The military is planning to enlist pro-government tribal elders in a fresh campaign it has devised to flush out al Qaeda members and its affiliates from North Waziristan, officials said on Sunday. The move is aimed at deflecting growing US pressure for a full-scale offensive against the Haqqani Network – the deadliest of all Afghan Taliban factions – allegedly based there.
Under the plan, local tribesmen have been urged to form laskhars, or tribal militias, to take out ‘hard-core al Qaeda elements and their affiliates,’ who have increasingly challenged the writ of the state by mounting deadly terrorist attacks inside Pakistan.
The idea was not only discussed in the recently held meeting of the corps commanders but was also taken up during discussions between army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and CIA chief Leon Panetta, a military official told The Express Tribune.
“This strategy has achieved significant results in South Waziristan Agency and now it’s time to apply it in the North,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“We are encouraging pro-Pakistan tribesmen to take on al Qaeda operatives. Tajik, Uzbek and Chechen fighters have found sanctuaries in North Waziristan,” he added. “We will facilitate them (tribesmen) to form tribal lashkars to achieve that goal.”
But the official confirmed that the Haqqani network would be spared, at least for the time being. “Our objective and priority at this point in time is to eliminate anti-Pakistan groups from the area,” he said, implying that the influential Afghan Taliban group does not pose a direct threat to Pakistan’s interests.
The government’s policy of raising tribal militias was successful in parts of Upper Dir in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and in Mohmand and Bajaur agencies where local lashkars successfully confronted the militants.
But the cost of this policy dwarfs its gains. The vengeful militants struck back, targeting lashkars, killing and maiming hundreds of volunteers and tribal elders, especially in Salarzai sub-division of Bajaur Agency, in Adezai area of Peshawar and in Lakki Marwat district.
The military has already ruled out any immediate move to open another front in North Waziristan Agency, despite repeated US demands for a decisive push against the Haqqani network.
Last week, General Kayani said the army was following a well-thought out campaign plan and was under no pressure to carry out operations at a particular time.
But in order to address the US concerns, General Kayani called on the tribesmen of North Waziristan to drive out all foreigners from their soil. “We want to follow traditions of the area … we want peaceful local tribesmen to take the lead in clearing the region of terrorists,” remarked another official. “Once the tribesmen are on board, it will be easier for the military to drive out the militants from North Waziristan,” he added.
Official sources say the military is trying to convince the US to embrace this new strategy as an alternative to the full-scale operation in the tribal region.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2011.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ