North Waziristan — a first-hand account

Published: April 29, 2012

The writer is a retired army officer who served in Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa khalid.munir@tribune.com.pk

Soon after conquering Waziristan in 19th century, the British realised that instead of being rulers, they were the prisoners. Movement was with heavy escorts and had to be guarded by piqueting the route. Over a century later, it seems that nothing has changed. At least, that is the impression I got during my short stay at North Waziristan.
Questions about the inaction of the army are answered only by visiting the area. The terrain is mountainous and it is impossible to resort to the same tactics as those used in Kashmir because peaks are not mutually defended. As a result, wide gaps are left open between various posts making it impossible to stop movement across the border.
No one controls North Waziristan. The army has not exerted its power to take complete control of the agency due to justifiable reasons. The Taliban are divided between various groups and even their authority is eroding; locals ignored the warning given through pamphlets by Hafiz Gul Bahadur asking them not to work on the road being built by the Frontier Works Organisation.
Unless militants attack the troops, camps or check posts, no action is taken by the army. Movement from one place to another occurs in heavily armed convoys and that also only once a week for administrative requirements. Curfew has to be imposed from Bannu to Miranshah, Mirali, Razmak and Datta Khel during movements. Although piquets are in place to guard the convoys, five improvised explosive devices exploded during my travel to Miranshah causing casualties. Thus, movement has become a logistical and tactical exercise.

Uzbeks, Tajiks and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) members have settled down in the Dawar areas mostly around Mirali. Miranshah has become an international city where nationals from all countries can be found.  Due to fear of Taliban reprisal, intellectual gatherings are mostly restricted to electronic eavesdropping.

Maintaining peace has been left to the peace committee which moderates between the Taliban and the political administration. The army only reacts if it is attacked and that, too, only after political administration and the local Jirga agree on punitive action. Collective punishment is still resorted but on a much smaller scale.

Political administration has lost the control it once exercised in Fata. Unlike Islamabad and Lahore, locals are not against drone attacks due to their accuracy in hitting militant targets. It seems that the army and government have also reconciled with drone attacks and if other problems are solved with Nato, drone attacks will not remain an issue irrespective of what the All Parties Conference or parliament say.
With the return of internally displaced persons, incidents of militant attacks in South Waziristan have increased. In neighbouring agencies such as Kurram, Orakzai, and Tirah in Khyber, the situation is still not under control. Additional troops will have to be inducted by bringing in fresh troops from other parts of the country. However, most troops are deployed for internal security making them unavailable for border duty. Crossing points have to logically be near main routes but nothing stops the Taliban from crossing over from unconventional routes. Measures such as colouring fertilisers, which are now being following, will not be of much help.

With calls from Nato and the USA for action against the Haqqani network and keeping our own interest in mind, we will have to resort to a military operation. But for the time being, this is impossible to do.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (35)

  • Roflcopter
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:35PM

    “we will have to resort to a military operation.” So that we can further destabilize the country? US getting out of this region is what is in our interest. Military action against Haqqani, who is not our enemy and in fact can be seen as an ally, would be major stupidity. We can never satisfy US even if we go after Haqqani but it will only bring destruction to us.

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  • Sayyed Mehdi
    Apr 29, 2012 - 8:47PM

    locals are not against drone attacks due to their accuracy in hitting militant targets

    I have also heard this statement from locals of Waziristan before. In fact, one of them told me that they actually celebrate drone attacks in the area.

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  • Rabzon
    Apr 29, 2012 - 10:21PM

    “Unless militants attack the troops, camps or check posts, no action is taken by the army.”

    “Uzbeks, Tajiks and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) members have settled down in the Dawar areas mostly around Mirali. Miranshah has become an international city where nationals from all countries can be found.”

    “locals are not against drone attacks due to their accuracy in hitting militant targets.”

    Very interesting and revealing facts, all coming from a perspective of an army officer who’s been there.

    I thank you sir for your honesty.

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  • Moiz
    Apr 29, 2012 - 10:55PM

    “With calls from Nato and the USA for action against the Haqqani network and keeping our own interest in mind, we will have to resort to a military operation. But for the time being, this is impossible to do.”

    Easily the most illogical conclusion I have ever read in this paper. Now that you’ve deemed it impossible, shall we do an operation now anyway? also, articles are better when they’re not fulfilling a very obvious agenda. at least be more subtle about it.

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  • Falcon
    Apr 29, 2012 - 11:54PM

    While the article was interesting in some aspects, I wonder how different are the operational dynamics of Army and current political elite from that of the British. Both live inside walled cities of their own and therefore lack a tacit feel of intangibles that is fueling domestic insurgency. An analysis conducted in so much isolation is always over-simplified and the resultant strategy almost always flawed.

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  • Iqbal
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:45AM

    Uzbeks what are these foreigners going here. Should’t they living in their country. After all Uzbekistan is a huge country and has a small population. It is these alien races which cause problems.

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  • ishtiaer hussain
    Apr 30, 2012 - 1:22AM

    @Sayyed Mehdi:

    Yes, one of my friends from Waziristan also says the same thing that drone attacks are welcome in Waziristan. Because of their accuracy, undetechtability, extensive electronic eveasdropping and night-attack capabilities, they are the ultimate weapon to hunt down terrorists. F-16s or gunships are not the solution for such unyeilding and rough terrain. Along with greater collateral damage, the mere noise of jets or gunships from far away will drive terrorists deeper into the extensive cave networks in rocky mountains.

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  • Maryam
    Apr 30, 2012 - 4:01AM

    That is an interesting read with vital first hand information and thanks for sharing this with the readers. But Alas our military establishment is not giving a damn & waiting for a complete withdrawal of NATO to use these ‘assets’. As for as the the people living in the denialistan of urban Pakistan (Karachi Lahore & Islamabad) is concerned, they will not understand this article unless there is a huge presence of militant activities at their homes cities. If they are faced with similar situation where the militants are free to operate while the Army is not responding, they will also pray for Drones to hit them and rescue them. Every time there is halt in Drone Attacks, people of North Waziristan become worried.

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  • Apr 30, 2012 - 5:10AM

    @Roflcopter
    Haqqani’s war is not our war. He needs to go to Afghanistan and continue killing Afghans. Thinking of Haqqan as Pakistani ally is sheer stupidity.

    I appreciate the honesty of the writer of the article but sounds to me like Pakistan has no sovereignty in Waziristan.

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  • Roflcopter
    Apr 30, 2012 - 5:36AM

    The only way for Pakistan to not fail is to realize our own incompetence.

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  • Basit
    Apr 30, 2012 - 6:04AM

    @bangash:
    When did Pakistan have any real sovereignty in FATA? It’s gotten worse of course since the “war on terror”.

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  • Hafeez
    Apr 30, 2012 - 9:04AM

    I am surprised that someone from army can be so candid and open about the realities in North Waziristan. Kudos!

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  • Apr 30, 2012 - 9:06AM

    What a joke, comparing mortar shelling to drone attacks obviously people will say they don’t support mortar shelling over drone attacks. The main point of this article seems to be to push the US agenda of allowing drone strikes in Pakistan.

    Why allow a foreign country to attack them at all? The issue has never been of their accuracy, but always about not going through due process and giving the people being deemed fit to be murdered a fair trial first.

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  • vasan
    Apr 30, 2012 - 9:39AM

    I dont know why Pakistan keeps complaining about drone attacks, inspite of this article and many other articles emphasize that the drone attacks are preferred by the residents of N&S waziristan, minimum collateral damage, (men or materials) etc etc. IS it because with every drone attack, Pakistan is losing some of its terror assets and hence strategic dep(a)th, or is it because they want to divert attention of the public from real governance.

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  • Aley
    Apr 30, 2012 - 10:04AM

    Where is the Anti-Drone Fraternity…..See the facts

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  • Khalid Rahim
    Apr 30, 2012 - 10:44AM

    As long as NATO troops led by US command are deployed in Afganistan trouble will brew! The other issue is the power struggle in the political arena between Tajiks and Pashtuns with the former receiving support from Central Asian Republics, India and NATO. Whereas the Afghan Pashtuns including the Taliban group receive partial support from Pakistan. The fact that US has great strategic interest in keeping Afghanistan under thumb cannot be ignored. It is also India’s interest as US strategic partner to stay in Afghanistan as economic partner. Only a government with character of great honesty, integrity and balance intellectual capacity in Pakistan can help end the stalemate.

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  • Apr 30, 2012 - 11:29AM

    The article is very well written and most importantly it reveals some veiled facts that are never expressed in the print and or electronic media. But I just have one question- If the drone attacks are cherished by the locals, why do they stage protest against the very drone attacks? They have protested in the very tribal areas where drone attacks were used and also in front of the presidency in Islamabad, not just once but a lot of time.
    Even foreign journalist like Clive Stafford Smith have staged their protest, along with eminent people like Jamima Khan, against such drone attacks.

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  • YUSUFZAI
    Apr 30, 2012 - 12:49PM

    All is not that simple in FATA as the writerer is showing.You cannot show the true picture while going in with army escort.This is the version that army wants to show .If the locals cannot take on Taliban, they also cannot contradict the army.If you do, there are serious consequences.

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  • Iron hand
    Apr 30, 2012 - 1:17PM

    @Asim Siddiqui: please, arrest all the terrorists in FATA so they can be given a fair trial. Drones are an alternative when the fair trial option isn’t being or can’t be implemented by the “sovereign” country. Or would the Pakistani people prefer that US forces invade and police the area? Somehow I don’t think that’s an option you’d support.

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  • Zoaib
    Apr 30, 2012 - 1:35PM

    Further, also see another eye-witness account of the drone strikes by one of the “locals” who you say welcome them.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/17/us-drone-strikes-pakistan-waziristan

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  • Zoaib
    Apr 30, 2012 - 2:55PM

    With all due respect, your point (or observation) about locals not against drone attacks seems to be untrue if you see other credible reports from the area. For instance check out this on-ground survey of FATA conducted by New American Foundation. It says:

    “More than three-quarters of FATA residents oppose American drone strikes. Indeed, only 16 percent think these strikes accurately target militants; 48 percent think they largely kill civilians and another 33 percent feel they kill both civilians and militants. “

    http://newamerica.net/publications/policy/publicopinioninpakistanstribalregions

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  • Roflcopter
    Apr 30, 2012 - 3:01PM

    @bangash, Haqqani is pro Pakistan, has been for years and Afghan Taliban/Haqqani are the only ones that can counter India backed Anti Pakistan forces in Afghanistan…so it’s stupid to say Haqqani is not our ally.

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  • usmani
    Apr 30, 2012 - 4:06PM

    @Asim siddique @ Zoaib You are right when negating the saying “that tribe people welcome the drone attack.”It seems the disinformation statement by khalid Munir,despite some good and lively description of the condition of NW, SW.

    How can the tribal people could rejoice the killing of the drone attack, when so many innocent people,woman and children has been killed by the drones. According the bureau of investigative journalism, a non profit organisation, there are more than 385 civilians , including the 169 children has been killed by the drones attack.

    Wriiter Khalid seems to be extending the moto of the government when they internally do the promises with Amerca, no matter what the parliament has been agreed on some 14 point agenda including the stopping of the drones attack.

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  • A Peshawary
    Apr 30, 2012 - 4:38PM

    What about supply of arms to the fighers agains the humanity? Who are their main suppliers and why cant’ we stop it?
    If the supply arms is even not totally stopped may be reduced will it help easing the situation or not?

    A Peshwary

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  • bangash
    Apr 30, 2012 - 6:38PM

    @Roflcopter
    Haqqani is pro-Pakistan because we have given him money,land and recruits so that he can fight his war in Afghanistan. No Afghan group has ever protected Pakistan’s interests and expecting drug smugglers and suicide bombers to protect Pakistani interest is crazy.

    We can counter India by treating Afghans as human beings and their country on the basis of mutual respect and sovereignty.

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  • Gohar Mehsud
    Apr 30, 2012 - 8:42PM

    it is really a good step taken by an army official! that comes to before a known media source to explain about the situation in N Waziristan. But being a Waziristani i don’t understand that why the security forces in South & North Waziristan or other tribal areas or adjacent areas behave to the common tribe men like militants. are they want to compel the tribe men for militancy or resistance?
    one thing Mr. Khalid Munir, as you mention different things about North Waziristan areas like Mir Ali, Miransha, lands mines etc but you have not mention that why the Mehsud’s of South waziristan are banned with out any prior permission not to go to the WANA , the Headquarter of South Waziristan, why an NOC is compulsory for them, why the gateway of Khajera Check post was blocked for the common tribes men of Shaktoe, Khaisoor of Mir Ali etc. Because they were Mehsud????????
    if it Pakistan Army or local government of the tribal areas want to make the situation better, they must work and would prov the assurance that Pak Army is there own not of others. Because the Army attitude in the tribal areas are very rude and misbehaved.

    We all being Pakistani nation think for each other, and to make happy the common tribes men not only the nominated Aman Committees are in the errand of all nation.

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  • Sayyed Mehdi
    Apr 30, 2012 - 8:50PM

    Thanks for sharing the info, Zoaib. I didn’t know reliable statistics were available.

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  • Elhaan Khan
    Apr 30, 2012 - 11:06PM

    We Pakhtuns are sick of Punjab establishment’s games on our soil. Drones are doing the job that our establishment should have finished years ago. Taliban being made to look invincible by establishment which can be easily eliminated by Pakhtuns provided establishment stops providing them covert support.

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  • Roflcopter
    May 1, 2012 - 12:13AM

    @bangash, we’re not giving Haqqani anything right now.

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  • SM
    May 1, 2012 - 1:19PM

    Dear Author, nothing is impossible if you have a proper strategy, learn from your own and others’ experiences and seek help from allies. Please do not give up before you try.

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  • May 1, 2012 - 3:02PM

    @Iron hand: How is it an option? Tell me at what point killing your child is an option just because the main authority isn’t able to kill/arrest you? Drones hit missiles and at any given time take out a building, which kills all occupants.

    Moreover, they are our criminals we are slowly expanding writ of the government and we will get them when we can. How does it allow US to bomb our country for it?

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  • You Said It
    May 1, 2012 - 4:31PM

    Pakistan Army’s only victories have been achieved within Pakistan’s borders. It already has lost all wars with outsiders. Now it seems our army has started to lose wars within our borders too.

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  • May 1, 2012 - 5:58PM

    @You Said It:
    This tripe fails to stand a test of arguments when we were not the technical aggressors in any of the wars and have defended our territory save Bangladesh which had a host of other issues involved.

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  • Prabhjyot Singh Madan
    May 2, 2012 - 8:21PM

    A foreign country is bombing your country. They pay your government for drone attacks, how low can the land of my ancestors go down. It is simple, educate people, establish law and order, provide job in government funded projects and expell the outsiders WTC Uzbeks tajiks….etc. teach the children there about love and humanity. Rab rakha…sat Sri akal, salam, peace

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  • Hafeez
    May 8, 2012 - 4:21AM

    @Harris Azhar:
    As far as I know, there has been a very small protest against drone strikes. Or may be two. Not more than that. In order to digest such a shocking info it is important to understand the context. The very culture of the tribal people has been threatened by the militants. There are no more independant jirgas, there has been ban on music (attan and dhole/drum is an integral part of tribal culture), militants have been dispensing justice in contrast to previous practice of jirgas. Besides that militants have killed many well respected leaders of the tribes and that has further antagonized locals. Locals do not have control over their lives, their businesses and even their homes. They have to provide refuge when asked for that. Additionally, the drone strikes have been very precise and, except a few instances, the right targets were destroyed. Compared to the civilian casualties by drone strikes, the casualties at the hands of militants are far more in number. And most of the locals call these drones as Abaabeels, the birds mentioned in Quran that saved Kaaba from Abraha.

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