Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Waziristan the ground situation

By Khalid Munir

Soon after conquering Waziristan in 19th century, the British realized that instead of ruler they are prisoners. The subjects were roaming around freely, while British were restricted to camps. Movement was with heavy escorts and had to be guarded by piqueting the route. More than a century on, it seems nothing has changed. At least that is the impression I got during my few days stay at North Waziristan.
pic via CSIS 

Sitting in Islamabad, Kabul and Washington one can not understand what this rugged area means. Just by seeing the area many questions arising about inaction of army are answered. Terrain is mountainous and unlike Kashmir where peaks are mutually defended, it is impossible to resort to that tactics and as a result wide gaps are left between various piquets and posts thus, making it impossible to stop movement across the border. Roads run in valleys surrounded by the mountains making them unsafe to travel unless peaks are properly guarded.

Who controls North Waziristan?. No one. Army has not exerted its power to take complete control of the agency due to justifiable reasons. Taliban are divided between various groups and even their authority is eroding. People ignored the warning given through pamphlets by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, asking locals not to work on road being built by FWO. Anyone claiming control is over estimating his strength.

Army, restricted to camps, is reactive rather than in proactive role. Unless militants attack the troop. camps or check posts, no action is being taken. Movement from on place to another is in heavily armed convoys and that also once a week for administrative requirements. Curfew has to be imposed on roads from Bannu to Miran shah and Mir Ali Razmak Data Khel during movements. Piquets are in place on the whole route to guard the convoys, yet five IEDs exploded during my travel to Miransha, causing casualties. So movement has become a logistical and tactical exercise. Army is not resorting to operations and an uneasy peace prevails. Taliban’s are unidentifiable. Uzbeks and Tajiks have settled down in Dawar areas, mostly around Mir Ali. So are elements of TTP. Miran Shah has become an international city where nationals from all countries are found. Intelligence gathering is difficult because locals fear Taliban reprisal. So it is mostly restricted to electronic eves dropping and intercepts. In such circumstances, differentiating between TTP and those fighting across the border becomes impossible. Peace committee (newly constituted) is in place. That is the major source of liaison between Taliban and the government. Maintaining peace has been left to the peace committee which moderates between Taliban and the political administration. Army reacts in case it is attacked and that too after political administration and the local Jirga agrees on punitive action. Collective punishment is still resorted to but on a much smaller scale.

Political administration has lost the control it once exercised in FATA. With army calling the shots and defiant militants, administration’s key control tool of levies has become redundant. Maliks are no more effective. After their targeted killings since 2006, this tool of administration has been replaced by peace committee which is more under influence of Taliban than the government.

Unlike Islamabad and Lahore, drone attacks are not an issue, as locals do not fear it due to it’s accuracy in hitting the targets. It seems that army and government has also reconciled with drone attacks and if other problems are solved with NATO, drone attacks will not remain an issue irrespective of what APC or parliament say.

Despite all the difficulties North Waziristan has to be cleared of foreigners and TTP. Sufficient forces are not available to carry out any major operation in the agency. The existing force is barely enough to keep the stalemate working. Last year the concept of targeted operation was being considered but any targeted operation will not remain restricted and the fighting will spread to the whole agency and may be to the adjoining South Waziristan which has not been stabilized so far. With return of IDPs, incidents of attacks by militants have increased in South Waziristan. Any major operation in NWA has to be undertaken from South Waziristan and the prevailing situation does not favor such an adventure. In neighboring agencies to the north like Kurram, Orakzai, Tirah in Khyber, the situation is still not under control. The additional troops required will have to be inducted by either thinning out from other area in FATA or fresh troops from other parts of the country will have to be brought in. Without that thinking of even targeted operation is impossible.

Most of the troops are deployed/busy in internal security so insufficient troops are available for border duty. Crossing points logically have to be near main roads/routes but nothing stops Taliban from crossing over from unconventional, undefined routes. Measures like coloring the fertilizers, which now we are following will not be of much help. They do not require containers of fertilizers. It can easily be carried on motor cycles, the favorite means of transport.

With occasional calls from NATO and USA for action against Haqqani network, and keeping our own interest in mind that the area has to be brought under control, we will have to resort to military operation. For the time being it is impossible to do so.

North Waziristan — a first-hand account Published by Express Tribune: April 29, 2012

The writer is a retired army officer who served in Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
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