Operation in Waziristan

By K.N. Pandita

Belatedly Pakistan army has launched “comprehensive military operation” in North Waziristan. Justifying the action, army spokesman accused TTP leadership of stalling secret talks held in a Gulf State for resolving the logjam. Two conditions of TTP were not acceptable to Islamabad; namely unconditional release of all TTP prisoners and declaring Pakistan Islamic theocratic state where sharia law would prevail.  

For many years, Pakistan army remained non-responsive to US’ insistence on military action against the terrorist strongholds in North Waziristan where jihadis from other countries were concentrating.

How come that now the Government in Islamabad and the GHQ both have made loud announcement of impending action in volatile Waziristan?

The effective pressure and prompting have come not from Washington but from Beijing. It is interesting.

Just two days after Islamabad announced military action in North Waziristan, 13 Uighur activists of Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) indicted for involvement in Urumqi railway station attacks and killing of Han Chinese, were executed after summary trial. The timing is interesting.

Way back in 2012, the then Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi told his Pakistani hosts in Islamabad to take action against ethnic Uighur Islamic militants present in Pakistan’s lawless tribal area where they said the fighters are being trained before they cross into Xinjiang to carry out militant attacks.

Thereafter, Chinese Ministry of Public Security published a list of six terrorists with their profiles, saying they were operating in Pakistan. According to the Chinese list, Nurmemet Memetmin, described as the “commander of the ETIM”, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Pakistan, but he escaped in 2006 and has been planning new attacks against China, including the late July 2012 attacks on civilians in Kashgar. After the Kashgar attacks, Chinese authorities had invited the then Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence Chief Lt. Gen (r) Ahmed Shuja Pasha to Beijing in August and told him the militants had allegedly been trained in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

In March 2012, Xinjiang Governor, Nur Bekri warned that China was facing a network of militants entrenched in neighboring countries. Asked about the ETIM’s Pakistan connection, Bekri said: “We have certainly discovered that East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) activists and terrorists in our neighbouring state have a thousand and one links”.

In the past, China blamed Xinxiang’s violence on ETIM, Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT), and World Uighur Congress leader Rebia Kadeer. But it never implicated other countries, especially not its all-weather friend Pakistan. This thinking has changed.

In the most serious incident of violence in decades, 197 people were killed and about 1,700 others injured on July 5, 2009, when riots between Uighur and Han ethnic groups erupted in the regional capital of Urumchi.

Experts on militancy confirm the presence of militants of the ETIM in Pakistan’s North and South Waziristan regions, where several other foreign and international militant groups, such as the Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Army of Great Britain and Ittihad-e-Jihad Islami also operate.

Analysts assert that after Al Qaeda and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the ETIM is the third strongest foreign militant outfit operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas. According to one estimate, the number of Uighur militants in FATA was 50 to 300 during 2007-08. But today the number is said to be in the neighbourhood of 1000.

The influence of ETIM among jihadi groups is very strong so much so that the movement’s leader Abdul Shakoor Turkistani was rumoured to be Osama bin Laden’s successor after his death in May 2011.

Two days after TTP attack on Karachi International Airport, US drone attack on the hideouts of terrorists in North Waziristan successfully killed at least 16 terrorists including two important leaders, one of Uzbek and the other of Uighur origin as they were suspected to be the persons who had prepared the blueprint for Karachi airport attack.

As early as the month of May last, most of the foreign militants based in Waziristan area of Pakistan, had been noticed leaving the Machis Camp and Dattakhel village near Miranshah. They were also withdrawing from the villages of Musaki, Hurmaz, Hassankhel and Api. Those leaving these places included Chechens, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Tajiks and Uighurs all connected with one or the other Islamic radical organizations.

According to Reuters’ Pakistani security sources, hundreds of Uighurs moved to the unruly North Waziristan region on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border after China cracked down in Xinjiang following the July 2009 riots in Urumqi. China—Pakistan’s closest military, economic, and strategic ally—has been putting increased pressure on the Islamic Republic to root out Uighur separatists, and their numbers in the region.

Obviously, Pakistan Army’s military operation against the terrorists in North Waziristan is a sequel to two very clear perceptions. One is that Islamabad is under mounting pressure from China not to allow jihadi organizations converge on North Waziristan where they have the capability of providing terrorist training to recruits from other parts of the region including the Uighur youth of Xingjian. The second perception is that the powerful Pakistani Theo-fascist groups aiming at disintegrating Pakistani State and its military structure are not allowed to carry forward their agenda.

How deep will Pakistan army go into Waziristan in pursuit of the enemy and what will be the quantum and nature of its thrust is anybody’s guess. Side by side with the men in olive green inching deeper into the treacherous region of North Waziristan, ISI is in full motion to bring about cleavage in the rank and file of the enemy. Ultimately, it appears, a deal may be made with the remnants of TTP.
Our policy planners and strategist in New Delhi are debating the consequences of US-NATO pullout from Afghanistan on Kashmir security scenario. Now that Pakistan has launched comprehensive attack on the jihadis in Waziristan, it is going to be a long drawn battle which neither Pakistan army nor the TTP can endure.

But with the opening of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) front in Iraq, Islamic resurgence worldwide is adopting entirely new and unprecedented dimension. Scores of big or small Pakistan-based jihadi organizations are already geared to the philosophy of ISIS. Will the ISIS movement and fresh crisis in Iraq lead to polarization of Indian Muslim community also? That question is far more crucial than the immediate security scenario in Kashmir.

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