Militants from Afghanistan attacked several villages inside Bajaur Agency on June 16. They have been repulsed by a combination of official and private forces, and the Afghan ambassador has been called in for an upbraiding in Islamabad. Earlier, Upper Dir was the target for militants from across the border. The battle against terrorism has entered its most murky phase as identities of ‘enemy and friend’ become mixed. The irony is that the Americans say they strike elements that are enemies of Pakistan, while Pakistan protests to Kabul — and indirectly to the US — for raids inside Pakistani territory describing the ‘enemy’ differently. Yet some Pakistani observers think that the Upper Dir raid was carried out by a mixture of Afghan and Pakistani militants formerly ousted from the Malakand Division by the Pakistan Army.
Bajaur is the smallest tribal agency with the largest population, which means it is — or was — the most prosperous agency with most people employed in the Gulf and in Karachi. But it is also next to Kunar in Afghanistan, which has a strong al Qaeda presence. Kunar has for sometime been under al Qaeda’s influence and this is where alZawahiri was found to be hiding while he came to Bajaur, according to reports. Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, the most dreaded al Qaeda commander, has sworn revenge against Pakistan for Osama bin Laden’s killing. The Pakistan Army attacked Bajaur in 2008 and has control over the local population, but incursions from Kunar continue to destabilise towns. The truth is more complex than diplomatic protests can make clear. Pakistan’s loose hold on Bajaur is undermined by a loose hold of Kabul in Kunar. The raiders who come across the Durand Line are a mix of Taliban from both sides. Al Qaeda flourishes in these circumstances, aided by confusion over the designation of the enemy.
The good thing is that Islamabad and Kabul are talking as cooperating neighbours. But the third party with better battle outreach than both, the US, is increasingly being seen as the common foe.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2011.