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Pakistan: The North Waziristan Operations: Some Observations

Paper No. 5807                 Dated 20-Oct-2014

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

With the visit of Nawaz Sharif along with his Army Chief to Miramshah on 9th October, it is said that operation Zarb-e-Azb is almost coming to an end. The PM was informed that 80 percent of the area has been cleared.

Top military commanders claimed that the militants who had run away will not be allowed to regroup and return to the NWA. ( North Waziristan Agency)

Figures as provided by Pak Army:

With no independent ones available, the official sources claim that over 1000 terrorists were killed while the army’s casualties are said to be 86. Other official figures given out were that 88 hideouts and 15 IED factories of the terrorists were destroyed with over 23 tons of explosives and scores of weapons confiscated in the ground sweep carried out by the troops.

In the absence of any major confrontation by the fleeing militants, the casualty figures of 88 deaths of Pak Security Foces appear to be high but it is claimed that these were the result of roadside bombs and snipers.

What has been hidden from the public was the enormous civilian casualties that must have mounted to thousands when the initial operations were carried out mainly by aerial bombing and strafing by Helicopter Gunships. The ground sweep operations formally began almost a fortnight after incessant bombardment from the air.

Another figure that is not being mentioned is that a million civilians have been displaced from the area and many of them moved over to Bannu and nearby areas but there are reports to indicate that most of them had crossed over to the neighbouring provinces in Afghanistan.

The media had variously described the operations as a "battle of national survival" to eliminate TTP and its allied groups. One Analyst of the Institute of Strategic Studies of Islamabad described the operation as not a military one but a symbol of "national resistance against terrorism and religious extremism" in the Agency.

Nice words indeed to emanate from Islamabad but the action on the ground appears to have been on the so called "bad taliban" while giving enough time and help to the "friendlies" to escape from the area!

Operations Began on 21st May itself:

The operations in North Waziristan began in right earnest but informally from 21st May onwards, when fighter jets, helicopters carried out extensive strikes in and around Miramshah and Mir Ali. Even artillery was used. (Pakistan is one of the few countries that bombs its own people!)

It is not clear whether the Pak Army carried out the strikes with the knowledge and approval Nawaz Sharif and his Home Minster as they were still trying to continue their efforts for a dialogue with the TTP. The air strafing continued the next day and beyond, thus closing once and for all the efforts of the civilian administration to continue the dialogue.

Only after the TTP attack on the Karachi airport did the army give an official code name to the operations on the 15th of June as Zarb-e-Azb and maintained that it was a coordinated operation involving air force, artillery, tanks and thousands of troops.

While initial estimates placed the strength of ground troops as 30,000, there are reliable reports that indicate involvement of over 50,000 troops.

Justifying the operations, The Inter Services Public relations (ISPR) headed by Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa said -" Using North Waziristan as a base, these terrorists had waged war against the State of Pakistan and had been disrupting our normal life in all its dimensions, stunting our growth and causing enormous life and property."

The Target was the TTP:

Though North Waziristan was the hub of many foreign and local militant groups, it looks that the Operation was shown to be aimed purely at the foreign elements of the TTP. This is clear from the fact that while casualties must have occurred amongst many groups excluding the Haqqanis, official press releases were careful to mention about the foreign militants only. NWA was home to Al Qaeda, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkistan Islamic Movement of China, Afghan Haqqani network, the Tehreeh-e- Taliban (TTP), Hafiz Gul Bahadur Group to local Utmanzai and Wazir Militant Group.

This view is further strengthened by the fact that the Pakistan Army requested its counterparts of Afghan National Army and Afghan Border Police to eliminate the TTP and destroy its sanctuaries in Kunar, Nuristan and other areas of Afghanistan. Islamabad strongly protested over the presence of TTP chief Fazlullah operating out of Kunar province and Afghan forces giving shelter to him.

In fact initially, the Pak Army also accused the US led INSAF of not sealing the border effectively to prevent the terrorists from crossing over the border. But the US did help in the operations in two drone strikes on 11th and 18th June of which the second one was aimed at a TTP cluster. It is said that 4 Uzbecks and 2 Punjabi Taliban were killed in the attack. There were some civilian casualties too in the drone attacks.

Taliban Offensive in Afghanistan related to Zarb-e-Azb:

In the beginning of the operations, the Pak Army was very considerate towards their Afghan counterparts but the relations turned sour when they realised that Afghanistan is not going to oblige them by handing over Fazlullah the chief of TTP.  . On 27th June Gen. Bajwa said that Afghanistan had been requested to take action against terrorist outfits in Kunar and Nuristan but so far no action has been taken.

An Officer of the Pakistan Army said "We might have committed mistakes in the past but it is time to move and look towards the future- so far there has been no response on the TTP sanctuaries (emphasis added). Two Afghan delegations did visit Pakistan and one of them was led by the DGMO of Afghan Army.

It was no coincidence either that the Taliban in Afghanistan mounted a major offensive from 21st June in the Helmand Province in the districts of Sangin, Kajaki, MosaQala and Nowzad. This offensive was the most significant and coordinated assault on Police Posts and Government facilities across seven districts in years. The offensive is still continuing with significant losses to the Afghan Security Forces.

The Chief of Army Staff Shir Mohammed Karim openly accused the Pak military in supporting the attacks.

Dr. Dadfar Spanta, the NSA of Afghanistan claimed that Pakistani Forces had direct links in the deadly attacks in southern Helmand Province.

It is one of way of Pakistan putting pressure and punish Afghanistan for providing sanctuaries to the TTP in Afghanistan. This also shows the influence Pakistan will have and continue to have in Afghanistan even after the US withdraws from the scene.

Assessment:

1. It is best to begin with the assessment given by the Daily Times of October 9, 2014. The points mentioned are very relevant and telling but Pakistan is not seen to be learning a lesson still.

* For long Pakistan has tangled itself in the dichotomy of the good and bad Taliban. Those we nurtured to keep a toehold in both Afghanistan ( read Haqqani network) and Kashmir became strategic assets. These are the blue eyed boys who have been spared the rod in spite of their dirty deeds.

* Most of the Taliban had fled before the operations and therefore are skeptical about the results of the operation.

* No recognizable militant has been killed. The Haqqanis have disappeared and Mullah Fazlullah is hiding in Afghanistan. Is it a real war or chasing once again to post some figures on the wall?

* The penchant to discriminate between good and bad terrorists has already made Pakistan a virtual Pariah state and any renewed effort would only isolate Pakistan further.

2. That Pakistan gave enough time for the militants to run away and seek sanctuaries elsewhere is now well established. The Haqqani network were the first to leave and are well ensconced in Khost and Loya Paktika provinces and they are already known to have taken part in local attacks in Afghanistan. It is a question of time before they return and establish themselves in Miramshah. It does not matter even if Pakistan is planning to keep a division level troops in NWA.

3. All that has happened is that the bee hive which had the concentration of militants of all hues has been disturbed and the bees have scattered. Many TTP cadres are said to have moved towards Karachi which has a significant Pashtun population as seen by the raids conducted by the security forces in Karachi.

4. The foreign elements particularly the Uzbecks and the Chechens have been scattered and it may take some time for them to recoup and be effective. But the Pashtun and the Punajbi components appear to be in tact and may continue to be a nuisance to the security forces.

5. The Green book of Pak Army of 2014 makes a revealing statement under the chapter "Sub continental warfare." It noted that Islamic radical groups operating from within Pakistan pose a bigger threat to the country’s security than traditional rival- India. This is true and the Pakistani security planners must be aware of this. Yet, I would best call it a temporary aberration and Pakistan is still thick in supporting and encouraging the so called good "terrorists."

 

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