu-DIK-Tank, Jandola-Wana roads. 130 convoys were targeted in April-May 2009. ANP leadership as well as federal leadership were put on hit list and threats hurled to eliminate them as well as their families.

Breakage of pledge by Fazlullah turned the people of Swat against him. When the parliament passed a joint resolution to fight terrorism with full force and the Army was given a green signal to launch a full-fledged operation in Swat region, the nation stood behind the Army.         

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Part of 17 Division was earmarked for Lower Dir-Buner and 37 Division under Maj Gen Ijaz Awan for Swat. 19 Division under Maj Gen Sajjad Ghani (now Lt Gen) was assigned Shangla. Operation Rah-e-Rast started in Lower Dir on 26 April 2009 and later in Buner. After freeing these two areas from the control of militants, main operation was launched against Swat on 8 May 2009. Swat is tucked in a funnel shaped narrow valley with 3.5 million population and several major communication centres like Saidu Sharif, Mingora, Kalam etc. It is hedged by Shangla, Buner, Dir and Chitral. Swat is not directly connected with Afghan border. Foreign sponsored Swat militants were dependent upon the routes via Dir and Bajaur to receive supplies from Kunar province in Afghanistan. Fazlullah had 6000 well-trained militants under him and had converted all towns into fortified strongholds. Tens of caves and man-made tunnels had been filled with tons of armaments and large numbers of suicide bombers were lined up to confront the Army. Inaccessible Peochar was converted into the command HQ and training centre.

In a little over one month, the whole of restive area was brought under control and the entire command and control structure was dismantled. 79 officers and men embraced martyrdom and 276 got seriously injured. Hundreds of militants including would-be suicide bombers were captured but Fazlullah slipped away. 1244 militants including 26 key commanders were killed and hundreds arrested. From the recovered stocks of armaments from caves and tunnels, American, Indian and Israeli origin weapons were found. To hide their embarrassment, Pentagon stated that one-third of 242000 US weapons provided to Afghan Army and another 135000 weapons to NATO countries in Afghanistan were unaccounted for and most probably shifted to Pakistan to conduct covert war. The Army helped in resettling 2.5 million displaced persons and carrying out reconstruction works. Rehabilitation centres were also opened to normalize brainwashed teenaged boys trained as suicide bombers. Within six months, the paradise on earth Swat once again started to regain its lost sparkle and resultantly the Army’s image shot up.

In August 2009, the TTP leader Baitullah Mehsud was killed by a US drone and after a brief power struggle Hakimullah Mehsud took over the reins. No sooner he came on the centre stage, spate of suicide bombings in major cities recommenced. It was learnt that the main training centres of suicide bombers were within his domain in SWA. Terrorist attack on GHQ on October 10, 2009 propelled Kayani to launch Rah-e-Nijat in SWA on 17 October. Troops had already been moved to the battle zone in July to allow them to get oriented with the area of operation.

SWA is linked with Paktika. Waziristan is almost three times larger than Swat in size and its terrain is more rugged.  In SWA, only Wana is a major bustling town, otherwise there are wide open patches with well dispersed scanty population. Within SWA, Ahmadzai Wazirs under Maulvi Nazir are predominant in area bounded by Wana, Azam Warsak, Shakai, Angoor Adda. The Mehsuds are predominant in Sarwakai, Srarogha, Ladha, Makin.       

Besides the presence of 12000 local militants in SWA, there were foreign militants from different countries with bulk from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan totaling 1500 had been sheltered by Baitullah. They were a good source of income for the locals since they had hired houses for Rs 40-50,000 a month.  SW had become the nerve centre of TTP and main source of terrorism. It was from here that terrorists operating in all the tribal agencies were funded and supplied arms.

9 Division Gen Khalid Rabbani located at Kohat was with an additional brigade was moved to Wana while 7 Division Gen Naveed Zaman at Peshawar was concentrated in Miranshah. Operation Rah-e-Nijat started on 17 October on three axes with a brigade group on each axis. The chosen axes of advance to contact were Jandola-Karkana-Mundana-Kotkai (hometown of Hakimullh, Qari Hussain)-Srarogha-Sarwakai axis; Wana-Shakai-Sharwangai-Khaisura-Chalwashtai-Kaniguram–Saam-Ladha-Makin; axis Razmak-Nawazkot-Makin-Razmak. The battle plan was planned so brilliantly and executed so imaginatively and daringly that within one month mother of all battles was won and the whole area brought under effective control. No outside assistance was sought. The only way the NATO could assist the operation was to seal the Paktika province attached with Wazir inhabited SW that had been turned into main forward base camp of US troops in July 2008. Intriguingly, all border posts manned by ISAF were abandoned, thus facilitating escape of TTP escapees, and also clearing the way for Afghan Taliban to assist TTP in distress.

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Runaway Mehsud militants from SW after their ouster in late 2009 have taken refuge in NW, Kurram, Orakzai, Tirah in Khyber Agency and in neighboring Paktika and Kunar provinces and have resumed their militant activities. Escapees of TTP ex Bajaur chapter under Maulana Faqir and TNSM from Swat region under Maulana Fazlullah have got established in Nuristan province in Afghanistan from where they are launching operations in Upper and Lower Dir, Mohmand Agency and Chitral. Afghan military and RAAM are providing assistance to them and US military looks the other way. Their frequency of cross border attacks have curtailed ever since paramilitary forces have taken up positions in vulnerable regions along the Pak-Afghan border, but neither Afghan regime nor ISAF have taken any steps to dismantle the safe havens.

Displaced persons from SWA have finally returned to their homes after two years and the Army is deeply engaged in providing them security and in rehabilitating them. Army has undertaken several development projects in the education, health, communications, agriculture, livestock and dairy sectors. Rupees 22 billion has so far been spent. A Cadet College is functioning in Wana and work on another at Chagmalai is in progress. Institute of Technical Education has also been inaugurated to promote technical education among the tribal youth.    

NWA is contiguous to Khost and Paktia. Miranshah and Mir Ali are the two towns infested by militants of all hues including Punjabi Taliban, Asian Tigers, late Ilyas Kashmiri’s outfit, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the new mysterious entrant Khurasan. Gul Bahadur’s Othmanzai Wazirs have not been involved in terror attacks against military or civilian targets in Pakistan. They have also not clashed with security forces stationed in NWA. They are aligned with Pakistan friendly Haqqani group, small part of which is located in NWA under Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has reportedly moved to his hometown Khost because of drone attacks and increased pressure of USA upon Islamabad to mount an operation in NWA. Two-thirds of the force is operating in Khost, Paktika and Paktia under his father Jalaluddin Haqqani. Since Haqqanis have become very effective, the group has been named as Haqqani network (HN) and is overplayed by the US. Likewise, India present Kashmir specific LeT as the most lethal outfit, deadlier than al-Qaeda and US subscribes to its assessment.  

Gul Bahadur is also linked with TTP but do not join their battles against the Army. He has little control over other militant groups taking refuge within vast expanses of NWA. The US pressure to mount a major operation in NWA and eliminate alleged safe havens of HN is being applied with ill motives. Paucity of troops does not permit opening another front when 147000 troops are holding Swat, Malakand, Bajaur, Mohmand, SWA and NWA and conducting operations in Kurram, Orakzai and Khyber Agencies.

Peace agreements with militants had been necessitated out of military expediency which suited both sides as well as peaceful residents caught up in the crossfire of security forces and militants within the two war zones. This arrangement is not new or is unique. The US-NATO has been resorting to this practice and is still trying to negotiate a political settlement with Taliban. Peace agreement between two warring parties doesn’t mean turning the guns against the third country as is wrongly interpreted. It has become a tactical compulsion to stick to existing peace deals and tackle restive areas one by one. While peace agreements gives temporary reprieve to the Army, it emboldens the militants and gives them time to refit, enroll more recruits and further expand their areas of influence. They also refine their fighting tactics and how to bleed the Army through maximum use of IEDs, suicide bombings and kidnappings.

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This factor has been taken into account and strenuous efforts are being made to disallow the militants now in disarray and on the run to reassemble and regroup. All areas where the militants have their presence and influence are being simultaneously kept under scrutiny and known hideouts/strongholds destroyed. The PAF has also played its role in hitting inaccessible areas. 3000 soldiers sacrificed their lives and 9500 others sustained injuries to restore peace in this volatile region which none in the past had ever subjugated. It is ironic that Pakistan’s overall performance is far superior to all the 49 countries engaged in war on terror and its sacrifices are far greater than others; yet it is maligned and mistrusted. The Parliament rightly decided in mid May to give peace a chance by holding peace talks with TTP which is now a fractured outfit so as to put an end to senseless bloodshed.   

While the US and Karzai regime have been making relentless efforts to convince the Taliban to negotiate peace and several Muslim and non-Muslim countries have been helping the US in this regard, for unknown reasons Pakistan is being debarred form maintaining any contacts with Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. This prohibition is in spite of the fact that Pakistan is the only country which is in a position to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. Duplicitous USA has always deprecated Pakistan whenever it sought peace with TTP leaders or it established contacts with Afghan Taliban. Having failed to buy, win over or divide Taliban, the US has now opted for regional approach which till recent it was not willing to accept. While outwardly drumbeating that Pakistan is vital for restoration of peace, inwardly the US wants India to fill the vacuum in Afghanistan after its departure. It managed to push in India in regional talks the first of which was held in Istanbul on 2 November. Next meeting is scheduled in Bonn on 5-6 December.

The US fails to realize that the chief stakeholders are the Afghans, and that too the Afghan Pashtuns, followed by Pakistan which have suffered the most and sacrificed the most. It must not forget that Pakistan is the immediate next door neighbor and is housing over two million Afghan refugees since 1979 at a very heavy social and economic cost. India, which is not contiguous to Afghanistan and is not an active member of war on terror cannot be termed as a stakeholder. It has accentuated terrorism and is responsible for the destabilization of the region. While its contribution in development works in Afghanistan is appreciated, it must not exploit its investment to carve out a political role for itself.

Karzai regime is a puppet regime installed by Washington. It has no moral authority to decide through fake Jirgas about retention of military bases by US forces beyond cutout date of December 2014 for another ten years. Even the US is not a genuine stakeholder since it has super imposed its presence in Afghanistan through force and is wholly responsible for the death and destruction in Afghanistan and for fomenting religious extremism and terrorism. It must pack up and make a clean break with the help of Pakistan. Justice demands that Taliban should be included in all future summits and due weight should be given to what they say because of their demographic superiority. Pakistan should be given preference over all other countries when terms for settlement are negotiated and finalized.