Border incursions: Suspicions grow about Afghan support for TTP

Published: September 11, 2011

Analysts say some Afghan Taliban may be aiding their Pakistani namesakes. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: 

Pakistan’s military believes the fugitive leaders of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are receiving outright support from militants as well as officials in Afghanistan, where they have found a safe haven.

The suspicion comes in the wake of an upsurge in cross-border incursions in Pakistan’s border regions led mainly by TTP militants and backed by their Afghan collaborators.

“The TTP senior cadres Maulana Fazlullah, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad and Abdul Wali, aka Omar Khalid, have been receiving support from local Afghan authorities and miscreants,” the military’s chief spokesperson Major-General Athar Abbas told The Express Tribune.

Maulana Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio, was the chief of TTP in Swat, while Maulvi Faqir and Omar Khalid headed the group in Bajaur and Mohmand, respectively.

Military officials have gone so far to accuse the authorities in northeastern Afghanistan of being complacent in these raids – a claim vehemently denied by Afghan officials.

The military itself does not directly blame them, but analysts believe some Afghan Taliban may be aiding their Pakistani namesakes, with or without approval from the group’s top hierarchy.

Hundreds of TTP insurgents had fled the military operations in the tribal regions of Bajaur, Mohmand and Malakand Division of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to find a safe haven in the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.

The exact number of TTP militants in Afghanistan is not known but Maj-Gen Abbas said that 200 to 300 militants have been mounting cross-border attacks in Dir and Chitral districts, suggesting they have a massive presence there.

“Militants from Bajaur and Mohmand are mostly based in Nuristan where they are hosted by an Afghan militant group, led by Qari Ziaur Rehman – a leader of the Salfi Taliban who are thought to be the closest ally of al Qaeda,” a senior military official told The Express Tribune requesting anonymity.

Salfi Islam is the bedrock of al Qaeda’s ideology, which is also followed by the Taliban controlling Kunar and Nuristan. This ideological convergence brought the two closer to each other.

Qari Zia is believed to be once a close confidante of Osama bin Laden and hosted him once after his epic escape from the Tora Bora mountains in 2001.

Peshawar-based security analyst Brigadier (retd) Muhamaad Saad believes the Taliban are not a monolithic entity. “They can be divided into three broad categories: Kandahari Taliban, led by Mullah Omar; Pakti Taliban, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son Sirajuddin Haqqani; and Salfi Taliban,” he said. “It’s the Salfi Taliban who pose a real threat to Pakistan. They may not be obeying the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar.” But the Afghan Taliban deny any schisms in the movement. “All mujahideen are united under the leadership of Mullah Omar,” Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid told The Express Tribune by phone from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.

A respected cleric who runs an Islamic seminary in Shekandai, a village on the border between Chitral and Nuristan, endorses Mujahid’s claim. “There is no evidence of Qari Zia’s group defying the authority of Mullah Omar,” said Maulana Jamal Abdul Nasir.

Two years ago, the Nuristan Taliban had kidnapped a Greek professor from Chitral. And they had offered to free him in return for the release of three Afghan commanders – Ustad Yasir, the second-in-command of the 1980s jihadi leader Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, Maulana Rehmatuddin Nuristani, a local commander from Nuristan and Maulvi Abdullah Akhund from Kandahar.

“This shows there are no differences between the Salfi Taliban and those led by Mullah Omar,” said Maulana Nasir. The Afghan Taliban do not interfere in the affairs of Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries.  “No member of Taliban can go against the movement’s policy,” Mujahid said – blaming the TTP for all cross-border incursions. He also denied Qari Zia’s group was sheltering the TTP militants.

The governor of Nuristan province also appears to be exonerating the Afghan Taliban. “The Afghan Taliban have never carried out cross-border attacks in Pakistan,” Tameem Nuristani told The Express Tribune by phone from his home.

He also put the blame squarely on the TTP. “Look, they (Pakistani Taliban) have killed hundreds of people in bomb and suicide attacks across Pakistan, they’re Pakistan’s enemy,” he added. Nuristani, however, conceded that the TTP militants have found ‘safe havens’ in Kunar and Nuristan. Asked why the Afghan authorities do not move against them, Nuristani said, “Like Waziristan, we, too, have areas where the government’s writ does not exist.”

Scores of Pakistani military and paramilitary troops and policemen have been killed in cross-border raids by militants in Dir and Chitral districts. Last month, dozens of people were killed in militant attacks on security check posts in Chitral. And earlier this month, dozens of young men from Bajaur Agency were seized by TTP while they strayed across the border in Nuristan during an outing.

What is Pakistan doing to stop such raids?

“In Dir (Upper and Lower) extra troops have been deployed to man the border region. And in Chitral, new check posts are being set up at a bridge connecting the region with Afghanistan. We are sending huge reinforcements there,” said Maj-Gen Abbas.

The unnamed senior military official said the military was also encouraging formation of village defence committees in Chitral on the pattern of Amn committees (qaumi lashkars) in the tribal regions. But he conceded that local residents were unwilling to join, fearing reprisals from the militants.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Maria
    Sep 11, 2011 - 9:51AM

    The Pakistani military needs to have a policy where they actively strike at these Afghani supported criminals within Afghanistan.

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  • Ishtiaer Hussain
    Sep 11, 2011 - 10:08AM

    Many of us think that once the US is out of Afghanistan, everything will be perfectly fine—Taliban will surrender their weapons and live peacefully ever after. As the US forces are withdrawing from Kunar and Noristan (the Afghan provinces bordering Bajor, Dir and Chitral), Pakistani Taliban with the help of their Afghan brethrens are filling the power vacuum and attacking Pakistani border villages to avenge their defeat in Swat. They have already kidnapped and killed scores of security personnel. Many fractions of Taliban are directly linked with Al-Qaeda. They have vested interest in continued instability of the region. Many Taliban commanders make money from drugs, kidnappings, car-lifting and robberies. These thuggish activities need instability to thrive. So the whole idea of Taliban surrendering and throwing away their weapons once the US forces leave is open to serious doubts. These guys would turn their guns at our and Afghan governments. Early signs of this trend are right before us. Our right-wingers (including Imran Khan) are completely wrong when they assume that Taliban would shun violence and return to “shepherding goats, doing agriculture and cutting woods”, once the US is out of the game. Just have a look back at the history. What happened once the Soviet forces left Afghanistan? The history will repeat itself again. Some religious elements are still deliberately flaunting Taliban’s peace (though graveyard-like) credentials back when they were the rulers of Afghanistan in an attempt to create sympathy for them in our media and masses.
    This time around, it would be hard for our “strategic thinkers” in the khaki, seeking once again strategic depth beyond our western border, to befriend Taliban. The outside world will never allow this to happen once again. So we have no choice but to fight and defeat the Taliban the hard way. For the time being, we have the US on our side to foot the bill for all the operations against Taliban. Once we lose the outside world’s sympathies, we have to do all on our own. The sooner we would do it, the better it would be for our country.

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  • Ishtiaer Hussain
    Sep 11, 2011 - 10:23AM

    If we can’t stop our militants based in Waziristan from staging attacks in Afghanistan, we have no right to ask the Afghan government to take serious notie of TTP thugs’ attacks on Dir and Chitral from Noristan and Kunar. Noristan’s governor is absolutely right when he says “Like Waziristan, we, too, have areas where the government’s writ does not exist.”

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  • Ishtiaer Hussain
    Sep 11, 2011 - 10:30AM

    It’s time for us to face the music for our blunders under the pretext of creating strategic depth in Afghanistan. Once US forces leave Afghanistan, we would have to face the onslaught of Taliban from Afghanistan who would be creating strategic depth of their own in Pakistan. By that time, we would also lose the advantage of having America’s massive and hi-tech fire-power on our side.

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  • Ishtiaer Hussain
    Sep 11, 2011 - 10:32AM

    Terrorism has ravaged our country with thousands of innocent people killed and untold amount of economic losses. But what makes me wonder is why we are not serious about tackling this issue the way it needs to be tackled. Our country is on the brink of collapse and we are still complacent and divided on this issue.
    When a bomb blast or any other terrorist activity happens in India killing a few innocent people, the Indian media, opposition parties and masses go berserk. Indian channels run special shows; Indian magazines and newspapers publish special editions detailing measures on how to keep India safe and defeat terrorists. Such hype is created by the Indian media that one feels the sky is about to fall. The Indian government seems to be doing everything possible to ensure that the culprits are taken to the task and such tragic incidents are avoided for the future.
    The situation is quite the opposite over here. Scores of people are killed every other day but nobody seems to care. It seems that we have become accustomed to the killings of innocents and consider it something as normal. Recommend

  • omer bin abdulaziz
    Sep 11, 2011 - 11:49AM

    A simple solution:

    Don’t mess with the Pashtuns. Don’t touch what Mohammed Ali Jinnah left untouched.

    The Taliban movement on both sides is gaining strength day by day. They are bound to join hands. And why won’t they. Don’t they share the same race and faith?

    If the US is withdrawing after a disgraceful defeat (which it hasn’t admitted yet) at the hands of the Taliban, how can Pakistan’s chocolate army finish the job?

    Reconciliation is the way forward.

    <Recommend

  • R S JOHAR
    Sep 11, 2011 - 12:18PM

    Pak military assessment of Afghan Taleban assisting TTP in border attacks appears to be correct. Haqqani group assisting TTP is not a good news for the military since it is the most powerful group amongst the three splinter groups and is in a position to influence others to join them. Americans and NATO forces who are unhappy with Pakistan on its dealing with Afghan Taleban are playing a tit for tat policy with this country, which would mean that Pakistan will have to deal with both Talebans all by itself.

    Moreover, most of the foreign defence analysts had made predictions that Afghan Taleban would join TTP after American’s withdrawl from Afghanistan and fight jointly against Pakistan to enforce Sharia on it but the same has happened sooner than expected. Pakistan needs to review its policy on Afghan Taleban on priority, before it is too late.

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  • Javed
    Sep 11, 2011 - 12:34PM

    Its a simple case of “what goes round comes round”. Our strategic assets are haunting us but we still continue to play the game. Welcome to strategic death.

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  • Ishtiaer Hussain
    Sep 11, 2011 - 1:52PM

    @omer bin abdulaziz:

    Yes, Taliban are ready for reconciliation but they will do it at their own terms. They would like to seize power in Islamabad and introduce “fassad” into the society in the name of enforcing Shariah Law. If the people of Pakistan are ready to make peace with Taliban at these conditions, they should welcome Taliban and accept them as the de facto rulers of Pakistan.

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  • Irshad Khan
    Sep 11, 2011 - 1:54PM

    To me the only solution is to make a proper barbed wire fencing and posts at the border whether mountains or valleys. After all India has has already made such border fencings in Kashmir and else where with Pakistan. There will be a lot of opposition from Afghanistan and from the people who live near the border on either side but can be taken into confidence explaining difficulties being faced by them and by our Army. But this border safety is must now and should be done at all costs once for all otherwise population and our armed forces and their check post will always remain unsafe due to hostile incursions.from either side.

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  • Ishtiaer Hussain
    Sep 11, 2011 - 1:55PM

    @omer bin abdulaziz:

    Yes don’t touch them even if they are about to bring the whole country down in ruins. We can’t sacrifice 180 million people for the ego of a few thousand barbarians.

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  • Ishtiaer Hussain
    Sep 11, 2011 - 1:58PM

    @omer bin abdulaziz:

    Yes, don’t touch them even if they are about to bring the whole country down in ruins. We can’t sacrifice the future of 180 million people at the altar of a few thousand barbarians’ ego.

    Recommend

  • Maulana Diesel
    Sep 11, 2011 - 9:58PM

    I think a trap needs to be set for them. A trap where they think a high value kidnapping target is visiting the area, use that target as bait to lure them into the trap. Once they fall in the trap make sure you do not take any prisoners. You have to be ruthless in these battles.

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  • Mindset
    Sep 11, 2011 - 11:29PM

    Pakistan is not an easy country and to place it fully under a democratic rule (so called psuedo democracy) is fool hardy. Due to its geographic, political surroundings, and strategic location it faces more dangers than most countries and any of its neighbours.
    Especially at this time,it needs tough military rule and control inside and at its borders otherwise it will be on a very slippery slope and difficult to reverse. Pakistan needs a strong military with a strong decisive spine to mind its own back yard first in order for the country to prosper otherwise there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The civillian government does not have that element of defense mentality or intelligence or urgency . . . .it simply lacks that kind of farsightedness. The foreign countries also lack the understanding about Pakistan’s strategic importance and dangers of imposing a complete democratic rule that each and every time weakens the country and invites anarchy and foreign proxy wars and bloodshed at its door steps. The leadership in Pakistan needs a longterm education in patriotism to ethically safegaurd and work for its people first, in order to evolve in a healthy manner. That mindset does not exist presently and thats why Military – the care taker of the people and the country should play the responsible role of not completely relying on the civillian government. Understanding, that there is too much on the Army’s plate . . .but tough . . . . they should have guarded their cities and borders as their responsibilities and not handed everything to the civillian government so easily with so much confidence. Mistakes are made, but they need to be fixed urgently. Military rule should go hand in hand with civillian rule until Pakistan can stand firmly, freely, securely and productively.

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  • Straight_Talk
    Sep 12, 2011 - 1:43AM

    This is history repeating itself. Pakistan did exactly this to India in Jammu And Kashmir and before that to the Soviets in Afghanistan. Now the USA seems to have made up its mind to do a Pakistan to Pakistan.USSR lost and left because it was no match to the huge resources of the USA. Similarly India survived and prevailed because of its huge resources vis-a-vis Pakistan. Pakistan doesn’t have that advantage vis-a-vis USA. So Pakistan is bound to crumble. i see Pakistan soon getting effectively divided into east and west with the Indus as the line. West of Indus Pakistan may effectively not exist beyond the next two years. The main US handicap towards Pakistan is the NATO supply line from the Pakistani ports via Khyber and Chaman. As the US forces withdraw the central asian route will increasingly become sufficient leaving Pakistan with no option against the US. Here we must also remember that whatever the US do from Afghanistan Pakistan will need the US aids and aids from institutions like IMF, World bank etc where USA is the effective authority. These proxy wars had emerged as a very effective tool for small powers against big powers. Through time big powers now have also learnt to reply back with similar proxy wars. Pakistan employed this strategy in a one sided manner for quite a long time. Then the US was disinterested about India and considered Pakistan as a pro-US and anti-communist state. The table has turned then on and now, i guess, is the pay back time for Pakistan. They are getting payed back in the own coin. Pakistan will eventually have to look up to China for support and help. My understanding says they will be in for a shock this time. China probably will not and most certainly cannot change the course of this war now. I see the next decade in Pakistan lost in this war which, i understand, means the US effectively is not leaving anytime soon.On paper the Americans will leave soon but in effect they will REMAIN invisible in the Af-Pak ( or is it now Pak-Af ) for God knows how long.

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  • AM
    Sep 12, 2011 - 1:46AM

    Simple Solution,

    Deploy electric fencing.
    Place millions of mines on the entire pak-afghan border.
    If that doesn’t suffice, go ahead and bomb their safe heavens.

    Recommend

  • Straight_Talk
    Sep 12, 2011 - 2:10AM

    @Maria:

    If Pakistan does that they would justify the logic behind US operation Geronimo against Osama. The US, for one, does not believe in the Pakistani story on OBL’s presence in Abottabad.The US will then start conducting such operations more often may be from its aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean or may be from Central Asian bases. India may also take a leaf out of it and follow suit against the Jehadi camps inside Pakistan. Pakistan may threaten war to stop India but will have no answer for the same done by USA on behalf of India. Further muscle flexing will only worsen things for Pakistan and isolate it in the world arena. Deterence due to Nuclear weapons are useless in these kinds of wars because one cannot conclusively blame any country and therefore responsibility.

    Recommend

  • Sajida
    Sep 12, 2011 - 2:16AM

    Since Karzai is mayor of Kabul essentially, it just means Pashtun Afghanis are involved.

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  • Straight_Talk
    Sep 12, 2011 - 2:34AM

    @Irshad Khan:

    You cannot and will not shift your forces from the eastern border with India. So you would need to recruit more soldiers for the western border to man the fences that you have proposed. Now your border with India is mostly plain land except LOC. Still it consumes so many forces. Your western border is such that you would require to atleast double the size of your army to guard those fences and even then their will be considerable casualty. This means a huge increase in defence expenditure. Then there will be the huge cost of fencing and the associated infrastructure and also on the kind of weapons and surveillance systems required by the soldiers. The total cost of all these will be crippling for the economy that is already in a shamble. Think about it ?

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  • Straight_Talk
    Sep 12, 2011 - 2:38AM

    @Maulana Diesel:

    This may win you a battle or two but not the war. Surprise more often than not remains with the invaders. This is true for every war. It will be no different in this case.

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  • Straight_Talk
    Sep 12, 2011 - 3:06AM

    This workable strategy seems to me to start improving relations with India, Russia proactively. However this will take some time. For the interim period tame the US temper by fulfilling its demands specially regarding the US priority list of most wanted in Pakistan. First agree to support them fully and promptly and then employ negotiation skills gradually to delay and give as less as possible without making them feel that they are being played with. In the mean time persuade India to a peace treaty or into some kind of a truce with mutual troop reduction so that some troops can be shifted from the east to the west border. India will surely find logic in this for the chinese threat from the north and northeast.Similarly persuade Russia to choke the US supply from the Central asia. Russia can be influenced thus with time by allowing it to sell oil and gas to countries like India via a pipeline through Pakistan. Then nudge and slowly and nicely ease out the US from your neighbourhood. This will take time and will also make Pakistan a more neutral state. There is high chance that the Chinese will be a bit dissatisfied but this will, non-the-less save pakistan from a otherwise sure disaster and destruction.

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  • omer bin abdulaziz
    Sep 12, 2011 - 4:31PM

    @Ishtiaer Hussain:

    “Yes, don’t touch them even if they are about to bring the whole country down in ruins. We can’t sacrifice the future of 180 million people at the altar of a few thousand barbarians’ ego.”

    Don’t take partial statements to prove your point. I had said: “Don’t touch what Mohammed Ali Jinnah left untouched.”

    For over 60 years and the govt has done nothing for Fata. Let alone building schools and hospitals, it has not even rid the area of the black laws of the British Raj — the infamous FCR.

    Under which pretext, do you call them barbarians? They are wrong yes, but so is your army. Aren’t both sides killing people. Is it OK for the state and its men to kill while all the condemnation is kept for the ‘barbarians’?

    This war is a never ending one. More people will lose their lives if the govt doesn’t hold back its support to the coalition forces.

    The Pashtuns are known to honour their word. If they say peace, they will honour it at the expense of their lives. Not like the corrupt politicians of Pakistan, who keep changing their statements as fast as a child changes its diapers!Recommend

  • Dr Khan
    Sep 13, 2011 - 5:23AM

    Funny how none of you have been able to grasp the underlying politics and the difference between the Taliban and the newer organizations. Read up on the history of soviet invasion, and the actions of the Pakistani Army and the mujahideen who later made up the Taliban. The Afghan Taliban are not the terrorists the media is so bent on portraying. Shariah will insha’a Allah prevail in Pakistan, whether the secularists like it or not. Don’t know how or who will bring Pakistan the Islamic identity it has been waiting for more than 60 years, but the days of secular Pakistan are numbered. And please dont give me any trash about religion being the cause of Pakistan’s state, we have never had an Islamic party, we have always been put through secular democracy in various cheap flavors of the PPP or the PML, and if not, it’s been military rule.

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  • R S JOHAR
    Sep 13, 2011 - 10:08AM

    @Dr Khan:
    Can you please explain how enforcement of shariah will bring peace and prosperity to Pakistan? Do you understand the actual meaning of being secular ?? Do you believe in one ‘God or Allah’ Who created all religions or He only exists for one sect of Muslims which you belong to, whereas others are kuffars and jihad should be waged on them to bring them under the fold of Islam ???

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