Pakistan: Operation Futility In Khyber Agency – Analysis


By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

A ‘targeted operation’ was launched in Malikdinkhel area of Bara tehsil (revenue unit) in the Khyber Agency of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on October 20, 2011, leaving 34 terrorists and three paramilitary soldiers dead, as tanks moved in to quell a surge of militancy.

The ‘targeted operation’ was launched four days after Security Forces (SFs) suffered nine fatalities in a Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) attack on their convoy in the Akakhel area of Bara tehsil on October 17, 2011. 14 terrorists were killed in retaliatory fire by the SFs.


The Khyber Agency, which borders Afghanistan to the east, the Orakzai Agency to the south, Mohmand Agency to the North and Peshawar District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province to the East, has emerged in recent times as a centre of growing extremist activities as a result of the infiltration of runaway militants from the adjacent Agencies, where military operations were ongoing.

Operation Koh-i-Sufaid (White Mountain) was conducted in Kurram Agency between May 2, 2011, and August 17, 2011, while Operation Brekhna (Thunder) has been in progress in the Mohmand Agency since April 6, 2011.

The remote Tirah Valley in the Bara Sub-district is important for the extremists because of its difficult terrain, which makes SF operations complicated.

According to the SATP data, a total of 1,812 fatalities, including 400 civilians, 152 SFs and 1,260 militants have been recorded in the Khyber Agency since 2008 (data till October 30, 2011).

The overall fatalities in FATA during this period stand at 15,690 comprising of 2,663 civilians, 993 SFs and 12,034 militants.

Fatalities in Khyber Agency: 2008-2011












Source: SATP, *Data till October 30, 2011 .

In addition to the October 17 attack, the most significant incidents in the Khyber Agency in 2011 include:

September 18, 2011: Four Pashtun tribesmen and an FC solider were killed when Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists attacked a check post manned by pro-Government tribesman and SFs in the Akakhel area of Bara tehsil. The tribesmen and SFs retaliated, killing 10 extremists.

August 23, 2011: 10 LI militants were killed when landmines planted in a bunker by militants of the Tariq Afridi group of TTP exploded in the Tirah Valley.

August 21, 2011: Six LI militants were killed in clashes with TTP rivals in Dwa Thoe and Mehraban Kali areas of the Tirah Valley.

August 19, 2011: A TTP suicide bomber blew himself up during Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid Madina in the Ghundai area of Jamrud tehsil of the Khyber Agency, killing at least 56 persons and injuring another 123.

August 17, 2011: At least 10 suspected TTP militants were killed as two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) exploded in Tarkhokas area of Bara tehsil.

August 11, 2011: Five persons, including three women and two children, were killed and one minor was injured as a result of a landmine explosion in the house of a lashkar (tribal militia) ‘commander’ Shah Jee, in Zaka Khel village in Tirah Valley.

August 4, 2011: Five militants and a passer-by were killed when the cadres of LI and Ansar-ul-Islam (AI) clashed in a market in Mehraban Kali area of Kukikhel.

July 24, 2011: At least nine militants were killed and eight others sustained injuries in clashes between the LI and AI in Sandapal area in Tirah Valley.

May 3: Seven LI militants were killed and another two were injured in aerial firing by the SFs in the remote Bazaar Zakha Khel area near Khar Ghot in Landikotal town of Khyber Agency.

April 3: SFs killed seven LI militants in helicopter gunship shelling in the Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency.

March 28: At least 14 paramilitary troops, among them two senior officers, were killed in a militant ambush on their convoy in the Akakhel area of Bara tehsil.

Khyber’s tryst with militancy began in 2003 when a Taliban-style organization, Amar Bil Maroof Wa Nahianalmunkir (Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice), was set up by Amir Haji Namdar Khan, a local from the area, who had just returned from Saudi Arabia. The code banned and inflicted dress codes, which included head coverings for women and beards for men, through harsh reprisals, shocking many residents who had previously enjoyed a relatively relaxed religious lifestyle. Namdar established illegal FM radio stations and used the Tirah Valley area for attacks into Afghanistan, paving the way for other extremist forces to enter into the area. Namdar Khan was killed in an August 12, 2008, missile attack. TTP leader Hakeemullah Mehsud claimed responsibility for the attack.

Three major militant Islamist terrorist groups currently operate in the Khyber Agency – LI, AI and TTP. LI is the most active among these, and is presently led by warlord Mangal Bagh. It has loose ideological ties with the Afghan Taliban, but operates independently. Malikdinkhel, Sipah, Akakhel and Qambarkhel areas are regarded as strongholds of LI. LI was founded by the Deobandi Sunni preacher Mufti Munir Shakir, in a violent rivalry with his Barelvi adversary, Pir Saif-ur-Rahman, who went on to create the AI in the Bara Subdivision of the Khyber Agency, in 2004. Violent clashes between the two groups resulted in a large number of civilian casualties and inflicted tremendous suffering on innocents. Eventually, tribal elders expelled both Rehman and Shakir from the Khyber. AI is now led by Maulana Gazi Mehboob ul-Haq. Tariq Afridi is the head of TTP’s Khyber Agency chapter. There are several local militias also present in the region.

Regular clashes occur between these terrorist groups, each of which seeks to dominate the region. Clashes are also reported between the terrorists and armed militias that resist the movement of these groups into the area. The August 23, 2011, incident which killed 10 LI militants illustrates the pattern of turf wars in the region. The fatalities occurred when landmines planted in a bunker by militants of the Tariq Afridi group of TTP exploded. LI militants had been laying siege to the bunker for a week, cutting all supplies to more than a dozen TTP cadres holed up at the hilltop. Sources indicated the LI militants entered the bunker after receiving information that the TTP had fled the area.

Civilians have faced the brunt of these clashes for supremacy. The August 19, 2011 attack at the Jamia Masjid Madina that killed 56 persons was one the worst incidents targeting civilians. A TTP suicide bomber blew himself up during Friday prayers at the mosque in the Ghundai area of Jamrud tehsil of the Khyber Agency. The targeted mosque was located in an area inhabited by Kukikhel tribesmen, who are opposed to TTP activities, and had raised a lashkar (armed militia) in June 2010 to force the extremists out of the area. The Kukikhel tribe had earlier warned TTP, asking the group to leave the area, and had also set ablaze houses of a number of terrorist sympathisers.

To counter the surge of violence in the Khyber Agency, SFs have launched four operations in the past. On June 28, 2008, Operation Sirat Mustaqeem (Righteous Path) was launched in the Bara tehsil, following the abduction of 14 Christians from Academy Town in Peshawar by LI terrorists. The operation was halted on July 9, 2008. A second operation, codenamed Daraghlam (Here I Come), was launched in December 2008, followed by Bia Daraghlam (Here I Come Again) on September 1, 2009. The most recent, Operation Khwakh Ba de Sham (I Will Teach You a Lesson), was conducted on November 24, 2009, and had ended only on June 1, 2011. Bara Bazaar, the Agency’s business hub, has been under curfew since the beginning of the last operation.

Despite a near continuous succession of ‘operations’, the extremists continue to thrive in the Khyber Agency – as in much of the wider FATA – Khybe Pakhtunkhwa region. At best, past operations have temporarily ‘squeezed out’ the extremists into other neighbouring territories, but they quickly recover the vacated spaces as soon as military operations begin to falter. The operational capacities of the terrorist groups, despite the significant fatalities inflicted on them (these are unverified, and the Pakistan Army tends to categorize virtually all persons killed by it as ‘terrorists’ or “miscreants’), appear to remain intact. The operations also create panic among civilian populations, with at least 18,000 people having already fled their homes in the Agency in the wake of the fresh onslaught of fighting between the Army and militants. Despite the bloodshed, it remains likely that like all the preceding ‘operations’, the present ‘targeted operation’ will end up in another fiasco, with extremists moving into some other adjoining area, only to return at a later stage. As long as the establishment ambivalence to the wider enterprise of Islamist extremism and terrorism in, and sourced from, Pakistan persists, it is unlikely that any enduring gains will result from the fitful and directionless bloodshed that the Army engages in.


Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management


SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *