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US – Pakistan: Shadow Wars In North Waziristan – Analysis


By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty

US pressure on Islamabad to launch military operations to clear the North Waziristan Agency (NWA) of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has been mounting over the past months.

The Agency is the principal base area of the Haqqani Network, one of the deadliest Afghan terrorist factions fighting the Americans, ISAF and Afghan Forces in Afghanistan, and is also host to a number of other terrorist groups, including al Qaeda linked international terrorist formations.


Pakistan, however, has made it clear that no such operations would be launched ‘under pressure’. On June 9, 2011, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Kayani declared, “The Army was following a well thought-out campaign plan and is under no pressure to carry out operations at a particular time. Future operations, as and when undertaken, will be with political consensus.” On June 1, 2011, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said, “We are not fond of any military action and we want to have an exit strategy”, adding further that the Government would “take action when its writ is challenged”. Evidently, the conditions currently prevailing in do not, in this interpretation, constitute a ‘challenge’ to the Government’s writ.

Meanwhile, US drone attacks in the NWA have been steadily escalating since 2004. In 2010, according to the Pak Institute of Peace Studies’ (PIPS) Pakistan Security Report, 87 per cent of US drone strikes in Pakistan were located in the NWA. The New America Foundation, which has tracked drone strikes since 2004, found that 87 out of a total of 118 strikes (73.73 per cent) in 2010 hit targets in the NWA.

Drone Attacks in North Waziristan Agency: 2004-2011*

North Waziristan Agency
Number of Drone Strikes
Number of Drone Strikes
Source: New America Foundation’s Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative project
[*Data till June 16, 2011]

US drones have succeeded in eliminating some of the top ranking militants of the Haqqani Network in the region. Among the most notable successes was the September 14, 2010, strike in which Saifullah Haqqani, ‘military commander’ of the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan and first cousin to Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of the Network’s chief Jalaluddin Haqqani, was killed along with 11 other militants, in the Dargah Mandi area near Miranshah area of NWA. On February 18, 2010, Mohammed Haqqani, Sirajuddin Haqqani’s brother, was killed along with three other militants in the Dandi Darpakhel area of the NWA in another such attack.

On September 8, 2008, however, US drones had fired six missiles at the home of the Haqqanis and a madrassa (seminary) run by the network in the Dandi Darpakhel area, believing that Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin were present. Several family members were among the 23 persons killed, including one of Jalaluddin’s two wives, his sister, sister-in-law and eight of his grandchildren. Jalaluddin and Sirajuddin, however, were not present at the time of the attack.

Unintended civilian fatalities have, in fact, been one of the most significant factors in increasing US pressure on Pakistan to launch ground operations. Only ground operations have the potential of greater precision and lower collateral damage – though past Pakistani operations have tended to be far more indiscriminate and bloodier, relying on area weapons, including artillery and aerial bombardments, rather than face to face confrontations with armed extremists.

Nevertheless, despite growing criticism of US drone attacks in Pakistan, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, made it clear to General Kayani on April 21, 2011, that the US strikes would continue till Pakistan had eliminated the Haqqani Network from its tribal region.

The Haqqani Network, which works in cooperation with both al Qaeda and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), is the second largest terrorist group among the Afghan Taliban, after Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura. The Network operates in Afghanistan’s south-eastern Provinces – Paktika, Khost, Logar, and Ghazni. It has established parallel Governments in parts of Paktika and Khost, and controls the countryside in several other Districts. The Network has repeatedly attacked US and NATO Forces operating in Afghanistan, as also Afghan Army deployments.

Notably, on December 30, 2009, a suicide bomber killed at least six Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officers and seriously injured six others at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan, which is used by the CIA to coordinate drone attacks in Pakistan. The Haqqani network claimed responsibility for the attack.

Again, on August 28, 2010, Haqqani Network militants launched coordinated attacks against Forward Operating Bases Salerno and Chapman in Khost province. US troops retaliated, killing more than 35, including a ‘commander’, during and after the attacks. Several of the fighters were wearing US Army uniforms, and 13 were armed with suicide vests.

On September 2, 2010, Haqqani Network cadres attempted to storm Combat Outpost Margah in the Bermel District of Paktika Province. 20 militants were reportedly killed in the retaliatory attack by US troopers.

US drone attacks have repeatedly demonstrated the presence of the Haqqani Network’s leadership in the Miranshah area of NWA. The Network’s senior leadership maintains influence throughout Pakistan’s tribal region and often plays a central role in mediating disputes between militant groups and the Pakistani state, most recently including the Kurram Peace Pact of February 2011.

NWA also hosts a blend of other insurgent and terrorist formations operating against both Afghanistan and Islamabad, with at least some of these also looking at the US homeland as a potential target.

Perhaps the most influential tribal leader in NWA, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, maintains influence in the territory west of Miranshah. Bahadur is a close ally of the Haqqanis and provides resources, shelter, and facilitation for Haqqani Network operations in Afghanistan. Bahadur was allied with militants acting against the Pakistani State in the past. However, after the death of Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of TTP, he has avoided direct confrontation with the Pakistani military.

The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) are two predominately Uzbek militant groups with a presence in NWA. Both the IMU and IJU are located around the Mir Ali area in NWA. Both groups have close ties to al-Qaeda, the TTP, and the Haqqani Network. Other militants of foreign origin including Arabs, Chechens, Uighurs, and Turks affiliated with al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), have also found safe haven in NWA. The majority of these individuals operate out of Mir Ali under the protection of the Haqqanis and Gul Bahadur.

The US considers the Haqqani Network and its role in the insurgency in Afghanistan among the most difficult challenges the ISAF faces, but has failed to ‘convince’ Islamabad to take action against the Network’s safe havens on Pakistani soil. Significantly, while talk of ‘imminent’ military operations in NWA is now rife, it is clear that delays are being deliberately orchestrated to provide time for the Haqqanis to shift their base to the Kurram Agency, before ‘showcase’ operations are launched.

Moreover, by delaying operation, the Pakistani establishment is deliberately providing time to Haqqani Network to shift its base to the Kurram Agency. An American Enterprise Institute report of June 1, 2011, for instance, noted: “The Haqqani Network has been preparing an alternative safe haven for itself in Kurram Agency to the north, in the event of a Pakistani operation in North Waziristan.” Militants had been ‘flushed out’ of the Kurram Agency during operations in 2009-2010, reflecting an interesting cycle of relocation, where ‘good Taliban’ and ‘good terrorist’ elements are simply whisked around by dramatic ‘military operations’ from one area to another, with little enduring impact on their strength or capacity.

Indeed, the stage had been set for the relocation of the Haqqani Network to the Kurram Agency with the Haqqanis’ involvement in the Kurram Peace Pact of February 3, 2011. Ceding space to the Haqqanis in the peace initiative, the Pakistan Government and Army created the grounds for the outfit to move into this area whenever it needed an alternate sanctuary, in case Islamabad was forced to launch a sham operation in the NWA.

Pakistan’s reluctance to target the Haqqanis has obvious reasons. The ISI has long nurtured ties with the Network, which it sees as a strategic asset that can help Islamabad consolidate influence in Afghanistan. Indeed, this is confirmed by a transcript passed, in May 2008, to Mike McConnell, the Director of US National Intelligence, according to which Pakistan’s Army Chief General Kayani is reported to have referred to Haqqani as “a strategic asset.” The Haqqanis controls large areas of Eastern Afghan, and are expected to play an important, if not decisive, role in any projected post-American dispensation. Islamabad has always sought to project the myth of the ‘good Taliban’, and, in its imaginings, the Haqqani Network has always been part of this virtuous grouping. The Haqqani Network, moreover, has never threatened or executed any operations against the Pakistani state.

The Haqqanis have also demonstrated their utility in helping secure Pakistani ‘strategic’ goals in limiting Indian ‘influence’ in Afghanistan. An unholy liaison between the ISI and the Haqqani Network was demonstrated in the suicide car bombing on the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 14, 2008, which left 41 people dead. US intelligence had closely followed the build-up to this attack, and had passed on detailed intelligence to Indian agencies, though this proved insufficient to prevent the attack. Further, WikiLeaks documents published on July 27, 2010, indicated that the ISI had paid the terror outfit to plan and execute attacks against Indian interests in Afghanistan. A March 2008 intelligence report claimed that the ISI paid the Haqqani network USD 15,000-30,000 to eliminate Indian nationals working on the key Zaranj-Delaram road project. The report noted that “in one particular case, it was reported that the ISI ordered Sirajuddin Haqqani to eliminate Indian nationals working in Afghanistan” and to kidnap “doctors, officers, engineers and labourers” working on the road project.

Islamabad’s perceptions of its ‘strategic interests’ are too deeply intertwined with the fate of the Haqqani Network to allow any effective operations by the Pakistan Army to be directed against this formation, or against its close allies. US pressure may eventually force Kayani to launch a fake campaign, but it is unlikely that this would do any measurable damage to what continues to be regarded as a crucial ‘strategic asset’ by the Army, and by the wider power elite in Islamabad.

Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management

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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).

One thought on “US – Pakistan: Shadow Wars In North Waziristan – Analysis

  • June 25, 2011 at 1:18 am

    You need to right an article about Indian and Pakistani anti terrorism cooperation. The Shiv Sena and Narendra Modi and other terrorist outfits in India need to be defeated, Narendra Modi a democratically elected terrorist alot like Adolfe Hitler needs to be defeated. A suggest a Joint Indian and Pakistan army operation against this super terrorist who has butched his own Muslim population for Hindu zealotry. We need to cooperate, and then Liberate Kashmir from the 800,000 Incompetent, weak cowardly soldiers trying to occupy it.


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