SOUTH WAZIRISTAN: AN UPDATE
INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR--PAPER NO.360
Following is an update on the situation in the South Waziristan Agency of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan after my earlier article of January 19,2008, titled "PAF, SSG Go Into Action Against Mehsuds", which is available at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers26/paper2559.html .
January 22,2008: Mehsud fighters of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan attacked a fort at Ladah, where a mixed detachment of Frontier Corps and Special Services Group (SSG) personnel was deployed. They killed seven members of the detachment. They also claimed to have captured three SSG personnel and 10 members of the Frontier Corps, but this has been denied by the Pakistan Army. Despite the Army denial, the Mehsuds have continued to claim that they inflicted fatalities on the SSG personnel posted in the fort and captured three of them plus 10 members of the Frontier Corps. The detachment managed to beat back the attack. Two fighter jets of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) carried out an air strike on nearby Mehsud villages. The Army claimed to have killed 37 members of the Taliban, but this has been denied by a spokesman of Baitullah Mehsud, the Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban. He described all those killed as innocent civilians.
One Maulvi Umar, who claims to be the spokesman of Baitullah and keeps making phone calls to the Pakistani media from undisclosed destinations, rang up some media offices and warned that the Tehrik-e-Taliban would soon expand its activities from the tribal areas to the rest of the country and would launch severe attacks on Islamabad and other big cities, if the military operation was not stopped . He was quoted by the media as warning as follows: "Our attacks would destabilise the country and the Government would find it hard to control the situation." He also claimed that the Tehrik was responsible for assassinating three days earlier Nisar Ali Khan, the head of the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB) of the Intelligence Bureau in the Charsadda District of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). He said: "We killed him because people like him associated with intelligence agencies pass on false information about religious people, which later puts innocent people in trouble. It was because of their false information that innocent people suffered in Swat, Bajaur, Waziristan and other areas. We will target sensitive installations in Islamabad, including the headquarters of intelligence agencies, if the military does not stop its operation.”
January 23,2008: Reinforcements from the regular Army consisting of about six companies and six tanks along with heavy artillery were rushed to South Waziristan from the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). They went into action against suspected jihadi hide-outs. Simultaneously, air strikes by fighter planes of the PAF and helicopter gunships of the Army were intensified. In another phone call to the media, Maulvi Umar reportedly warned that the conflict could expand to North Waziristan if the Government did not halt the operation. He warned: “We are ready to fight and will attack army anywhere in Waziristan. The security forces would not be able to subjugate the tribal region and they would be forced to withdraw."Some Uzbeks of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) attacked a base of the Shawal Rifles in the Razmak area of North Waziristan and killed one soldier.
January 24, 2008: Ten Pakistani soldiers were killed and 32 injured in fierce clashes with the Taliban in different towns/villages of South Waziristan. The Army claimed to have killed 40 terrorists. This too was denied by the Tehrik, which described those killed as innocent villagers. The Army started taking action against Mehsud villages under the Frontier Crime Regulations (FCRs) of 1901 and seizing the movable and immovable properties of suspected pro-Baitullah village elders. The FCRs promulgated by the British are still in force in the FATA and the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan). Under these Regulations, if a tribal villager commits a crime and absconds, his entire village can be held accountable and punitive fines imposed on the villagers till they catch and hand over the absconding criminal to the police. The Army has warned that such punitive actions would continue till the villagers help in the killing or capture of Baitullah. Many Mehsud villages observed a strike. Their elders claimed that only five per cent of the Mehsuds supported Baitullah and alleged that even those not supporting him were punished indiscriminately. They have refused to shift to refugee camps set up by the Army so that they could escape air and artillery attacks. (25-1-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )