Monday, December 29, 2008




Gen.David Petraeus, the Commander of the US Central Command, who previously headed the US forces in Iraq, was credited with bringing down the level of violence in Iraq and weakening the capability of Al Qaeda in Iraq by creating a divide between the secular Baathist Arabs of Saddam Hussein's army and local administration and the Wahabi Arabs of Al Qaeda by strengthening various local militias with names such as the Awakening Councils, which had come into existence even before he took over in Iraq.

2. When he was appointed by President George Bush to be the head of the Central Command, which, inter alia, is responsible for the US operations against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and in the bordering Pashtun areas of Pakistan, he was reported to have set up a brains trust to advise him on a new strategy to be followed against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. While the new strategy is still being worked out, some elements of it are already in the process of being implemented.

3. These include a planned surge in the US forces in Afghanistan in the coming months by inducting another 30,000 troops and the setting up of local militias, which would work on the pattern of the Awakening Councils in Iraq. Many Afghan observers have been expressing doubts whether Petraeus' ideas would work in Afghanistan. The Pashtun society---particularly in Afghanistan--- is different from the Iraqi society. Hatred of non-Muslim foreigners is very strong among the Pashtuns and the hatred of Pashtuns who are perceived as collaborating with non-Muslim foreigners is even stronger. Moreover, the Pashtuns look upon the Arabs of Al Qaeda, now operating from sanctuaries in the North Waziristan area of Pakistan's Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as their honoured guests and as their co-religionists, who had helped them in driving out the Soviet troops in the 1980s and who are now helping them in their fight to drive out the Americans and other NATO forces.

4. These observers have been saying that the intensifying violence in Afghanistan and the inability of the US-led forces to control it are due to the sanctuaries available to Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban in Pakistani territory and the inability or relcutance of the Pakistan Army to destroy these sanctuaries. While the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda in North Waziristan and of the Taliban in South Waziristan are being repeatedly attacked by the unmanned Predator aircraft of the US intelligence community, those of the Taliban in the Quetta area of Balochistan have largely been left untouched with neither the Pakistan Army nor the American Predator aircraft targeting them. These observers are of the view that unless these sanctuaries are destroyed no amount of surge and local militias will help.

5. The current operations of the Pakistan Army in the Bajaur Agency of the FATA and the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) are mainly targeting the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which poses a threat to Pakistan and not the Afghan Taliban, headed by the Quetta-based Mulla Mohammad Omar, which the Pakistan Army continues to perceive as its strategic ally. While the Pakistan Army has reduced the scale of its operations in the Bajaur Agency and its presence in South Waziristan, where Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the TTP is based, in order to re-deploy the troops thus relieved on the Indian border particularly in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK), its operations against the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), headed by Maulana Fazlullah, in the Swat Valley have not so far been reduced.

6. While the Mehsuds and the Ahmedzai Wazirs of South Waziristan, who were in the forefront of the Pakistani invasion of Kashmir in 1947-48 and in 1965, have informally agreed not to take advantage of the thinning out of the Pakistani forces in these areas, the Pakistan Army has not yet been able to reach a similar informal agreement with the TNSM, despite the fact that it is a component of the TTP. Moreover, the Pakistan Army is prepared to face the risk of a temporary dilution of the Pakistani writ in the Bajaur Agency and South Waziristan if the Mehsuds and the Ahmedzai Wazirs do not keep up their informal agreement not to create problems for the Army and the Frontier Corps.

7. It is not prepared to face a similar risk in the Swat Valley, which it sees as important for maintaining its writ in the NWFP. It is concerned over the recent increase in the activities of the Pakistani Taliban in Peshawar and is determined not to allow the TNSM undermine the Government position in the NWFP. The operations against the TNSM in the Swat Valley, which started in November,2007, have been continuing for over a year now without the Army and the Frontier Corps being able to make any headway in neutralising the TNSM. Even long before the Pakistan Army thinned out its presence in the FATA in the wake of the tensions with India after the terrorist attack by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET)----acting alone or in association with Al Qaeda--- in Mumbai from November 26 to 29,2008, it was facing difficulty in reinforcing its presence in the Swat Valley.

8. Gen.Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), borrowed some of the Iraqi ideas of Gen.Petraeus even before the latter assumed command of the US Central Command. He set up in some villages of the Swat Valley as well as the FATA people's militias called Lashkars, which were trained and armed to counter the Sunni forces of the TNSM and the Pakistani Taliban. A large number of Shia Pashtuns were recruited by Kayani into these Lashkars and they were given the task of countering the TNSM and the TTP. The Sunnis of the Pakistani Taliban retaliated with vigour against these Lashkars and killed a large number of them.

9.In October, 82 persons were killed and 241 injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a grand Jirga held at Khadizai area of the predominantly Shia Alikhel sub-tribe of the Pashtuns. The Jirga was specially convened to form a tribal Lashkar against the Taliban.

10.Thirty-two people were killed and over 120 others injured in a blast just outside a Shia Imambargah called Alamdar in Koocha-e-Risaldar, located behind the historic Qissa Khwani Bazaar, in the Peshawar area on December 5,2008. A vehicle driven by a suicide bomber destroyed a multi-storey hotel, a girls’ school, and dozens of shops selling crockery and plastic-wares.

11.On December 7,2008, the Afghan Islamic Press disseminated a message purported to have been issued by Mulla Omar, which warned the US as follows in response to the reported new strategy of Petraeus without, however, naming him: “Today the world’s economy is facing growing risk from meltdown owing to the belligerent and expansionist policies of US. This has left its negative impact on the globe and it is the collective duty of all to work for a lasting peace in the world. You should understand that no puppet regime will ever stand up to the current resistance movement. Nor you will justify the occupation of the Islamic countries under the so-called slogan of rehabilitation anymore. Deployment of more troops (by the US) would lead to battles everywhere. The current armed clashes will spiral and your current casualties of hundreds will jack up to thousands.The US has imposed the war on the Afghan nation and the followers of the path of Islamic resistance will never abandon their legitimate struggle. The invading forces wrongly contemplate that they will be able to pit the Afghans against the mujahideen under the so-called label of tribal militias. No Afghan will play into the hands of the aliens and fight against his own brothers for worldly pleasure.”

12.On December 13,2008,Pir Samiullah, who had formed one of the Lashkars at the request of the Army, and eight of his followers were killed by the TNSM in Swat . The TNSM members captured over 50 AK-47 rifles with ammunition and two rocket launchers issued to the Lashkar by the Pakistan Army

13.Over 40 persons, many of them Shias, including two policemen and four children, were killed and 20 others injured when a suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden car into a polling station set up in a school in Shalbandai village, located about six kilometres south of the Buner district headquarters, Daggar, on December 28,2008.The Swat chapter of the TTP has claimed responsibility for the attack.Speaking on the group’s illegal FM radio channel, TTP Swat chapter Deputy Head Maulana Shah Dauran said the bombing was in retaliation for the death of six TTP members gunned down in Shalbandai by a local Lashkar set up by the Army.He warned that the revenge wasn’t yet over and that every person in Shalbandai would be eliminated for killing the Taliban members.

14. In addition to stepping up the attacks on the Lashkars, the TTP has also embarked on a programme of disrupting the movement of supplies to the US-led NATO forces in Afghanistan from the Karachi port.About 150 containers go to Afghanistan from Karachi every day. A majority of these containers crosses the Torkham border in the NWFP into Afghanistan while others take the Chaman route in Balochistan. In addition to this, about 150 to 200 oil tankers transport fuel from Karachi to Afghanistan via Torkham every day.About 100 tankers carry fuel through the Chaman border post.Around 300 vehicles and containers have been burnt in six attacks since December 1. The TTP has projected these attacks as in retaliation for the Predator strikes on the TTP hide-outs in South Waziristan.

15. Concerned over the attacks, US and other NATO officials have reportedly been negotiating with the authorities of Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for alternate routes to reduce their dependence on the Pakistan route. Not only the TTP, even the religious political parties of Pakistan and Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League are opposed to the movement of supplies to the NATO forces in Afghanistan through Pakistani territory.

16. The TTP, which has till now been attacking the trucks and tankers only after they reach Peshawar, has warned that if the Predator strikes do not stop it will start attacking the supplies everywhere in Pakistan. This would include at the Karachi port itself as the supplies are brought by ships. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Islamic Jihad Group (IMG), a splinter group of the IMU, are also likely to attack the supply convoys in Central Asia when the US starts using the alternate routes. (29-12-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )