Pakistan: Resurgent Terror In North Waziristan – Analysis
By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty*
Two Security Force (SF) personnel were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in Laddha tehsil (revenue unit) of North Waziristan District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) on August 17, 2019.
Three SF personnel were killed and another was injured in a terrorist attack on the Malkan SF checkpost in the Razmak area of North Waziristan District on August 2, 2019.
Six Army personnel were killed when terrorists from across the Afghanistan border opened fire on a border patrolling party near the Gurbaz area of North Waziristan District on July 27, 2019. “Terrorists from across the border fire raided on Pakistan Army border patrolling party. 6 soldiers embraced shahadat,” a statement released by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) read.
One soldier was killed and five were injured in two separate bomb explosions in North Waziristan District on July 10, 2019. The first incident occurred near the Kharqamar check-post in Data Khel tehsil. Officials said that a bomb disposal squad was searching the area when a remote-controlled device went off. Four SF personnel were injured. One of the injured personnel later succumbed to his injuries.
The second blast took place near Mir Ali town when an SF vehicle hit an IED while it was on its way to the Army’s Golden Arrow School, which had been hit by a rocket.
Three Army officers and a soldier were killed in an IED explosion in the Kharqamar area of North Waziristan on June 7, 2019. An ISPR statement disclosed that four soldiers also sustained injuries.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), North Waziristan has accounted for a total of 24 SF fatalities in terrorism-related violence in 2019, thus far (data till August 18, 2019).
During the corresponding period of 2018, there were 16 such fatalities, and in 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, and 2013 there were zero, four, 21, 51, and 65 such fatalities, respectively.
North Waziristan recorded a total of 30 SF fatalities through 2018, five in 2017, four in 2016, 29 in 2015, 70 in 2014, and 88 in 2013.
After a declining trend between 2014 and 2016, there has been an evident surge in violence against SFs in North Waziristan since 2017.
On the other hand, the number of militants killed has drastically declined since 2015, with the exception of 2018.
The ratio of SFs: Militants killed, which remained in favour of SFs till 2017, was reversed for the first time in 2018, at 1.07:1 and has worsened drastically to 8:1 in 2019.
Not surprisingly, the overall situation has also deteriorated. Incidents of killing had fallen to their second lowest, at five, in 2017, but went up to 14 in 2018 and have already touched that number (14) in 2019.
The total number of violent incidents has also increased.
Militancy-related Fatalities in North Waziristan: 2000*-2019**
|Year||Incidents||Civilians||Security Forces||Militant||Not Specified (NS)||Total|
|*March 6, 2000; **August 18, 2019; Source: SATP|
North Waziristan was one among the seven Agencies of the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and was previously known as North Waziristan Agency (NWA). However, on May 31, 2018, FATA was merged with the KP Province and its status was changed from Agency to District, as was case of the other six agencies.
North Waziristan shares borders with Bannu, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan and Kurram Districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 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. The strategically central and vulnerable location gives it tremendous importance for the militants.
North Waziristan has been a hotbed of terror since violence surged within Pakistan in 2007. The District (and previous Agency) has recorded a total of 7,221 fatalities [835 civilians, 740 SF personnel, 5,396 terrorists and 250 not-specified (NS)] since March 6, 2000, when SATP commenced compiling data on Pakistan. These fatalities have been recorded in a total of 991 incidents of killing, of which 548 were ‘major incidents’ (each involving three or more fatalities). These major incidents resulted in the death of 5,962 persons (573 civilians, 566 SF personnel, 4,612 militants and 211 NS).
Things changed with the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb (Sword of the Prophet) in North Waziristan, 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 attack. On June 15, 2016, the then Director General (DG) ISPR Lieutenant-General Asim Saleem Bajwa declared at a Press Conference,
|June 15 is a historic day for us. 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).|
Though it was the epicentre of all terrorist activities, Pakistan had long delayed the operation in North Waziristan, as the region also provided shelter to its own terrorist proxy, the Haqqani Network. The Network had long been accused by the United States of attacking allied forces in Afghanistan. Significantly, in the ISPR Press Conference and a continuous succession of the agency reports, the Pakistani Army had not killed even a single terrorist drawn from the Haqqani Network, despite the group’s safe haven in North Waziristan. According to unnamed tribal sources the Haqqani Network, an affiliate of the Afghan Taliban, had been based in North Waziristan for decades, but abruptly left the area even as Operation Zarb-e-Azb commenced on June 15, allegedly tipped off by the military. Many Haqqani members shifted across the border to Afghanistan or left for other parts of Pakistan.
Meanwhile, the recent attacks on SFs in North Waziristan clearly demonstrate that the terrorists, despite their losses, retain significant capacities to strike. The worsening ratio of SFs to militants killed, underlines this reality.
Unsurprisingly, as in the past, the terrorists have started asserting their dominance by issuing threats and imposing their diktats on the people. Most recently, on July 31, 2019, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in a one-page message in Urdu seen by people in Miranshah, the North Waziristan District headquarters, warned,
|We remind you [residents] that similar statements issued by Taliban several times in the past had fallen on deaf ears, but this time we are going to take to task those who violate the Taliban order. There will be no use of DJs, neither inside the house nor in open fields and those ignoring the warning will be responsible for consequences. Polio workers have been asked to do finger-marking of children during the vaccination campaign, but told not to administer polio drops to children or be ready to face dire consequences for defying the instruction. Women shouldn’t go out of their homes alone as it is harmful for our society. There is one informer of Mujahideen in every three people and it was misconception on the part of the people to think we will not get information about non-compliance of our order. Follow the order or be ready to face worst consequences.|
The rising attacks on SF personnel in North Waziristan and the increasing stridency of extremist diktats refutes Government and Army claims of having completely sanitised the area of terrorism.
*Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management