Why Pak Army reacted strongly to copter strike in Kurram?
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By B Raman
Issue Net Edition | Date : 22 Oct , 2010

“The US, while targeting the Haqqanis, is pursuing the ‘hammer and anvil approach’. Alongside the spike in the drone attacks, US Special Forces have launched an intense operation against the group in eastern Afghanistan, killing a number of its ‘commanders’. The Haqqani network has been the focus of US action for the past two years. However, after the Dec 2009 suicide attack on the Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, a key facility of the CIA, the network again came under renewed focus. In this unprecedented intense bombardment by drones, military officials see a shift in US policy in Afghanistan from counter-insurgency to counter-terrorism.” — “Dawn” of Karachi of September 16, 2010.

The US has been carrying on Drone (pilotless plane) strikes against suspected members of Al Qaeda and its associate jihadi organizations in North and South Waziristan for nearly four years. These strikes have been stepped up since President Barack Obama assumed office in January last year. There has been a further escalation of the strikes since the beginning of September following reports of an Al Qaeda-inspired plot to carry out Mumbai—26/11 style terrorist strikes in the UK, France and Germany.

Pakistan Army must have been highly concerned over the stepped-up Drone strikes in that area and reacted strongly against them “¦ calling them a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

These strikes have killed many known and identified senior cadres of Al Qaeda, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other associate organizations of Al Qaeda. They have also killed some European recruits to Al Qaeda such as Rashid Rauf of the Jaish-e-Mohammad, who was a British citizen of Mirpuri origin, and German recruits to the Islamic Jihad Union. However, they have not had any success in locating and neutralizing Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, his No.2, Jalalludin Haqqani and his son Serajuddin. The US information seems to be that they are probably in North Waziristan. Hence, the largest number of Drone strikes in that area. The US suspicion has also been strengthened by the reluctance of the Pakistan Army to undertake operations in the North Waziristan area.

If it is true that these prized assets of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are in North Waziristan, the Pakistan Army must have been highly concerned over the stepped-up Drone strikes in that area and reacted strongly against them. But it did not show signs of any such concern. It did protest pro forma against the Drone strikes, calling them a violation of Pakistani sovereignty and calling upon the US periodically to stop them. Beyond that, it did nothing. The presumption in Pakistan is that these strikes are being carried out with the nod of the Pakistani Army.

The same Army, which has avoided any retaliatory action against the US for the Drone strikes, reacted vehemently against a helicopter strike by a NATO helicopter on a ground position in the area of the Kurram Agency, in which two soldiers of a para-military unit of the Army were reportedly killed. The Pakistan Army not only protested strongly against the attack, but even retaliated on the ground by stopping the flow of logistic supplies to the NATO forces in Afghanistan through the Torkham area. The US was so concerned by the impact of this on the logistics position in Afghanistan that it asked its then Ambassador in Pakistan, Anne Patterson, to publicly apologise to the Pakistani authorities for this incident. Other apologies from the Pentagon followed. Only then, did the Pakistani Army relent and allow the resumption of logistic supplies.

NATO helicopter, which bombed a position in the Kurram Agency, had unwittingly gone very close to the area where the prized assets of the ISI are sheltered.

Why did the Pakistan Army retaliate so vehemently against one copter strike in the Kurram area, whereas it had closed its eyes to dozens of Drone strikes in the two Waziristans? According to well-informed Pakistani police sources, this was because the NATO helicopter, which bombed a position in the Kurram Agency, had unwittingly gone very close to the area where the prized assets of the ISI are sheltered. Fears that the US intelligence might have come to know of the presence of these elements in the Kurram area created panic in the GHQ of the Army. It decided to retaliate by stopping the flow of logistics in order to prevent any more strikes by the NATO copters in the area.

The “Dawn” Karachi of October 21 has come out with a report on the ground situation in the Kurram area, which explains the importance of Kurram for the Haqqani network and others in the following words: “The most important among all the agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Kurram borders Afghanistan’s Khost province in the south, Paktia in the southwest and Nangarhar in the north, while Kabul is 90 kilometres west of Parachinar. In fact, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, all the major groups of ‘Mujahideen’ had bases in the area.

The Haqqani group is active in Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Ghazni and Wardak, which is close to Kabul. And especially as Waziristan has become vulnerable for the network in the wake of frequent US drone attacks, the Haqqanis are desperate to find safe locations outside the agency. Kurram would prove ideal for them and this is why they are trying to reconcile with the tribes in its lower and upper parts. They are not the first to find Kurram’s proximity to Afghanistan attractive. In fact, Taliban first came there in 2006 when they moved to Orakzai Agency and some parts of Kurram from Waziristan after signing peace deals with the government. Baitullah Mehsud, the late chief of the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban, Pakistan had deputed Hakimullah Mehsud to oversee Kurram, Khyber and Orakzai. Another reason the Taliban shifted activities to Orakzai and Kurram was that North and South Waziristan were being closely watched by the International Security Assistance Force for Afghanistan and they were facing difficulties crossing the border from there.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

B Raman

Former, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai & Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat. He is the author of The Kaoboys of R&AW, A Terrorist State as a Frontline Ally,  INTELLIGENCE, PAST, PRESENT & FUTUREMumbai 26/11: A Day of Infamy and Terrorism: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.

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