ISLAMABAD: As the military continues to drag its feet over the North Waziristan offensive, the Haqqani network has significantly added to both its numerical strength and combat capabilities during the past two years despite a huge surge in strikes by US drones to restrict its movement.
“We have been watching the group carefully recently …and there are no signs of it getting weak. In fact, its strength is growing,” said an official, who did not want to be identified because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, rejecting a general perception that a sustained drone operation had shattered it.
People living in Mirali and Miranshah towns of the North Waziristan Agency also appeared to be seconding this assessment.
“Nothing has changed. Everything looks just as it was before drones started attacking the network,” said Mirajuddin Wazir, who recently returned to Islamabad from his hometown there.
The Haqqani network “is now in control of areas in Afghanistan from Helmand province to Ghazni and Parwan”, said Syed Saleem Shahzad, a freelance reporter conversant on Afghan issues, who recently returned from Baghlan.
“It looks the entire Pashtun population is on its (Haqqani network’s) side in Afghanistan, primarily in areas where there is poverty and unemployment,” he told The Express Tribune.
Although nobody seems to have exact knowledge of the total number of group’s foot soldiers, many assessments said its active sympathisers vary between 15,000 and 25,000.
Officials said the group had been recruiting new foot soldiers from within various jihadi movements across Pakistan.
Haqqani group is attracting fighters from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and other small sectarian outfits.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2011.