View Full Version : Update on the Forgotten War

05-18-2004, 09:38 PM
Pakistan: After the hammer, now the screws
By Syed Saleem Shahzad

KARACHI - The "Hammer and Anvil" operation was designed by the United States to trap foreign and Afghan fighters between US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan troops across the border.

It proved a failure, with the recent high-profile deployment of the Pakistani army in the South Waziristan tribal area failing to send anyone of note scuttling from their sanctuaries into waiting US arms.

Indeed, the Pakistani army had to back off after sustaining heavy casualties from angered tribals, and a ceasefire was negotiated under which tribal elders promised to "register" foreigners, who would in turn be allowed to stay in the tribal area provided that they promised not to engage in resistance activities. This was widely perceived as a ploy.

The US was understandably not satisfied with this outcome, let alone that no foreigners have bothered to take advantage of the "amnesty", and it exerted more pressure on its "trusted ally" in the "war on terror" to do better.

So now there is plan B, in terms of which the US military, like the tribals, will treat the artificially created Durand Line that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan more as an inconvenience than as a legal barrier. At the same time, the Pakistan army is reported to be mobilizing for another military excursion into the tribal areas. And it, too, will cross the border as it sees fit.

On Monday, according to tribal sources who spoke to Asia Times Online, US forces intruded into North Waziristan, resulting in the death of two tribals in a skirmish.

Prior to this, there have been reports of US forces crossing over to villages in the Datakhail area, and a tribal chief by the name of Malik Noor Khan was arrested in the Bacha Mela area (North Waziristan) . He is being interrogated in connection with the whereabouts of Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani - a former Taliban minister and now a key resistance figure - and other foreign fighters. According to sources in North Waziristan, Pakistani Army and paramilitary forces turned a blind eye to the US patrols, which returned to Afghanistan of their own accord.

The Pentagon has acknowledged that it will engage in "hot pursuit" raids across the border, but Pakistani authorities, sensitive to local concerns, have routinely denied that they have given approval for such incursions. They have even gone so far as to lodge official complaints when cross-border raids have taken place.

Once more into the breech
Fresh contingents of Pakistani armed forces have been sent to Wana (South Waziristan), Miranshah (North Waziristan) and Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan in North West Frontier Province, but officials close to the military say they fear they are "walking into a death trap". About 20,000 troops were deployed for the South Waziristan operation.

The official figure for causalities in the South Waziristan operation is 50 soldiers killed, but conversations with tribals in the area - even allowing for exaggeration - indicate that this figure could be 10 times higher. In addition, several officers and a number of soldiers refused to fight against the tribals.

Stories abound of Pakistani officials being kidnapped, although the government has only confirmed 12. Scores were released after negotiations. There is also the story of Lieutenant-Colonel Azam Cheema and his unit, which was hushed up in the media. They were captured when they tried to attack some insurgents, and all were roughed up and humiliated while in detention. They were freed after long negotiations.

In an effort to delay the military from starting a new campaign, a 4,000-strong tribal lashkar (militia) was due to start operations in South Waziristan on Wednesday to capture foreign nationals - mainly from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Chechnya and some Arab countries - and have them register or face expulsion from the country.

Syed Mehmood Shah, the secretary of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, the collective name for Pakistan's seven tribal areas, said on Monday that if the lashkar failed to produce results, then Pakistani forces would move into action.

The militia initiative appears doomed, though. The semi-autonomous tribals resent what they see as interference by the military in their affairs, and there is strong support for the Afghan resistance movement, including Pashtuns and foreigners. Members of the lashkar are unlikely to have the stomach to take on their tribal comrades in serious combat.

From the time the resistance against US-led forces in Afghanistan started in late 2001, the ousted Taliban leadership had to decide where they could establish the nucleus of their operations without fear of being hounded by either the US or Pakistan. They settled on the mountainous terrain starting in Argun in Afghanistan and stretching to Razmak in Pakistan (the whole belt on both side of the divide is populated with Wazir tribes). On the Afghan side the area is known as the Shawal, a barren, uninhabited no-man's land, while on the Pakistan side (which also includes an area called the Shawal) the mountains are settled by sympathetic tribals.

In this region, the nucleus - commanders of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-i-Islami, al-Qaeda and the Taliban - have met to thrash out coordinated strategies for the resistance in Afghanistan. Beyond rounding up foreign fighters of limited strategic or intelligence use, it is these "high value targets" that the US would dearly like to round up.

To an extent, the US has been successful, as the nucleus has been forced to split and can no longer gather with impunity. According to tribal leaders Asia Times Online has spoken to, this has had an effect on the central leadership of the resistance, and one of its major problems today is a lack of an overall coordinated strategy as field commanders have been isolated from the leadership.

Nevertheless, the US wants to catch or wipe out the resistance leadership completely, hence the leaning on Pakistan for a new operation in the tribal areas, where the mood is tense and defiant.

Already, one tribal leader, Nek Mohammed, a former Taliban commander (of Pakistani origin) has warned the Pakistan Army that if it wants to fight, the tribals are ready.

And 70 clerics in Islamabad have put their names to a ruling that any Pakistani soldiers killed while fighting tribals would go to hell, while tribals dying fighting against the army would go to paradise. This has gathered pace, with more than 3,000 clerics having added their names.

This correspondent also has personally seen a letter written in Arabic by a "high value target", Tahir Yuldevish of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, thanking the clerics for their support in issuing the ruling.

The stage is set, then for another showdown in the tribal areas, with the likelihood that this one will be even more bloody and more widespread than the first one in South Waziristan - according to Asia Times Online sources, the command of the new battle is in the hands of an Arab fighter named Abu Lais, and this time hi-tech and heavy ammunition will be used. The Pakistani army has been put on notice.