Waziristan: The Sanctuary for Local and International Militants
With the launching of the US led ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan, Taliban was forced into a state of disarray. A regime that had managed to control as much as 90% of Afghanistan’s territory, and that too for a period as long as five years, the battery of attacks by the US, followed by the NATO invasion, attempted to wipe out Taliban hideouts and military hubs from the treacherous swathes of Afghanistan’s territory.
The cohesive force of Taliban was strewn along with their Arab financers such as the Al-Qaida main operatives and its varied sympathizers and adherents. The constant aerial strikes and ground raids by US forces made it difficult for foreign and Taliban fighters to secure their bases inside Afghanistan to reestablish their network.
In December 2001, al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Afghanistan were defeated in the battle of Tora Bora and the survivors belonging to these two outfits were compelled to flee to the tribal region across the Durand Line (the disputed frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan) into Pakistan, places from where they had originally emanated. Many more were to flee into the region of South Waziristan after the launching of Operation Anaconda, and so they did.
Secured in territories that were not being rained with bullets and missiles from the sky – at least not in the beginning of the war on terror- those who had managed to escape to the tribal regions of Pakistan, found an opportunity to revive their embattled fighters. They rebuild their central command there, particularly in a remote part of South Waziristan known as the Shakai Valley.
The dispersed force of Taliban was once again restructured in tribal regions across the Durand Line; in the rugged mountainous and harsh geographical region of South Waziristan. A region that has not seen much development and suffers from the absence of basic modern infrastructure such as roads, communications, electricity and the like, South Waziristan once again played host to a band of men who had perpetrated its archaic and parochial wrath on the people of Afghanistan for more than five years.
The arrival of ‘Talibanism’, Taliban’s ideology, to Waziristan was well embraced by the local religious and unemployed populace and the number of sympathizers increased in the ranks of Taliban fighters. Taliban led a broader campaign to locally recruit religious students from madrassas and as well young volunteers who were prepared to join their jihadi caravans and fight against US Coalition and Afghan security forces in Afghanistan.
Supporting the Taliban in its efforts to resuscitate its fledgling organization, Al- Qaida commenced its enlisting campaign among their Arab and Uzbek radicals. The campaign was well received in the areas where it was launched, and with this the Taliban and their foreigner companions were able to reinforce their combat strategy into the Afghan territories and find foothold for themselves once again. Managing to erect Tashkil with strong local intelligence capability, Taliban managed to establish military bases inside Afghanistan from where they launched ground offensives against international forces and as well the Afghan security forces.
As Afghanistan continued to march on the path of development and progress, secured in the military and financial support it was receiving from across the globe, Taliban continued to be pushed into the outskirts or even beyond the borders of the country. In 2007, the Uzbek fighters in the northern parts of Afghanistan managed to force the remaining Taliban in their areas to flee to North Waziristan in Pakistan. However, while this could have been a step in the direction of ridding Afghanistan of Taliban’s presence, but for the immense porosity of a largely imaginary Durand frontier; Taliban upon re-grouping itself could succeed in penetrating into those same spaces from where it had been ejected.
Of all the things that the conflict in Afghanistan has brought to light, it is the precarious, lawless and volatile situation of Waziristan. What could never be successfully integrated into the British imperial order or even the present state structure of Pakistan, the region that is called Waziristan continues to throw challenges of violence, extremism and radicalism at the whole world. Its difficult terrain, volatility, remoteness and lack of basic modern amenities have come to ensure that this remote tribal agency in northwestern Pakistan becomes a safe haven for Taliban insurgents, al-Qaeda fighters and the other rogue elements that continue to harm Afghanistan, Pakistan many countries beyond these two.
Trying to rein in its volatility, Pakistan military initiated operation under the name of Zarb-e-Azb against various militant groups in Waziristan who had posed threats to Pakistan internal security and national interests. For the first time, the Pakistani military enforced a military strategy against the armed groups with the mandate to “seek, destroy, clear and hold”. The Pakistani military has managed to combine these elements into a single doctrine for the operation to be efficacious. And, there were many reasons behind this fresh pursuit.
Of late, Waziristan has become host for local and international militants who find it convenient to stay and train here. Heal, re-arm, train, and plan is what the territories within Waziristan have been used for. These groups which have been termed as the ‘bad Taliban’ by Pakistani government, like the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan have been operating out of Waziristan’s impenetrable terrain.
Although the operation has been hailed as successful, the weakness of the operation however, lies in the Pakistan’s lack of interest in coordinating with the government across the border. As a consequence, just as in many previous military operations when militants escaped by fleeing into North Waziristan agency, this time they have sneaked into the relative safety offered by Afghanistan. Now they are hiding in the lawless parts of the country where they are regrouping with the existing Afghan militants who are in direct fight with the Afghan security forces.
An additional risk mounting from Operation Zarb-e-Azb is that the contiguous Afghan provinces can now become the “new North Waziristan” as militants pushed out by Zarb-e-Azb have taken shelter there, This lack of Afghanistan-Pakistan cooperation has worsened the security situation in Afghanistan. To conclude, the insurgency being fought militarily by Pakistan is in need of a political solution, involving not only the two countries that have suffered immensely from the migrating terror outfits, but also the international forces that were called in to wipe them out.