North Waziristan Agency (NWA) is located between the Khost province of eastern Afghanistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan.
It is the second largest (South Waziristan being the largest) tribal region of Pakistan’s Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). The agency is Pakistan’s most complex region as far as militancy is concerned. This region is, according to military estimates, home to more than 40 armed groups.
There are two major groups based in NWA: First and the most powerful is Haqqani Network that is based in Danday Darpakhel village near Miramshah and is led by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of the organization’s founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, who remains figurehead of the group. The second most influential and powerful group is led by Dattakhel-based Hafiz Gul Bahadar. Both these outfits are in an unofficial peace deal with the state and are considered ‘good Taliban’.
Reports suggest that many local and foreign militias have their sanctuaries in NWA. These groups include Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), Islamic Army of Great Britain, Ittehad-e-Jihad Islami (IJI), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), TTP, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, Fidayeen-e-Islam, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. Most of these groups reportedly fight against the ‘aggressor’ i.e. Nato/Isaf forces.
After a suicide attack at its Khajori post and an ambush on a convoy in which troops were martyred, Army’s swift, fierce and disproportionate reaction allegedly, caused, heavy civilian casualties in Mirali area of the NWA. “It’s better to go out and die fighting than to take casualties sitting inside our camps,” said an army officer deployed in the area. However, this ‘response’ must be proportionate, well-calculated, rightly-cogitated and with precision to avoid collateral damage. This is what happened in the case in point. The locals who had been supporting the military operation, harshly protested against the civilian fatalities occurred during this operation.
As the Nawaz government seems to have fully braced itself with the idea of ‘talks’ despite several flat refusals from militants — an appreciable stance as this policy would ultimately minimize space for the militants to gain popular support — a full-fledged military operation in NWA, for the time being, appears unlikely. However, it doesn’t mean that army should not retaliate when its troops are targeted, but the nature and magnitude of the retaliatory strikes should be contemplated. In the NWA, a strategy backed by a clear and well-assessed policy is inevitable to achieve long-term objectives of the maintenance of ‘lasting peace’. So, an intelligence-based, low-intensity selective counter-guerrilla operation could be among the options. Parallel to it, there must be psyops, counter-propaganda and some tangible developmental projects, being the essential steps towards winning of the ‘hearts and minds’ of the local populace.
For successful counter-guerrilla operations of the kind, the public support is a prerequisite. The history of guerrilla warfare reveals that sans popular support, routing of great powers is much likely. The guerrilla insurgents’ first and foremost effort in such conflicts is to isolate the army so as to turn public sympathies in their favour. They resort to such tactics which “may provoke the ‘enemy’ into a brutal, excessively destructive response which will both anger their own supporters and increase support for the guerrillas, ultimately compelling the enemy to withdraw,” noted Mao Zedong, the supreme leader of Chinese guerrilla revolutionaries. This tactic was rightly and timely applied in the recent attack on the Army post.
At a time when Nato-Isaf forces drawdown is already underway and the Taliban are likely to have their share in the future of Afghanistan, would the annoyance of these groups be in the long-term interests for Pakistan? Absolutely not!
Then the view, engineered and advocated by some ‘powers’ that Pakistan should now abandon its policy of good and bad Taliban in NWA, is highly conflictive to the ground realities. Presently, Pakistan is not in a position to increase the number of its enemies, especially in the morass of NWA, where the pro-state elements are already rare.
Moreover, these pro-Pakistan forces have been assisting the armed forces in ousting foreigners from the area and have also been observing the peace deal in letter and spirit. Furthermore, at a time when Nato-Isaf forces drawdown is already underway and the Taliban are likely to have their share in the future of Afghanistan, would the annoyance of these groups be in the long-term interests for Pakistan? Absolutely not! So the operation, if inevitable, must be selective, with acute precision, guided by beforehand espionage and counter-espionage operations. A prolonged war would be in the interest of militants and would also increase the cost of conflict for the state.
To achieve timely results from this whole exercise, the strategy as well as the tactics to be applied in NWA must be in a delicate conformity with the long-term strategic objectives set by state. The major problem is the armed forces lack skills and training to fight unconventional war, including counter-insurgency/guerilla operations. This appears to be the major reason of army using artillery guns and gunship choppers in the populated areas of Fata. This obviously results either in the deaths of non-combatants or the displacement of local population in case they would be relocated before assault. A meticulous strategic prudence is imperative to the use of violence in the area where chances of severe public backlash are quite obvious. Then the proper study of features/factors like their culture, terrain, tribal system etc., is of utmost importance.
However, in principle, to go on with the long-awaited peace talks in order to carve out some political solution to the problem is highly recommended along with deferring the use of force to the maximum extent. This could be a durable solution, but if the militants don’t show inclination towards negotiations, there must be contingency plans at hand to achieve enduring peace and stability in the country.
The writer is an investigative journalist.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.