Kunar-Nuristansanctuaries disturbing peace on western border
Asif Haroon Raja
The US obsession for North Waziristan (NW) started in early2010. It was described as the major problem area for the ISAF where supposedly theentire leadership of al-Qaeda including Osama bin Laden (OBL) was headquarteredand involved in cross border terrorism. After the emasculation of al-Qaeda anddeath of OBL, threat perception suddenly shifted towards Haqqani Network (HN).It was alleged that HN conducted cross border attacks on ISAF from its sanctuariesin NW. For Pakistan, NW is not the only battleground to contend with, but thereare several other regions hotter than NW. Of all the battlegrounds,
SouthWaziristan (SW) followed by Swat were the toughest since these places apartfrom terrain frictions, had tens of long secret tunnels laden with arms,ammunition, explosives, mines, first aid kit etc. Even suicide jacket and IEDmanufacturing factories were in operation in some of the tunnels. Wirelesscommunication sets were superior to the ones in use of Army units. Camouflagedtunnels and caves, wholly safe from aerial and ground fire including heavyartillery, also acted as resting areas for the militants as well as trainingareas for the young recruits.
In Swat, hundreds of suicide bombers were lined up to destroyapproaching tanks, APCs and gun towers. IEDS were spread around strongholds andapproaches. Each region had escape and reinforcement routes to/fromAfghanistan. Terrorized non-fighting locals of the area who didn’t vacate theirhouses acted as human shields as well as informers for the militants. With bagsfull of dollars, their morale and motivation level was high. They had beenfighting security forces since 2003 and had gained sufficient proficiency infighting guerrilla war. Baitullah followed by Hakimullah and Fazlullah struckterror by kidnapping and beheading captives.
Swat and SW had been fortified with the massive assistanceand guidance of foreign agencies with a view to pin down and then destroy sizeableportion of attacking forces and thus forcing GHQ to shift additional troopsfrom eastern border at the cost of losing strategic balance against India.Militants under Maulvi Faqir in Bajaur had also been well equipped and promisedcontinued manpower reinforcement from Kunar in case the going got rough.Baitullah and his Shura members, his successor Hakimullah and his Shura,Fazlullah and Maulana Sufi and their Shura, Faqir and his Shura were neverdeclared dangerous. Baitullah was the only one killed by a drone in August 2009when he started giving anti-American statements and took responsibility of aterrorist attack in New York and also didn’t send his suicide bombers insupport of beleaguered Fazlullah. No drone was ever fired on any prominent memberof TTP. Fazlullah and Faqir are nowoperating from Kunar with full support provided by Afghanistan after theirbases were uprooted from Swat and Bajaur. Abdul Wali from Mehmand has alsojoined them.
The three strongest regions as well as Buner, Lower and UpperDir and Shangla were captured with such lightening speed and efficiency that itastounded all and sundry. Back of the TTP was virtually broken that had becomea dreaded force and had gained an upper edge over the security forces and wasgradually gaining more and more space. Involvement of foreign hands wasestablished after finding hundreds of Indian, American and Israeli madeweapons, tons of ammunition, mines, explosives and other war materials. Theseincluded M1, M4 and telescopic sniper rifles with 1.5 km range. Severaluncircumcised Hindu RAW agents pretending as Muslim Taliban and Masjid Imamswere arrested.
The momentum gained was kept up to keep the militantsdisarrayed and on the run. Smaller operations were also launched in othertroubled agencies of FATA to disallow TTP to re-establish its base elsewhere.Orakzai, Kurram and Mehmand Agencies offered stiff resistance and even nowMamozai subdivision of Orakzai where Hakimullah and his Shura are probablyhiding is under siege of security forces.
All these successes might not have been achieved if GenKayani had not made some revolutionary changes in training tactics soon aftertaking over. As commander 10 Corps and DG ISI during Gen Musharraf’s stint, hehad taken note of the dynamics of war on terror. He wisely did away with normaltraining cycles and introduced low intensity warfare training for Army units suitingoperational environment. He astutely promoted and posted senior officers to warzones based on their field expertise and leadership qualities. Grant of extraordinary welfare package to lower ranks and to families of Shuhada and hisfrequent visits to most troubled sites boosted the morale of all ranks. Theseand many more changes helped in turning the tide. His image shot up internationallyafter his insightful presentation to the US-NATO commanders at Brussels in 2010in which he highlighted his concept of capture, hold, build and transfer.
The US military and NATO on the other hand boasting to beunbeatable had been facing repeated reversals on all fronts in Afghanistan evenafter two troop surges of 30,000 US troops and expansion of Afghan NationalArmy (ANA). Finding no explanation to offer for their dismal performancedespite enjoying all the strategic and technical advantages, instead oflearning from history and putting their own house in order and introducing someinnovative training concepts matching the challenges faced as had been done byGen Kayani, Gen McChrystal followed by Gen Petraeus kept fighting guerrilla waron conventional lines and blamed Pakistan for their failures. Petraeus insistedthat unless NW was cleared, he couldn’t undertake an offensive in Kandahar, norcould he make any progress in Afghanistan.
Pakistan was asked to shift bulk of its troops from easternborder to western border since in Washington’s cockeyed perception; Indiadidn’t pose any threat to Pakistan’s security. Pakistan Army’s difficultiesthat it had already stretched to its limits and was deeply engaged inconsolidating its gains in captured areas, and was striving to rebuild war tornregions and then transferring to civil administration were ignored. Even GenJohn Allen is following in the footsteps of his predecessors.
Pitiless Fazlullah, famous for his FM radio talks, whichcouldn’t be jammed because of high tech transmitter provided by Israel, is nowoperating from Kunar and Nuristan, which have become the biggest sanctuariesfor runaway terrorists from Pakistan. His men fully patronized by RAAM and RAWhave been provided houses, funds and equipment as well as training facilitiesand are regularly launched since early 2011 to recreate unrest in Mehmand,Bajaur and Dir and also to disturb the peace of Chitral. Notorious FM radio hasbecome functional in Bajaur. The Army had to dispatch additional troops to beefup paramilitary forces and put an end to cross border terrorism. It was as aresult of effective counter measures to block the main infiltration route fromKunar into Mehmand Agency that the US military launched an unprovokedhelicopter attack on two border posts at Salala on 26 November 2011 martyring24 soldiers.
Fazlullah’s militants have become a cause of serious concernfor Pakistan since they are hell bent to disturb the peace along western border.From June 2011 till today, they have martyred 115 security men and civilians inDir-Chitral. Of these, 17 soldiers were beheaded including 11 in captivity.Pakistan has lodged strong protests and also stepped up retaliatory acts. Inthe last few days 34 militants including TTP spokesman Mullah Mansoor have beenkilled. Kunar and Nuristan sanctuaries are heating up western border. Gen Allenwho made two quick visits to Pakistan was firmly conveyed to put an end tocross border terrorism. Instead of taking counter measures, Karzai regimethreatened to move UNSC if Pakistan didn’t stop shelling of its villages. Washingtonhowever remained focused on reopening of supply lines and kept applyingpressure and ultimately succeeded in cowing down the government.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.Email:email@example.com