Pakistan: Returning Scourge In North Waziristan – Analysis
By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
On July 6, 2022, an Army soldier, Sepoy Waheed Khan (23), a resident of Nowshera District, was killed during an exchange of fire with terrorists in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
On July 3, 2022, one terrorist was killed during an exchange of fire in North Waziristan District, when a group of terrorists from Afghanistan attempted to break the border fence near the Kanjeera and Wargar Sar military posts. One trooper, identified as Saqib, suffered injuries in the encounter.
On July 2, 2022, at least three terrorists were killed in an intelligence-based operation (IBO) in the general area of Ghulam Khan Kalay in North Waziristan District. The Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said, the “killed terrorists remained actively involved in terrorist activities against security forces”. Arms and ammunition were seized from the slain terrorists.
On June 26, 2022, seven terrorists and two soldiers were killed during an exchange of fire in the Ghulam Khan Kalle area of North Waziristan District.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), North Waziristan has recorded a total of 102 fatalities (six civilians, 34 Security Force, SF personnel and 62 terrorists) in terrorism-related violence in 2022, thus far (data till July 10, 2022). During the corresponding period of 2021, there were 63 such fatalities, including nine civilians, 18 SF personnel and 36 terrorists. In the remaining period of 2021, another 43 fatalities, including three civilians, 22 SF personnel and 18 terrorists, were recorded in the district. Thus, a total of 106 fatalities, including 12 civilians, 40 SF personnel and 54 terrorists, were recorded through 2021.
The 62 per cent surge in terrorism related violence in the first six months and eight days of 2022, in comparison to the corresponding period of the previous year is a matter of grave concern, particularly in view of the region’s violent past.
North Waziristan District falls under the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, once described as the “most dangerous place in the world.” North Waziristan was one among the seven Agencies of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA]. On May 31, 2018, FATA was merged with the KP Province and its status was changed from Agency to District, as was the case with the other six erstwhile Agencies. North Waziristan shares borders with Bannu, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan and Kurram Districts of KP in the North and Northeast; Sherani and Musakhel Districts of Balochistan to the south; and Khost, Paktia, and Paktika Provinces of Afghanistan to the west and north-west. Its strategically central and vulnerable location gives it tremendous importance for the terrorists.
Since March 6, 2000, when SATP commenced compiling data on conflicts in Pakistan, and till May 30, 2018, when it was still an Agency in FATA, North Waziristan recorded a total of 7,128 fatalities [827 civilians, 686 SF personnel, 5,365 terrorists and 250 not-specified (NS)]. Since May 31, 2018, North Waziristan has recorded another 415 fatalities, including 38 civilians, 170 SF personnel, and 207 terrorists.
Terrorism in the region was at its peak between 2005 and early 2014. In this over-nine-year period, the region accounted for 800 civilian fatalities out of a total of 838 recorded since March 6, 2000. Further, out of a total of 942 SF fatalities recorded in the region between March 6, 2000, and July 10, 2022, 656, i.e., 70 per cent, were recorded between 2005 and early 2014 alone.
Things changed with the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb (Sword of the Prophet), on June 15, 2014, in the aftermath of the attack on the Jinnah International Airport, Karachi, on June 8-9, 2014. At least 33 persons, including all 10 attackers, were killed in the Karachi Airport attack, with TTP claiming responsibility.
Zarb-e-Azb officially ended on April 18, 2016. On June 15, 2016, the then Director General (DG) of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Lieutenant-General Asim Saleem Bajwa, disclosed,
Before Zarb-e-Azb, the country, including North Waziristan was plagued with terrorism. 490 soldiers of the Pakistan Army have died in the line of duty during Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Over a period of two years, an area of 3,600 square kilometres in North Waziristan has been cleared of terrorists. A total of 3,500 terrorists, including 900 Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) were killed, leaving 992 hideouts destroyed. Army successfully seized 253 tons of explosives – enough to make IEDs from for at least 15 years (sic).
After, the end of Zarb-e-Azb, the Pakistan military lunched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad (Elimination of Discord) on February 22, 2017, across the country. Since then, another 303 terrorists have been killed in North Waziristan (data till July 10, 2022). The operation is still continuing. 271 SF personnel have also been killed in this period in North Waziristan.
Due to continuous operations in North Waziristan, terrorists shifted across the border to Afghanistan. After the start of operation Zarb-e-Azb on June 15, 2014, a July 7, 2014, report claimed that up to 80 per cent of terrorists fled after rumours of an Army assault emerged in early May, most over the porous border into Afghanistan. Similarly, after the launch of Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad on February 22, 2017, a March 8, 2017, report also confirmed that many terrorists managed to escape, slipping across the border to eastern Afghanistan.
As the Taliban started making deep inroads in Afghanistan in 2020, the terrorists who had escaped to Afghanistan received increasing support, regrouped, and started returning to Pakistan. Journalist Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, covering KP for The New York Times, observed, on August 3, 2020,
Fear has engulfed South and North Waziristan tribal districts with a rampant influx of terrorists in the area in recent months. Packs of Taliban fighters have been sneaking into Pakistan’s north-western region from hideouts just across the Afghan border. Pakistani officials and local residents worry that the American withdrawal from Afghanistan following a peace deal signed by the US and Taliban in February will further embolden the Pakistani Taliban’s return to the region.
The security situation has worsened after the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, with a surge in attacks in North Waziristan. According to partial data compiled by SATP, 139 persons (nine civilians, 52 SF personnel and 78 terrorists) have been killed in 60 terrorism-related incidents in Pakistan in the 328 days between August 16, 2021, and July 10, 2022. In the preceding 326 days (between August 14, 2021, and September 20, 2020) there were 95 fatalities (18 civilians, 31 SF personnel and 46 terrorists) in 36 terrorism related incidents.
On April 28, 2022, KP Inspector General of Police (IGP) Moazzam Jan Ansari observed that terrorists were infiltrating from Afghanistan into the tribal Districts, to carry out attacks. He said that such incidents had taken place in Bajaur, as well as the North and South Waziristan Districts. IGP Ansari added that, on the Pakistani side, kinetic action was being taken against terrorists; however, the issues emanating from across the border needed to be taken up with Afghan authorities as, “We are facing problems from other side of the border.”
Despite the ongoing peace-talks in Kabul, between the Pakistan Government and TTP, facilitated by the Afghan Taliban, the violence in North Waziristan continues. If the violence remains unchecked, this region may rapidly spiral into escalating violence reminiscent of the 2005-14 period.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management