Pakistan: Blind Spot in FATA
Pakistani authorities had been flaunting their success in forging a ‘peace accord’ among various factions of the Taliban at a Shura-e-Muraqba (Council for Protection), a joint five-member council formed by the Afghan Taliban and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), along with other Pakistani militant outfits, on January 2, 2012.
By South Asia Intelligence Review/IBNS
The establishment claimed that the TTP had agreed to end attacks against Pakistani Security Forces (SFs). Afghan Taliban ‘commander’ Mullah Mohammad Omar had put pressure on militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan to form the new grouping to end targeting of Pakistani SFs and, instead, to focus attention on United States (US)-led troops in Afghanistan. Later, all Jihadi (holy war) groups, in consultation with Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the shadow Taliban Government for Afghanistan) decided to set up a committee to resolve differences among various factions and step up support for the war against Western forces in Afghanistan. A statement issued in the form of a pamphlet to the media in Waziristan after the meeting declared, “All Mujahideen — local and foreigners — are informed that all jihadi forces, in consultation with Islamic Emirate Afghanistan, have unanimously decided to form a five-member commission. It will be known as Shura-e-Muraqba.”
Dissent was, however, quickly in evidence, as the TTP declared that, while it would end attacks against civilian targets in Pakistan, its campaign against the Pakistani SFs would continue. The day after the Shura-e-Muraqba deal, TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told the media, “Yes, we signed an accord with three other major Taliban groups of Maulvi Nazeer, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and an Afghan Taliban faction, to avoid killing of innocent people and kidnapping for ransom, but we did not agree with them to stop suicide attacks and our fight against Pakistani Security Forces.” He added, further, “for us, Pakistan is as important as Afghanistan and, therefore, we cannot stop our activities here.”
Lest any ambiguity remained regarding their intentions, on January 5, 2012, TTP militants executed 15 Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan Agency (NWA) in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) on January 5, 2012. The bullet-ridden bodies, thrown on a hill in the Mir Ali Sub-district, were spotted by tribesmen in the morning. The victims, who had been guarding the boundary between FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), had been taken hostage on December 23, 2011, in a pre-dawn attack by TTP militants on their post in Mullazai area of Tank District in KP.
TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told local media, “We have killed these personnel. This is revenge for the killing of our comrades in Khyber by Pakistani Forces. We will soon take revenge for other operations too." Significantly, Qari Kamran, a prominent TTP ‘commander’, had been killed by SFs, along with 12 others, on January 1, 2012, at Alamgir Killay in the Kermina area near Landikotal in Khyber Agency.
‘Revenge’ killings by the TTP are not a new phenomenon. But the January 5 incident was significant not only in scale and brutality, but also in the fact that it came so soon after the ‘accord’ the Pakistan establishment had engineered among various Taliban factions, but crucially with the TTP, since this is the group that has created the greatest threat to security and stability within Pakistan.
Meanwhile, FATA continues to work to deserve it reputation as the "most dangerous place on earth". Despite registering a 43 per cent decline in overall terrorism-related fatalities, from 5,321 in 2010 to 3,034 in 2011, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), FATA remained the most violent region, certainly, in South Asia. The numbers gain added significance in view of the fact that FATA has a tiny population of just 3.34 million, less than two per cent of Pakistan’s total. The fatalities among the civilians (488) as well as SFs (233), remain very high, despite a 9.62 and 11 per cent decline, respectively, in 2011, as compared to the previous year. On the other hand, militant fatalities have declined dramatically, from 4,519 in 2010, to 2,313 in 2011, accounting for nearly 96.46 per cent of the total decline in fatalities (2,287) over this period. Militant fatalities nearly halved between 2010 and 2011, an index of the growing reluctance of Pakistani SFs to engage on the ground.
A total of 281 major incidents (involving three or more fatalities) were recorded in 2011 as against 384 in 2010. The decrease, both in number of militants killed as well as major incidents, has been registered because of the low intensity, indeed, progressive suspension, of ‘military operations’ in the tribal belt.
Another indicator of the region’s volatility was the fact that 185 incidents of bomb blasts were recorded in 2011, marginally down from 190 in 2010. However, the fatalities in such attacks decreased considerably from 453 in 2010 to 203 in 2011. There were eight suicide attacks in FATA in 2011 as against 12 in 2010. While 314 persons were killed and at least 441 were injured in suicide attacks in 2010, 77 persons lost their lives and at least 141 were injured in 2011.
Prominent among the suicide attacks in FATA in 2011 were:
August 19: At least 56 persons were killed and 123 were injured in a suicide attack during Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid Madina in the Ghundai area of the Jamrud Sub-division in the Khyber Agency.
May 28: Eight persons were killed and 11 were injured when a suicide bomber targeted pro-Government tribal elders at a market in Salarzai village of the Bajaur Agency.
April 23: A suicide bomber struck the vehicle of an anti-Taliban militia leader, killing him and four others in Salarzai, the main town of Bajaur Agency.
Tribal elders and tribal militia faced the brunt of militancy. In 2011, as many as 12 tribal elders were killed by militants in 15 incidents. Moreover, an unspecified number of tribal militia members have been killed fighting the militants. The worst ever attack on the tribal militia was the August 19, 2011, suicide bombing, which killed 56 persons and injured 123, in a revenge attack on the Kukikhel tribals at the Jamia Masjid Madina at Jamrud. TTP claimed responsibility for the attack, justifying it on the grounds that the Kukikhel tribe had raised an armed militia against them.
The militants also continued to target surrendered cadres. Officials and former militants have claimed that ‘hundreds of militants’, who had surrendered to Government Forces in FATA, were facing threats from active TTP members, who were pressuring them to rejoin the group, or face reprisals. In a media interview, Haji Shafqat Gul, a member of the Bajaur Peace Committee, stated, “At least 3,000 militants have laid down arms and expressed repentance over their association with Taliban in Bajaur Agency. A majority of them are now receiving warnings from the Taliban leaders to join their ranks again.” In other Agencies, including Khyber, Orakzai, and the North and South Waziristan Agencies, individual figures are not available, but an unnamed spokesman of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) asserted that a total of about 9,000 former insurgents had surrendered.
To replenish their strength, the extremists are trying to force former members back into the organisation, and are also in search of new recruits. The education system has been repeatedly targeted, as have uneducated and unemployed youth. According to a report prepared by the Society for the Protection of Rights of the Child (SPARC), the literacy rate in FATA has dropped sharply, from 29 per cent in 2009 to 17.42 per cent in 2010, because of the actions of the militants and inaction of the Government. Militants have set 673 schools on fire across the FATA region since 2004.
Despite the evident loss of operational momentum, the SFs launched three 'major offensives' in FATA in 2011. Operation Koh-e-Sufaid (Operation White Mountain) was launched in the Kurram Agency at midnight, July 2-3, 2011. The operation, which lasted till August 18, 2011, accounted for at least 139 deaths among the militants according to Army sources [no independent verification of this categorization is possible, as media access to areas of conflict is severely restricted], nine among SF personnel and four among lashkar [tribal militia] members. An operation was launched in the Khyber Agency against Lashkar-e-Islam and TTP militants on October 21, 2011 and is under continuation. 62 militants, 21 civilians, 18 SFs and 12 tribal militia members have been killed so far. 34 militant hideouts were neutralised and 30 militants were arrested. Another targeted operation, without any designated name, is still going on in the selected areas of Orakzai and Mohammad Agencies. The operation is an extended part of Operation Brekhna (Thunder) which was launched on April 6, 2011 and is under continuation. Till date, 268 militants and 14 SFs have been killed. According to an unnamed official, over 200 militants were killed in the offensive till November 23, 2011.
The continuing duplicity of the Pakistani establishment remains visible in the fact that not a single operation has been launched in the North Waziristan Agency (NWA), which shelters the Haqqani faction, the most dangerous militant group operating across the border in Afghanistan. On August 1, 2011, Admiral Michael Mullen, the then-Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, demanded, that the Pakistani Government launch a military offensive against the Haqqani Network in the NWA. This was only the latest in years of continuous US urgings for such an offensive. However, Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in discussions with the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, on August 10, 2011, rejected the US demand for military operations in North Waziristan. Later, on October 18, 2011, he stated, “We have made it clear to the US that we will decide the timing of any such action according to our situation and capabilities."
Not surprisingly, the US continued its drone operations in the region, though the number of strikes in 2011 decreased to 59, from 90 in 2010. These strikes succeeded in eliminating some high profile al Qaeda and Haqqani Network militants, prominently including:
October 13: A drone strike in Dandi Darpa Khel village in NWA killed four militants, including Jan Baz Zadran, a logistics ‘commander’ for the Haqqani Network.
September 12: Two militants were killed in a drone strike on their vehicle in the Issa Khel area of NWA. One of the dead was reported to be Hafeezullah, a ‘commander’ in the Haqqani Network.
September 11: Abu Hafs al Shari, al Qaeda's ‘operational chief’ and the replacement for Atiyah Abdel Rahman, was killed, along with three other militants, by a US drone strike on a vehicle and compound in Hisokhel in the Mir Ali area of NWA.
June 3, 2011: A drone strike in the Ghwakhwa area of South Waziristan Agency killed nine militants, including top ranking al Qaeda terrorist leader, Ilyas Kashmiri.
NATO forces also crossed over into Pakistan in their pursuit of militants. In the most dramatic incident of the recent past, on November 26, 2011, NATO forces killed at least 24 Pakistani soldiers in the Salala village in Baizai tehsil (revenue unit) of Mohmand Agency in FATA. The incident led to a near breakdown of the already troubled US-Pak relation. Pakistan subsequently closed the NATO supply route to Afghanistan and ordered the US to vacate the Shamsi air base in Balochistan. The US vacated the air base, but has blocked USD 700 million in economic aid to Pakistan. The NATO supply routes through Pakistan are yet to be restored, and the impact of these developments on the US-Pakistan relation, and on the war dynamic in Afghanistan, is still evolving. US drone attacks into Pakistan have been suspended since the November 26 strike.
Unsurprisingly, elements within the TTP, based in NWA, have established a separate ‘vigilance cell’ to hunt down persons suspected of providing vital intelligence to guide the US in its drone campaign. Known as Lashkar-e-Khorasan (LeK), the group’s only purpose is to identify, capture and execute persons allegedly working for what is described as a ‘web of local spies’ created by the CIA. The LeK draws it strength from both the Haqqani Network and the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group, two formations that control the regions along the Afghanistan border. Moreover, partial data compiled by SATP recorded 33 attacks on NATO supply routes in FATA in 2011, as against 17 in 2010. Fatalities in such attacks jumped from nine in 2010 to 20 in 2011.
In another development, the Kurram Peace Accord, which sought to establish peace between warring Shia and Sunni sects in the Kurram Agency, was signed. A grand jirga composed of tribal elders and parliamentarians from FATA announced a Peace Accord between Shias and Sunnis at Parachinar, the headquarters of the Kurram Agency, on February 3, 2011. The ‘truce’ was declared after three years of fighting and bloodshed that left over 2,000 dead and at least 3,500 injured. There have, nevertheless, been at least three sectarian attacks after the Peace Accord. In one such attack, on March 25, 2011, at least 13 passengers were killed and eight were injured, in an attack on a convoy of passenger vehicles in the Kurram Agency.
The continuing apathy of the Federal Government towards the reconstruction of the war ravaged tribal areas is evident in the fact that the Finance Ministry has delayed the release of funds to the FATA Secretariat, which had sought PKR 11 billion for the creation of 4,545 jobs. The FATA Secretariat had initiated a case for the creation of 4,545 posts in 2009, and the Federal Government approved PKR 15 billion budget in July 2011. Only PKR 1 billion has so far been released.
On June 23, 2011, President Asif Ali Zardari, on the advice of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, and on the recommendation of the KP Cabinet, signed Civil Power Regulations (CPR) Bill, 2011, for FATA/PATA (Provincially Administered Tribal Areas) into law. Describing the CPR Bill, 2011, KP Governor Masood Kausar stated, on June 27, 2011, “It is meant to protect the basic rights of the people of FATA and the PATA, safeguard their honour and dignity, uphold the supremacy of internationally recognised human rights and bring the terrorists to justice.” He added, further, that the new law would deal with cases linked to the wave of terrorism caused by al Qaeda and the TTP, which had ‘immensely affected’ the country over the past several years.
Human right activists and civil society groups have, however, articulated their general apprehension that this ‘draconian law’ would be used as a weapon of oppression by the SFs. Waris Husain, a legal expert in the US, in a Newspaper column in Dawn, pointing out loopholes of the CPR Ordinance, 2011, argued
When one looks to the loopholes left in the Federal Crimes Regulation (FCR) amendments package alongside this regulation, one can see that the residents of FATA face a long battle ahead in fully realising their constitutional rights. The ordinance by the President continues to allow for collective punishment to be exercised on all males above the age of 16, which is “obnoxious” to the protections of the Constitution, in the words of Judge Cornelius. Further, the President did not incorporate a wholesale extension of constitutional rights to the people of FATA, and did not allow jurisdiction for the Supreme Court. This lack of protection paired with a regulation allowing for military operations, may allow for unconstitutional detentions and trials for the people of FATA without any constitutional remedy in the coming years.
FATA continues to reel under the impact of terrorism, even as incoherent and fitful operational, administrative and political initiatives add fuel to the fire. Given Pakistan’s selective approach to terrorism, and the establishment’s continuing support to terrorist groupings operating from Pakistani territory across its borders into Afghanistan, it remains abundantly clear that no comprehensive effort to uproot terrorist and armed non-state groupings in the region is imminent. Under the circumstances, such groupings – including those that target the Pakistani state and population – can only continue to flourish, under cover of the spaces created for externally directed terrorism.
(The writer Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)