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CIA'S PREDATOR PLANE KILLS NEK MUHAMMAD?

Paper No. 1034
By B.Raman

The Pakistan Army has claimed to have killed Nek Muhammad, 27, a prominent tribal leader of South Waziristan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, in a precision missile attack on his hide-out near Wana, the capital town of South Waziristan, on the night of June 17. Three of his close associates and two young children were also killed.

2. The Pakistani Army and Air Force had undertaken three joint operations in this area since October last year, in a bid to smoke out and kill the dregs of Al Qaeda and the Taliban who, according to the Pakistan Army, have taken shelter in this area with the complicity of five local tribal leaders. Apart from Nek Muhammad, the other four are Sharif Khan, his brother Nur Islam, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Maulana Muhammad Abbas.

3. A very large number of tribal followers of these leaders, shouting anti-Army, anti-US and anti-Musharraf slogans, attended the funeral, but there were no violent incidents.

4. The first two operations of October and March last ended in a fiasco for the Army. The operations of March were particularly embarrassing because 12 Army officers, including an unidentified  Brigadier, refused to fight against the tribals. They said that the Pakistan Army was meant to fight against the Indians, the Americans and the Jewish people and not against their own people. They also refused to take orders from a small detachment of officers of the US Army, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) attached to the Pakistani security forces deployed in South Waziristan.

5. The Islamic fundamentalist and jihadi organisations of Pakistan and the representatives of the tribals in the National Assembly also expressed their anger and protest over the operations, which, they claimed, were being carried out to serve the US interests. In pamphlets widely distributed  in military barracks, the Hizbut Tahrir (HT) accused Musharraf of having forced Pakistan's Army of Islam to become  the USA's colonial army.

6. Faced with a tricky situation, Musharraf, through intermediaries, entered into peace talks with the five tribal leaders which led to a cease-fire. Under the cease-fire agreement, the Pakistan Army claimed that the tribal leaders had agreed to persuade all foreigners living in South Waziristan to register themselves with the local police. In return for this, the Army granted amnesty to  Nek Muhammad and the other four tribal leaders and their followers wanted for crime. Musharraf promised that all those registering themselves would not be arrested and handed over to the US.

7. However, the tribal leaders claimed that it was an unconditional cease-fire and denied making any such commitment on the question of registration. It was reported that the US was quite unhappy over the amnesty granted by Musharraf to the tribal leaders and over his promise not to hand over those arrested to the US.

8. Nek Muhammed and other tribal leaders were insisting that the only foreigners living in South Waziristan are the remnants of the Afghans, Chechens, Uighurs, Uzbecks and other Central Asians who had fought against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s and  who had settled down in the area, married local women and raised their own families.

9. They challenged Musharraf to produce a single Arab of Al Qaeda caught or killed by the Army in that area. Though Musharraf and his spokesmen have been claiming that during the three operations, they had killed or captured nearly a hundred dregs of Al Qaeda, till now they have not been able to produce even one of them in proof of their claims.

10. Faced with the recalcitrant tribal leaders on the one side and the US pressure on the other, the Armyn and the Air Force sent in reinforcements to the area since the beginning of this month and were planning to resume the military operations. After coming to know of the Army's plans, the tribals tried to preempt the Army's offensive on the night of June 8 by attacking a number of Army posts. After heavy fighting till June 14, the Army announced a ceasefire claiming that the dregs of Al Qaeda had been killed or captured and that the objectives of the operation had been achieved.

11.But the tribals refused to observe the cease-fire and kept attacking military posts and convoys inflicting large casualties on the Security Forces. They were also reported to have captued an undisclosed number of military personnel, including some officers of the Special Services Group (SSG), a commando unit to which Musharraf himself originally belonged.

12. Nek Muhammad, who was fond of talking, had been giving interviews on his satellite telephone from his hide-out to the BBC radio and other foreign media channels. Taking advantage of this, his hide-out was pin-pointed and a missile strike made killing him and five others.

13. While Musharraf and his spokesmen have been claiming that it was a hundred per cent Pakistani operation with no US involvement, eye-witnesses say that the missile which killed Nek  was actually fired from a plane which flew into the Wana area from Afghanistan and went back to Afghanistan after firing the missile. Sine March, there have been instances of US troops and surveillance aircraft intruding into this area from Afghanistan.After every such intrusion, Pakistan had been lodging a pro forma protest and the US offering a pro forma apology for an unintended intrusion.

14. Well-informed sources in the para-military forces and Police deployed in the area say that Nek was actually killed by a missile fired from a Predator plane of the CIA.

15. While the death of Nek is definitely a big tactical success of the moment for Musharraf and the Pakistani and US armies, it is unlikely to lead to a strategic victory. On the contrary, it is likely to make the ground situation worse.

16. Next to Pakistani Punjab and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan, the FATA contributes  the largest number of recruits to the Pakistan Army and practically every family in the area has a retired or serving relative in the Armed Forces. The consequences of their anger would be unpredictable ---for Musharraf as well as for the US.

17. Pakistan is slowly, but steadily degenerating into another Iraq with ant-US local resistance groups and terrorist elements forming innumerable autonomous groups, which have been operating for the present in FATA and Karachi. It is only a question of time before their activities spread  to other areas. (19-6-04)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-mail: corde@vsnl.com )

 

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