Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What is actually going on in Pakistan's tribal areas

The Friday Times has published three articles that provide more detail on what is actually going on in Pakistan's tribal areas [$25 / year for an online subscription]. What they reveal is that, as usual, the reality is much more complex and convoluted than might be surmised from other reports. We here provide a digest of three articles from the March 30-5, 2007 issue. Collectively they suggest that the government's attempts to influence the situation in the tribal areas may be working but that much that is transpiring actually is arising from local disputes [surprise, surprise]. What the situation really means for the attempts of the Taliban to influence affairs in Afghanistan is unclear. But I think the Pakistan government sees these as positive developments.

Wazirs battling Uzbeks for control of 'motherland'
Iqbal Khattak
The Friday Times

"By all indications, the current drive against the Uzbeks seems a planned operation"
"Four days of clashing till the filing of this report last Monday had left 160 dead and hundreds of others wounded."
"Uzbek militants, supported by key commanders of slain Nek Muhammad group,have been battling a popular revolt from the Ahmedzai Wazir tribes under the leadership of Maulvi Muhammad Nazir, who enjoys the blessings of senior Taliban leaders..."
"There are two versions of what might have triggered the clashes. One version is that Maulvi Nazir demanded explanation from the Uzbeks after an Arab fighter was found dead; the second version says law and order went from bad to worse and the Uzbeks were blamed for target killings,kidnappings and car-snatching, activities that were making the Taliban look bad before the local population."
"Sources say paramilitary forces are taking part in the clashes against the Uzbeks in civvies. "
"Military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad, however, denies the army's involvement."

Who is Maulvi Nazir?
By Iqbal Khattak
The Friday Times

"Maulvi Nazir has almost popped up from nowhere. He wasn't much heard of until the last quarter of 2006 when he emerged as ameer (leader) of the pro-Taliban Wazir tribes in South Waziristan. He was ostensibly given the task of re-organising the tribal forces so they could operate more effectively against the US-NATO forces in the coming summer."
"But the Taliban ameer is facing serious threat from a local tribal commander, Haji Omar. Omar, a Taliban commander in South Waziristan, is the backer of Uzbek fighters of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other foreign militants. He is challenging the authority of Nazir and the rivalry has resulted in bloody clashes near Wana since early March."
"Nazir was on the government's most-wanted list and surrendered to the authorities in 2004. Interrogators declared him 'white' (clean and clear)and he was released in late 2004 around the time the top five commanders of the Nek Muhammad group inked a peace accord with the government in Wana."
"The Wazir population was getting increasingly impatient with the 'misbehaviour' of Uzbek militants"
"The problem for the government is that Nazir has chalked out rules of engagement that rely on selective use of violence and also forbid the militants from attacking Pakistani troops. As one senior official put it:'The good thing about the new Taliban commander is that he avoids engaging Pakistani forces. He believes attacking Pakistani security forces is akin to attacking his own people.' "
"However, while Nazir has made it easier for Pakistan army and paramilitary troops, under his command the unified splinter groups make no bones about their intention to launch attacks across the border and establish a single chain of command to increase combat effectiveness."
"Nazir's background and story evinces the difficult choices Islamabad has to make to bring moderates on its side and isolate hardliners. The plan appears to be working at the moment."

From guns to talks
By Iqbal Khattak
The Friday Times
"The idea is to alienate the renegades by increasing the costs all round and getting the local chieftains to put down the miscreants because the latter's existence threatens an arrangement that, overall, suits the tribes"
"Innovation is what you require when something is not happening in the way that you want it to happen.After 9/11 and the US attack on Afghanistan, Islamabad had to face a new problem - presence of foreign militants in the tribal lands which have never been directly ruled by Islamabad. To avoid incursions into Pakistani territory and to put down trained, armed and highly motivated militants,Pakistan inducted military and paramilitary troops in the area. The deployment was the first of its kind since 1947."
"Since then, South Waziristan has seen three major and dozens of smaller operations; there have been at least three major peace accords and the region has generally been quiet since the second was inked with commanders of pro-Taliban militant Nek Muhammad who was killed six months earlier in a guided missile attack by the military."
"The government made the local militants agree to two very important points: No presence of foreign terrorists and no cross-border movement.Yet, what is missing in the accord is a verifiable implementation mechanism to ensure that no foreigners are in the area and no one is crossing over into Afghanistan to attack US-NATO forces.The North Waziristan accord comes after the military suffered the highest casualties. "
"But efforts for peace accords did not stop and three major tribes of Bajaur - Mamoond, Utmankhel and Salarzai - pledged to not host foreign militants. They all gave an undertaking to the administration that anyone found sheltering foreigners would be fined heavily, would have his house demolished and would be sent on forced exile.'The problem with our army is that it is fighting its own people and no army can do that. Our emphasis is on resolving the issue peacefully,' a military source told TFT."

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