The facts about the military operation in North Waziristan

by Kahar Zalmay

This must be the first example in human history that a country actually pays their enemy to murder its own soldiers.

After much fanfare, followed by congratulatory messages on social media from the liberal sections of Pakistan, the military announced on June 15, 2014, that it had launched the long awaited operation in the North Waziristan tribal agency on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, displacing nearly one million people from their homes. The operation has been named Zarb-e-Azb, referring to the sword of the Prophet Muhammad.

Several women, children and the elderly died on their way to the settled areas of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province in the scorching heat after three other provinces refused to give them entry. These displaced people had to walk for miles, and in some cases for days, because of a lack of transportation and proper lodging at the camps. It is typical for the Pakistani military to give prior warnings to militants to move out of the targeted areas safely. However, the locals are only given a small amount of time, sometimes hours, to flee the area, leaving their houses and shops to be looted by the Pakistani Army just prior to the military strikes. This has happened in South Waziristan, Bajaur, Swat, Tirah Valley and other parts of the tribal belt. The Mehsud tribe continues to be displaced, as well as the people of Bajaur who still have not returned to their land in the Loi Sam region, despite the fact that the whole area had been flattened by the bombing. The Pakistani liberals are quick to condemn drone strikes and attacks in Gaza by the Israeli forces but look the other way when the same thing is happening by the Pakistani forces in the tribal belt. They rather celebrate these operations; their excitement could be seen on TV screen and social media messages.

Since the operation was launched, the ISPR issues daily press releases claiming that more than 400 terrorists have been killed, along with wounding around 130. The Army also claims that so far they have destroyed 100 hideouts of terrorists and have captured factories containing Improvised Explosive Devices (IED).

Military argues that it is left with no option but to carry out indiscriminate bombings in inaccessible mountainous regions of the tribal belt but ironically it is very précis in its claims of body counts. The independent media is not allowed to verify this data or share information across various agencies.

Therefore, the details being reported, citing the number of dead or wounded, coupled with previous records of Pakistani military operations in the tribal belt, have a tendency to look dubious if taken at face value. The arrest of one TTP commander, Omar aka Pagal, was announced by the military in June, but my contacts in the TTP rejected such claims saying that a commander bearing that name has never existed. Going by the ISPR statements, and ultra-nationalistic patriotism of the media, our brave soldiers were claiming victory on December 16, 1971 in East Pakistan.

Recently, the military gathered journalists from Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi and traveled to North Waziristan to brief them on the North Waziristan operation. Majority of these journalists do not speak Pashto or know the geography of the area and have no knowledgeable background of the tribes populating North Waziristan. However, local journalists from the area were not invited to participate in these briefings.

Over the last few years the people have become used to this kind of patronizing journalism where the media acts less like a watchdog organization and more like an extension of the ISPR. The highlight of this briefing was where Major General Zafrullah Khan told those in the media that the military found evidence of an Al-Qaeda presence in Miranshah. I guess the military thought the drones had been shipping books from Amazon or maybe delivering Domino’s pizza to the people of the region over the last several years.

Unfortunately, North Waziristan has been a safe haven for terrorist groups like Haqqanis and PATUU (Punjabi Taliban-Al-Qaeda-Turkmen-Uighur-Uzbek). The Pakistan military continues to give unfettered access to these terrorist outfits crossing into Afghanistan waging Jihad against the American and Afghan forces. Simultaneously they are charging the US government over one billion dollars annually for its services. This must be the first example in human history that a country actually pays their enemy to murder its own soldiers.

Our valuable readers must be wondering what is actually happening in North Waziristan and how this military operation is continuing to unfold. So, here is a brief sketch of who is based where and why the operation is nothing more than a comedic exercise in absurd futility.

The operation has been focused on three areas: Mir Ali, Miranshah and Ghulam Khan. Ghulam Khan Pass is one of the gateways to Afghanistan, in addition to Thorkham and Chaman. Seven out of the nine tehsils, or sub-districts, have been excluded from the overall operation, which consists of Shawa-Spin Waam-Data Khel-Shawal-Garyom-Dosali-Razmak and Eedak area of Mir Ali. Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the prominent militant commander who has been harboring the Haqqanis, belongs to the Madakhel sub-tribe of Wazir based in Data Khel Tehsil. Around five years ago the military began implementing a strategy in South Waziristan focusing solely on the Mehsud tribal areas, which gave the TTP and Uzbek militants an opportunity to establish themselves in the Wazir tribal land.

Shawa and Spin Waam is under the control of “Gud” (man who walks with a limp) Abdul Rehman, aka AhmadullahAhmadi, spokesman of Hafiz Gul Bahadur. Razmak, Dosali and Garyom are three sub-districts under the command of Aleem Khan, who also belongs to the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group. When Mir Ali was bombed in December last year, Aleem Khan had threatened that he had 3000 suicide bombers ready to be unleashed if the bombing was not halted and the was curfew not lifted.

The Eedak area of Mir Ali was under control of ManzoorUstad of the Hafiz Gul Bahadur group who continues to remain in command untouched by military forces.

Shawal is a mountainous area that serves as the main hub of PATUU militants, as well as the TTP Sheheryar group led by SheheryarMehsud. Previously, this group was led by my hostel mate, Abdullah Mehsud, who was killed in July 2007 by Pak forces in Zhob province of Baluchistan. For a short period of time Sheheryar served with Hizb-e-Islami of Gul Badin Hikmatyar and then later joined Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan under the leadership of HakimmulahMehsud. Differences between SheheryarMehsud and Khan Said Sajna after the death of HakimullahMehsud over the leadership of Mehsud tribe, which generated a bonanza of funding. Khan Said Sajna, who eventually parted paths with the TTP, aligned himself with the military, based in the Shaktoi area of South Waziristan. Today he is identified as a savvy businessman who is known primarily for using extortion as a way to finance his militant group and earn favors with the military.

This area is also the stronghold of Bahawal Khan, aka Salahuddin Ayubi, who replaced Mullah Nazir after his death by a drone strike, who is also giving shelter to the Haqqanis. Some commanders of the Haqqani network have been reassigned to the Kurram and Beland Khel area, located on the border of Kurram-Aurakzai-North Waziristan and Hangu. It is considered an unincorporated area. Some of their leaders were relocated to Shaktoi area of South Waziristan Agency. Some commanders of Haqqani network were also resettled to Bara Kahu area of Islamabad while TTP commanders moved to the Tarnol area of Rawalpinid.

Three months ago Haqqani group commander Awal Khan Bitani was spotted in Bara Kahu. He was directly involved in the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 in 1999 landing in Afghanistan and demanding the release of Pakistani commander Masood Azhar, leader of the theJaish-e-Muhammad militant group being held in Indian custody.

On November 19, 2013 Fazlullah, the Emir of TTP, held a meeting at Bahawal Khan’s place involving Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Khan Said Sajna and SirajHaqqani. Khan Said Sajna had not yet announced his separation from the TTP. The meeting had a two-point agenda: 1) TTP internal conflict and 2) North Waziristan operation. It is alleged that recently some reports were deliberately planted in the Pakistani media concerning Fazlullah offering his services to Haqqanis and Gul Bahadur in order to connect them with the Afghan government for a peace deal. However, my sources say such an offer was never made in the course of that meeting.

During the meeting Fazlullah argued that Sajna was supported by both the Haqqanis and Gul Bahadur groups and advised them to either isolate him or officially make him part of their respective groups. Fazlullah also demanded three things of Khan Said Sajna: 1) That he acknowledges him as the Emir of TTP, 2) or Sajna should form his own group and 3) he should hold negotiations with the TTP leadership in compliance with Sharia law. Consequently, Sajna rejected all three demands forcing Fazlullah to request Hafiz Gul Bahadur and SirajHaqqani abandon Sajna or make him part of their group.

Military Chief General Raheel has recently been quoted by media saying that, “the military would target Hafiz Gul Bahadur wherever he was found”. Obviously he will not be found in Mir Ali or Miranshan so the military will not bother to strike the area where they believe he is currently residing.

In conclusion, dramatically displaying photos of leaders like Gul Bahadur, Sajna, ShahidullahShahid, Azam Tariq-Fazlullaah, or even the dead from AsmatullahShaheenBitani, in the screening centers for the Internally Displaced People (IDP) serve no purpose. It only delays the screening of the displaced during the operation in North Waziristan. These are the innocent people who have lost their homes, businesses and even their lives at the hands of the Pakistani military. So far posting photos of the militant leaders has done nothing to aide in their capture and never will because they have been conveniently, and deliberately, resettled to safer locations by the Pakistan Army to evade capture.

The Haqqanis missed the honor of being added to the photo gallery, which begs the obvious question, “why?” Since the military is not willing to share the name of one prominent commander, either from TTP or TAPUU that have been hit in the North Waziristan operation, it shouldn’t hurt if to reveal where the 400 dead terrorists were buried or where the wounded were taken for treatment. They leave us to assume that maybe they were also dumped in the Arabian Sea like Osama bin Laden?

About the Author: Kahar Zalmay is investigative journalist, he is regular writer of on the issues of Pushtuns, Taliban and Jihad. He can be contacted at 

IDPs from North Waziristan

Clip_46Nearly a million people have been forced out of North Waziristan Agency by an ongoing Pakistani military operation there, including nearly 80,000 that have made their way to Afghanistan, a largely unprecedented movement.

Journalists have been largely barred from North Waziristan, making independent verification difficult, but there have been reports of civilian casualties, as residents wait for breaks in an otherwise strict curfew, and jet aircraft, helicopter gunships, and artillery fire hits suspected militant positions near residential areas.

Most of those fleeing have made their way to safety in other parts of Pakistan, some walking nearly 50km in temperatures up to reaching 47 Celsius, or hiring trucks to carry their families towards the city of Bannu (population around 1 million) which has become the main transit point for those leaving the North Waziristan cities of Mir Ali and Miran Shah.

The Zarb-e-Azb (“Sword of the Prophet”) offensive against Taliban militants was officially launched on 15 June. On 30 June the Pakistani army began a ground offensive following air strikes which the army says have killed 400 militants.

The military has sealed access to North Waziristan except for the Bannu road, or west to the Afghanistan border.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) and the Pakistani military have set up a camp to house the internally displaced persons (IDPs) at Bakka Khel, near Bannu, 15km from the North Waziristan border, yet only a few dozen families have chosen to stay there. Most of the 455,000 IDPs registered with FDMA are opting to stay with relatives near Bannu, or finding rented accommodation in the area.

Families entering Bannu say the cost of transportation has skyrocketed since the offensive began: Hiring a truck to carry a single home’s belongings was about Rs. 8,000 ($80) a month ago, but now runs upwards of Rs. 60,000 ($600).

A reversal of roles 

Faced with difficulties in transportation and a lack of relief coordination from the Pakistani authorities, thousands of families have opted to leave for bordering provinces in Afghanistan, especially those living close to the border.

According to the latest statement issued by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Kabul, 9,100 families, or more than 65,000 individuals, have registered so far in the Afghan province of Khost, and another 2,000 families in the province of Paktika.

It is a rare reversal of roles for the neighbouring countries. For most of the last three decades, Afghans have fled conflict in their own country for safety in Pakistan. More than 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees are still residing in Pakistan, down from more than 3 million in 1988.

According to UNHCR data from January 2014, nearly a million Pakistanis were already living as IDPs before the current operation in North Waziristan.

“We are giving them food and non-food items worth 50,000 Afghanis [US$875],” the deputy governor of Khost, Abdul Wahid Pattan, told IRIN. “Around 3,000 families have been accommodated in the Gulan camp of Khost Province. There are lots of families who shifted to Paktika Province from North Waziristan.”

Miram Shah, the headquarters of North Waziristan Agency, is less than 20km from the Afghan border. At the Ghulam Khan border checkpoint, it touches Afghan soil.

Residents of North Waziristan’s Saidgi, Danday Darpakhel, Datta Khel, Hamzoni, Ghalzamay, Degan, Alwar Mandi, Mada Khel and Boya areas have opted to move west across the border to areas in the nearby Afghan districts of Gurbuz, Manduzai (Ismail Khel), Tanai, Sperah, Giyan and Bermal.

The WHO, the Afghan Red Crescent Society, the Afghan government, and various UN agencies are coordinating relief activities for the families arriving from Pakistan.

For those living close to the border, the journey to Afghanistan takes only a few hours, and refugees report Afghan authorities are facilitating their movement by offering supplies. Some even report trucks waiting for them at the border.

A truck driver’s testimony

Rehmatullah, 38, a driver from Miramshah, transported a family to Gurbuz District in Khost, and arrived back at Bannu, in Pakistan, on Friday 27 June. “I already had my family here in Bannu, so I returned otherwise the situation of Pakistani refugees in Afghanistan is much better than in Pakistan”.

“I was hired by Nasib Khan Wazir, head of a 17-member family from district Ghulam Khan. It’s just half an hour from the border,” he recalled. “When we crossed the border, we were warmly welcomed by the border security forces. I also saw some trucks had been parked by Afghanis to facilitate families leaving Pakistan, but I am not sure whether the trucks and other vehicles were provided by the Afghan government, or our Afghan brothers living on the other side of border. After an hour we were in Gurbuz. I left them with their relatives in the Ismail Khel area.”

The Wazirs are a major tribe of Waziristan, living on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, also known as the Durand Line. So when the operation geared up, most of those who were leaving to Afghanistan, including Nasib Khan Wazir, were from this tribe. However, with the passage of time, the Dawars, the second biggest tribe living close to Afghanistan, also followed them.

Dozens of families left North Waziristan and moved to Afghanistan even prior to the announcement of an operation against militants, as it became clear a major conflict was shaping up.

Azmatullah Dawar, from the Darpa Khel area of North Waziristan, said he left for Afghanistan when the head of the Taliban in North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadar, announced the termination of an eight-year-old peace agreement with the Pakistani military that had brought relative calm to the region.

“When militant leader Hafiz Gul Bahadar denounced the peace deal with the government at the end of May, although elders and government officials of North Waziristan were convincing us that there is no chance of an operation in North Waziristan, I didn’t trust them, and with 30 members of my family, including women and children, came to Khost.”

Most of the refugees are opting to stay with their relatives or with volunteer host families in Khost and Paktika. After registration, the Afghan authorities are trying to drop their relief packages at the doorstep of their hosts.

The Afghan government has also established a major refugee camp with an area of 809 hectares at Gulan, in Gurbuz District.

Mir Zaman, a resident of Miramshah now living at the Gulan Camp, said: “Those who are arriving here are receiving tents, flour, rice, blankets, and mattresses, while life at the camp is very secure and well managed. Our children got polio vaccination here in the camp.”

A difficult, sizzling Ramadan

On 29 June, Muslims across the region began observing the month of Ramadan, abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, a practice that has been made difficult by life away from home. In the summer heat, large amounts of water must be consumed before sunset and after sundown to make it through the day.

It is now tough because of Ramadan. There are problems of a lack of clean drinking water. As the IDPs are not used to living such a life in tents, they are missing their homes in Pakistan.

Like their counterparts across the border in Pakistan, refugees from North Waziristan are facing sizzling heat in Khost, prompting some to seek out shelter in cooler parts of Pakistan. Movement back into North Waziristan has been restricted by the Pakistani military, so some are making their way to other parts of Pakistan accessible only via Afghanistan.

Kamran Wazir, 36, a businessman, first went to Khost along with his wife and five children, because the Pakistani military’s curfew made travel to Bannu difficult. His family could not face the scorching sun in Khost though, so they left for the lush green and comparatively cold valleys of Kurram Agency, Pakistan, just north of North Waziristan.

“It was fine living there. But I think not so much better than Pakistan. There were issues of electricity and weather,” he said. “Now when the fasting month of Ramadan has arrived, it’s really difficult to live in Afghanistan as a refugee. The basic reason behind people going to Afghanistan is not the facilities they are offering, but actually due to curfew a large portion of North Waziristan was cut off from the rest of the country so we had no other option. ”

With the ground offensive already under way, it is possible that the entire civilian population of North Waziristan, more than 700,000 people, could be displaced.