BAITULLAH MEHSUD STEPS UP ATTACKS IN SOUTH WAZIRISTAN
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR---PAPER NO.355
The Mehsud followers of Baitullah Mehsud, assisted by some Uzbeks of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), have stepped up their attacks on the thinly-manned outposts of the Frontier Corps (FC) in different parts of South Waziristan. These outposts were withdrawn under a peace agreement signed by the Pakistani Army with Baitullah at the Sararogha fort in February,2005. When President Pervez Musharraf ordered the commandoes of the Special Services Group (SSG) to raid the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July,2007, he also ordered the re-establishment of these outposts of the FC since he apprehended that the Mehsuds, many of whose children were studying in the two madrasas attached to the Lal Masjid, could retaliate for the commando action.
2.Baitullah interpreted the re-establishment of these outposts as a bad breach of faith by Musharraf and announced that the Mehsuds would no longer be bound by the ceasefire agreement of February,2005. Since then, the Mehsuds have unleashed a wave of suicide attacks not only in South Waziristan, but also in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh. He had also resumed the guerilla attacks of his force on the para-military forces and captured nearly 300 of them. Under a fresh cease-fire agreement reached in November,2007, Baitullah agreed to suspend his operations and release the captured personnel of the FC in return for the Government closing again the FC outposts re-established in South Waziristan, releasing all Mehsuds arrested in South Waziristan and the NWFP, and also Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, the chief cleric of the Lal Masjid, and the students of the madrasas of the mosque arrested during the commando action.
3. Baitullah released all the FC personnel captured by his force. In return, Musharraf ordered the release of all but six of the Mehsuds arrested by his security agencies. He has not ordered the release of these six on the ground that they are under trial before the Anti-Terrorism courts and hence he has no powers to order their release. He has not agreed to release those arrested during the commando raid in the Lal Masjid. Nor has he agreed to withdraw the FC outposts re-established in the area. On the contrary, after the assassination of Mrs.Benazir Bhutto on December 27,2007, allegedly at the instance of Baitullah, he has reinforced the FC posts in South Waziristan in an attempt to hunt for Baitullah.
4. This has provoked Baitullah to step up attacks on the FC posts. Though the FC consists largely of Pashtun tribals recruited in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the NWFP, these Pashtuns are looked upon by Baitullah and Al Qaeda as apostate for allegedly collaborating with Musharraf, who has already been declared an apostate by Al Qaeda since 2003. The FC comes operationally under the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Army and administratively under the Ministry of the Interior.
5.Between 1878 and 1903, the British set up the various tribal agencies, which, after Pakistan's independence in 1947, were constituted into the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The British created in each agency para-military forces called militias recruited from amongst the various Pashtun sub-tribes in that agency. Thus came into existence militias such as the Khyber Rifles (1878), the Zhob Militia (1883), the Kurram Militia (1892), the Tochi Scouts (1894), the Chagai Militia (1896), the South Waziristan Scouts (1900) , the Chitral Scouts (1903) etc. Lord Curzon, who became the Viceroy in 1899, created the Frontier Corps to serve as the umbrella organisation of these militias and to co-ordinate their functioning in all the tribal agencies. This arrangement has continued till now. The Frontier Corps, whose General Headquarters are located in Peshawar, functions under the over-all supervision of the Corps Commander of the Pakistan Army at Peshawar.
6. As mentioned by me in my article of November 15,2007, titled "The State of Jihadi Terrorism in Pakistan" (http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers25/paper2459.html ), a major blunder committed by Musharraf was the over-use of para-military forces such as the Frontier Constabulary and the Frontier Corps in the operations against terrorists in the tribal areas. He wanted to avoid using the Punjabi-dominated Army for ground operations. While the Army is actively involved in the ground operations against the Baloch freedom-fighters in Balochistan, it was confining itself to the barracks in the FATA and in the Provincially-Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). American officials and their counterparts in Pakistan often claim that Musharraf has deployed nearly 80,000 troops in the tribal areas. The Americans cite this as one of the reasons for their strong backing to the General despite his growing unpopularity.
7. What they do not mention is that many of these security personnel are the tribal members of the para-military forces, who come from that area, and not Pakistani military personnel recruited from other areas of the country. A large number of the Pakistani army personnel are used not for ground operations against the terrorists, but for providing physical security to American and other NATO military supplies to Afghanistan from the Karachi port after they are landed there. This has been creating resentment among the tribal personnel of the para-military forces, who feel that Musharraf, under US pressure, is making not only Muslims kill Muslims, but also Pashtuns kill Pashtuns, in the name of the so-called war on terrorism. The FM radio stations operated by pro-Al Qaeda jihadi leaders in the tribal areas have been repeatedly alleging in their broadcasts directed to the fellow-tribals in the para-military forces that innocent tribals are being killed in order to save American lives in the US homeland.
8. As a result of this, there has been a growing number of desertions of Pashtuns serving in the para-military forces. Musharraf did use regular Army units to counter the supporters of Maulana Fazlullah in the Swat Valley, but afraid that the Pashtun soldiers of the Army too might start deserting their units like the Pashtun members of the para-military forces, he has been avoiding the use of the army in ground operations and has instead been relying increasingly on helicopter gunships. This has, on the one hand, resulted in an increase in the number of civilian casualties due to indiscriminate air-mounted actions and, on the other, further fuelled the resentment in the para-military forces, whose personnel are asking: Are the lives of the Army personnel more precious than those of the Frontier Constabulary and the Frontier Corps?
9. I had also written that Musharraf has so far not told his people and the international community that Al Qaeda and pro-Al Qaeda organisations in the tribal areas have been increasingly targeting Shias and Christians. Captured Shia members of the para-military forces are being treated with brutality and killed by beheading or by cutting their throats. Shia members of the civil society are also being targeted. The FM radio stations have been indulging in the most horrible anti-Shia broadcasts. Shias are being projected as American agents in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They are alleging that the majority of the prostitutes in Pakistan are Shias and projecting the Shias as the sect of the prostitutes in the Ummah. A highly reputed school for poor tribal girls run in the FATA by a Christian missionary organisation was targeted and forced to close through intimidation. There are no Buddhists in the tribal areas, but many historical Buddhist heritage sites are there. These too are systematically being attacked. Al Qaeda is trying to replicate Iraq in Pakistan by exacerbating the already existing divide between the Shias and the Sunnis in the civil society as well as in the Army.
10. In their renewed offensive in the wake of the assassination of Benazir, the Mehsuds and the Uzbeks of the IMU have been taking advantage of the low morale of the personnel of the FC. After overrunning the FC outpost in the Sararogha fort on January 15,2008,, they are reported to have overrun another post of the FC located at a place called Seplatoi in South Waziristan. What is disquieting is that whereas the FC personnel at Sararogha put up a fight against the Mehsuds and Uzbeks and suffered fatalities before they were overrun, those ( 60 in number) at Seplatoi are alleged to have either run away or surrendered without even a semblance of a fight.
11. Of course, the Army has strongly denied this, but other reliable sources say this incident did happen. The declining morale of the Pashtun members of the Frontier Corps should be a matter of serious concern. Can it spread to the Pashtuns in the Pakistani Army? That is a question, which should worry not only Musharraf, but also the international community.
12. The time has come for Pakistan and the international community to review the physical security arrangements in Pakistan's nuclear establishments in order to look for signs of declining morale there. While Pakistan's principal nuclear establishments are located in Punjab and are guarded by carefully selected Punjabi soldiers, its nuclear waste dumps are located in the tribal areas of the NWFP such as Dera Ismail Khan and are guarded by the FC.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )