Exclusive for the Daily Outlook Afghanistan
North Waziristan is the epicenter of militant activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Dozens of splinter groups of Taliban simultaneously rule 4707 km2 area of the agency. Pakistan army has permanent and stable control over less than 1% of total area of North Waziristan despite the fact six brigades of army are scattered across the length and breadth of the region.
United States has long eyed this region. Do more rhetoric is in fact an indirect demand for operation in North Waziristan.
This agency is perceived to be the chamber of insurgent activities against NATO forces in Afghanistan. Therefore, at the conclusion speech of AfPak strategy during last December, President Obama clearly hinted towards the possibility of NATO led operation in North Waziristan. Even if Obama's indication is not translated literally, it manifests the significance of the area. Osama episode has further shifted the focus over the agency. Pakistan is under more pressure to expand its control over North Waziristan that if tried, may result into a head to head fight with the militants, many of whom avoid entanglements with Pakistani security forces right now i.e Gul Bahadur, Haqqani etc.
Topographically, North Waziristan is mainly a land of rugged mountains excluding the bordering region that separates North Waziristan from South Waziristan. Tochi River is the main geographical feature that dissects North Waziristan into two parts. Northward from Tochi and Southward from Tochi. Mountainous altitude increases as one proceeds from central North Waziristan to the bordering areas of the agency except eastward side that adjoins Bannu.
Majority of the Population resides alongside the banks of Tochi river and its tributaries. Although there are numerous tribes in North Waziristan i.e Daurs, Gurbaz, Syeds and etc however, Uthmanzai Wazirs constitute the major chunk of population and they have a history of resistance. Miranshah is the largest population settlement of North Waziristan and also the head quarter of Pakistan army division in the agency. Khost is the nearest Afghan town located at a 41 km air distance from Miranshah while nearest Pakistani city Bannu is located at an air distance of 50 km. Three major roads ensue from Miranshah that connect it with main towns of Khost, Mir Ali, Bannu, Razmak, Boya, Ghazlamai, Data Khel and Dwa Toi.
There are three broad categories of Taliban or militant splinter groups; anti-America, anti-Pakistan and ransom-mafia. Ransom-mafia is not motivated by religious fervor therefore it is localized and less significant. However, anti-America and anti-Pakistan umbrellas are the real source of concern for us.
Anti-American Taliban are headed by Gul Bahadur and Jalal-ud-Din Haqqani network. Hafiz Gul Bahadur is Madda Khel Wazir and a descendant of Faqir of Ipi. He has soft corner for Pakistan. That is why he distanced himself from Mehsud-led Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP), when the later started to attack Pakistani security forces and civilians. In the wake of this separation in 2008, he formed his own Waziri alliance and made Molvi Nazir, an Ahmadzai Wazir, as its deputy. Gul Bahadur's softness towards Pakistani security forces is also depicted from the fact that he signed a peace agreement with Pakistan Army in 2006 to avoid confrontation with the later. Similarly, during 2008 operation in Razmak, Gul Bahadur refused to co-ordinate with TTP. At the moment, Gul Bahadur and Haqqani network jointly work and attack NATO forces in Afghanistan. They frequently communicate and collaborate with the Taliban groups based and fighting in Afghanistan.
Haqqani basically belongs to Jadran tribe of Paktia province of Afghanistan. However, he is believed to command his group's activities from Miranshah and its surroundings. Anti-American groups of Gul Bahadur and Haqqani carry out their activities in Afghanistan and use North Waziristan as rear. Strategically, this group is stationed in more vulnerable areas of North Waziristan i.e. Mir Ali, Miranshah and Data Khel. In fact, these places are surrounded by dry mountains of less altitude. Therefore, it is easy for CIA to monitor their movement and attack them through drone strikes.
Contrary to this, anti-Pakistan group TTP centre, led by Mehsud, is located in quite tough terrain having a dense vegetation cover i.e. westward side of Razmak; Pash Ziarat, Gurbaz, Dwa Toi, Mana, Razin. This is the buffer zone between South Waziristan and North Waziristan. Climate is extremely cold. Altitude is more than 7 thousand feet. TTP men regularly confront Pakistani security forces in this area. The group is currently led by Hakeem Ullah Mehsud. TTP has agenda against government of Pakistan. It, time and again, manifests its rage against the government through indiscriminate suicide bombings inside Pakistani main heartlands. TTP has significant recruits from Punjab based sectarian organizations also called Punjabi Taliban. It has proved to be extremely lethal for Pakistan. Almost, clues to all terrorism incidents in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi are eventually traced to the TTP.
From Pakistani perspective, the Operation Rah-e-Nijat was aimed at dismantling TTP network and bases in South Waziristan. The strategy was good but the operation was to be carried out in as possible as short span of time. In this short operation, the TTP bases in South Waziristan were destroyed but they had new avenues to settle in.
Now both categories of Taliban exist in Waziristan. However, the CIA is very selective in targeting Taliban. Most of drone strikes are carried out in North Waziristan where Gul Bahadur and Haqqani networks have their base lines. Paradoxically, anti-Pakistan TTP is spared by US drone strikes. Aims of US policy are very much clear from this strategy.
This is why, the US administration put pressure on Pakistan to initiate a military operation in North Waziristan. Americans call it safe heaven or terrorist sanctuary.
Pakistani Army knows that prolonged low intensity warfare eventually proves to be counter-productive, creates more doubts and resolves fewer troubles. They also know that, it is not anyway suggestible to launch an operation in North Waziristan. Public opposition aside, from military and strategic perspective, operation in North Waziristan is not a viable option.
First of all there is already strong resentment among the local masses against the Government. Although, they are unhappy with Taliban, Pakistani government, after fate, is only legitimate resort to which they can complain. Second, topography of North Waziristan demands heavy budget, time and army personnel for an operation.
Third, mass migration in the wake of operation in the agency will destabilize the neighboring settle districts of KPK, Bannu and other areas. Furthermore, to fight a non-conventional force is different from fighting a conventional force. There is no test to identify when a normal person becomes a Taliban and vice versa. To conclude, Pak officials understand the cost of an operation in North Waziristan. There is need to address the problem in alternative ways. Pakistan should give priority to its concerns.