A backgrounder to the North Waziristan operation

Published: June 17, 2014
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The writer is a retired army officer who served in Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 
khalid.munir@tribune.com.pk

The writer is a retired army officer who served in Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa [email protected]

It has been 12 years now since Pakistan has been facing the worst kind of terrorism. So far, approximately 50,000 civilians have lost their lives. Around one-third of Pakistan Army is engaged in fighting terrorism and has suffered more casualties than in wars with India. Waziristan is the centre of all the terrorist activities in Pakistan and is known worldwide because most of the terrorists caught anywhere have some link with North Waziristan. South Waziristan was cleared by the army in 2009, but somehow North Waziristan Agency was left out at that time.

North Waziristan became the hub of all the activity during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Jihadis from all over the world converged onto Pakistan to fight the Soviets. The CIA set up the largest headquarters ever outside the US in Peshawar during the 1980s. From funding to distributing jihadi literature, the CIA was able to take revenge of the Vietnam defeat but left behind a region full of guns, missiles and people who were only happy to use them. After the establishment of the Taliban government there in the late 1990s, fighters who had left after the Soviet withdrawal found Afghanistan to be a safe place for them again and returned. Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda set up camps in Afghanistan, dreaming of establishing an Islamic Emirate whose capital was supposed to be Bajaur and would cover the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan up to Mianwali. Training was imparted to Uzbeks, Chechens, Tajiks, Chinese and Pakistanis to form a formidable army in different countries. After moving from Yemen, bin Laden established his camp in Khost which is adjacent to North Waziristan.

The effects of camps and the Taliban government started showing in Pakistan, and Taliban groups appeared in many parts of Pakistan, then called as ‘Muqami’ (local) Taliban. This was in 1996. In August, 1998, US missiles fired from ships off the Pakistan shore hit his camp but OBL survived. All missiles passed over Pakistan’s airspace without prior permission. The then Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, remained silent about the whole episode.

After the Nato invasion of Afghanistan, the Afghan Taliban vanished. Some top leadership moved to Pakistan. Al Qaeda, too, found it safe to have refuge in Pakistan. The Americans let bin Laden cross the border when he was trapped at Tora Bora. Instead of following him, they outsourced his capture to local Afghans of Jalalabad. Al Qaeda settled in South and North Waziristan.

The Pakistan Army moved to Khyber and Kurram Agencies in November 2001, to North Waziristan in December 2001 and to South Waziristan in April 2002. The aim was to stop the influx of al Qaeda. However, a vast porous border could not be managed by the troops available at that time. Live coverage of American bombers carpet-bombing Afghanistan created sympathy for Afghans and al Qaeda. Young army officers and soldiers were no exception. In June 2002, two officers and eight soldiers of the Pakistan Army were killed by Uzbek Tahir Yaldashev at Kaza Panga in South Waziristan. For the first time, the realisation dawned that al Qaeda has to be taken as an enemy. However, by then they were well-steeled. Locals provided them homes, some out of sympathy, and some for the heavy amount they paid as rent in US dollars. They started influencing Pakistanis leading to the creation of Pakistani Taliban who since 1998 were active in K-P but their activities were restricted to the burning of CD shops. Al Qaeda was successful in bringing the war on terror to Pakistan.

After Maulvi Nazir fought and drove foreigners out of South Waziristan amid widespread charges of moral turpitude, most of the Uzbeks and Tajiks settled in and around Mir Ali in North Waziristan, in mostly Dawar-populated areas. The formation of the TTP by the Mehsuds in 2007 gave importance to their subversive and destructive activities.

The Pakistan Army, which was overstretched from Swat to South Waziristan Agency, found it preferable to get into agreements with local Taliban. This established and entrenched Taliban in the area. The biggest loss Pakistan suffered was through this. The Taliban opened their offices called ‘islahi committee’ everywhere. And those became centres of Taliban activities. A parallel state was established which eroded the authority of the political agent. All notables — strong people of the area including the Maliks — were killed, thus effectively restricting the political agent and governor to their respective offices. A new order was established in the agency where the Taliban were the rulers. The Army was restricted to its camps and was in a reactive mode.

The Army had planned an operation in NWA in 2010, which was postponed at the last minute. Then, in 2012, the Army decided to clear the agency. Additional troops were sent to undertake an operation but again due to fear of backlash, the operation was never undertaken. Now that the decision has finally been taken, the operation has to be finished in a professional way. Ample time was available to modify and improve upon the 2010 plan. Three areas will need specific attention. Mir Ali and its surrounding villages will be the toughest because of the presence of large numbers of foreigners. These foreigners settled there after moving from Afghanistan and their numbers increased after Maulvi Nazir pushed them out of South Waziristan. Villages are heavily-populated and closely-knit. A large number of Mehsuds are also living here after moving from South Waziristan as a result of the 2009 operation. The advantage to the Army is that most of the area is tankable. Miranshah’s surroundings, too, will be very tough and heavy fighting is expected there. The terrain is mountainous and ideal for ambushes. Villages in close vicinity of the army headquarters like Chashma Danday Drapa Khel Maachis could offer tough resistance. Shawal and Data Khel may be neutralised through air power. With most of the al Qaeda leadership taken out by drones, the Haqqanis will relocate to Afghanistan. The rest will try and fight but mostly go to Afghanistan or give up for a ride back. A lot of them will go to our urban areas. That’s where the real fight will be and the outcome depends a lot on intelligence agencies but also on the police.

If from 2010 till today, the acts of terror are counted, we did not gain by not clearing North Waziristan. The terrorists have been cutting us piece by piece. Over time, the conspiracy theory found footing that the Army was keeping the ‘good’ Taliban safe and that was why action was being avoided. North Waziristan became a matter of life and death for TTP sympathisers. The PAF had been bombing Bajaur, Khyber, Swat and Orakzai without much notice by Pakistani media and politicians. The moment the operation in Waziristan is talked about, stiff resistance is offered by political parties who are supporting the TTP. On the other hand, some people think that by clearing North Waziristan, terrorism in Pakistan will be eliminated. It will not, because terrorism is part of our society now. Our cities are infested with terrorist sleeper cells. Yet, this operation in Waziristan will reduce terrorism to certain extents. It will break the command and control centre of terrorists. The Waziristan operation may take few weeks or months but the battle against terrorism will have to be fought in the whole of Pakistan and it will be a long war.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (37)

  • me
    Jun 17, 2014 - 10:26PM

    Good analysis.

    Recommend

  • The Silent Game;
    Jun 17, 2014 - 10:48PM

    The worst strategies of Pakistan army and agencies; first create, use then blame, divide and defuse or kill. For long Pakistan along with foreign aid and support has destroyed the future and lives of millions of youngs, kids, immature; first training and equipped them; have been using them as non-state actors against both foe and friends at various fronts; India, Russia, Iran, Middle East, Afghanistan and against US. They had brought foreigners from different countries to take control of FATA tribes by killing their elders through foreigners and then extended borders into Afghanistan to occupy or establish a puppet government. They used such forces both inside; Kashmir, SWAT, FATA, KP, Karachi and outside even inside Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Chechnya and Middle East. Then after the realization of US and failure of Pakistan agenda; strategic depth, Kashmir, extending borders and occupation of Afghanistan; these forces have started blaming and eliminating through various propaganda; war on terror, national security, ethnic, sectarian and internal conflicts, terrorism, foreigners, agents, barbarians etc. Blaming those innocents who, lives, future, families and generation after generation have been destroyed and used by the Pakistan army and agencies and US for their agendas. Its total hypocrisy and injustice instead of peaceful and timely transition. While the sacrifices and struggles of yesterday Heroes, Pakistan great assets and today’s terrorists were incredible, in true faith and for peace and justice.

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  • numbersnumbers
    Jun 17, 2014 - 10:54PM

    Correction;
    After the AMERICAN invasion of Afghanistan, the leadership of the Afghan Taliban, along with Senior al-Qaeda commanders, ISI operatives and Pakistani army personnel advising the Afghan Taliban, were all safely evacuated via numerous PAF C-130 flights in what is known as the Kunduz Airlift. Several thousand of those “Assets” were airlifted to safety at PAF bases in Chitral and Gilgit located in Pakistan administered Kashmir!

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  • Syed Ahmad
    Jun 17, 2014 - 11:09PM

    Operation must be undertaken against LEJ and SSP and people who have their sympathy (such as JI and JUI) to rid Pakistan of cancer.

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  • Pir Roshan
    Jun 18, 2014 - 12:57AM

    It is a long war. Thanks to elites of establishment, in last 30 years they have done everything in their capacity to converge their objectives with US & West at the expense of lives of local population. PAF Bombings of Pashtun & Baluch villages & continuous military operations have made it sure that It will be long war run by suicide bombers. It is quite strange that the Uzbeks who attacked Karachi Airport came through Islamabad Airport during last 10 years. It is very hard to grasp the decisions of Pakistani elites.

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  • enuf is enuf
    Jun 18, 2014 - 1:19AM

    complete north wazirstan operation first and then hit the sleeper cells in the urban areas. these so called assets have now become a liability

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  • Najeebullah
    Jun 18, 2014 - 1:51AM

    Fine analysis, but the writer missed the real issue here that is our strategic asset and strategic depth policy failed and then backfired. We helped OBL escape Torabora bombing and later build mansion for him in Abbottabad military academy. We gave strategic advices to Haqqani Network to kill coalition forces. We were also close allies of US war on terror. We deceived both for our own dirty game and now half of Pakistan is paying its price.

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  • Muhammad Ali
    Jun 18, 2014 - 7:42AM

    What Khalid Munir has opined I partially agree and his views are generally inline to what sane element thinks about Pakistani Society hijacked by the radicals. Excerpt from his article I quote ” Some people think that by clearing North Waziristan, terrorism in Pakistan will be eliminated. It will not, because terrorism is part of our society now. Our cities are infested with terrorist sleeper cells. Yet, this operation in Waziristan will reduce terrorism to certain extents. It will break the command and control centre of terrorists. The Waziristan operation may take few weeks or months but the battle against terrorism will have to be fought in the whole of Pakistan and it will be a long war” unquote. I am of the opinion that 95 % of our society is composed of positive and forward looking people but certainly high jacked by a small group of insane, intolerant and fickle minded radicals who are brain washed and follow what their Master Mind directs. Yes our serious issue is extremely compromised law enforcing & judicial system. Every innocent and law abiding citizen is afraid of these rogue elements because they neither expect justice nor safety of their life from them. As a result writer depicts the silent innocent majority as part of our society which is his view. Certainly the operation will break the myth of these rogue elements and political leadership must support its Armed Forces with true heart and mind rather than on the contrary. Real test of government will be post operation rehabilitation process.

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  • Muhammad Ali
    Jun 18, 2014 - 7:53AM

    I am also of the opinion that till the time nation in totality doesn’t come forward to get rid of this menace, I see a greater implications and bloodshed. The tendency of regional players having their vested interest at stake always exploit such vulnerabilities when the house is not in order. This is also time for the regional exploiters to stop their indirect support to these terrorists before this cancer spreads in their countries as well.

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  • Usman
    Jun 18, 2014 - 8:21AM

    @numbersnumbers: Always trust an Indian to reduce the quality of the debate with ‘stories’.

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  • Usman
    Jun 18, 2014 - 8:22AM

    @Najeebullah: Stop using the word ‘we’ when you’re clearly Indian and have nothing to add to the debate.

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  • G Indian
    Jun 18, 2014 - 8:39AM

    Why does some Pakistanis blame US for their own problems. Pakistani rulers of late 70s volunteerd for Jihad on behalf of America. They had a choice of not interfering in the internal matters of Afghanistan, but they deliberately chose so called holy war and now paying dearly for that mistake. US is the only force that keeps Muslim world intact or else criminal extremists would have run over Muslim countries. All middle eastern countries looks stable from outside because of the US support. There are only three stable Muslim counties namely Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey in this world and all these countries are democratic and secular. Religion based states are inherently unstable. Jinnah wanted a Muslim majority modern nation. It was unfortunate that he didn’t live longer to establish a strong foundation for the new nation. There is no point in regretting the past as people seldom learn from history. Time for action is now. Going forward Pakistan will land into a religious cesspool. The solution is simple. Every parent should teach their kids to love other human beings irrespective of religion, gender or language afterall human beings are basically a creation of god. Religion doesn’t change our basic building block of life – the DNA.

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  • Ali
    Jun 18, 2014 - 9:09AM

    Real operation should be launched against the minds and pockets of war, not the tools of war. TTP is playing some one else’s agenda to finish Pakistan’s state be it INDIA, AMERICA, or SAUDI AREBIA. These are real enemies.

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  • observer
    Jun 18, 2014 - 10:27AM

    @Najeebullah:

    Good points. Everyone of the ET columnists seem to “miss” the really fundamental points and facts.

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  • Professor
    Jun 18, 2014 - 10:38AM

    Isn’t it time for the intelligentsia of Pakistan to get together and do an objective analysis on what went wrong in Pakistan? It must be obvious that the people entrusted with making the strategic policies for Pakistan have failed miserably. Maybe this is one last opportunity for course-correction before an inevitable implosion happens. As an outsider, it boggles my mind that things were allowed to drift this far without ANY corrective measures ! Don’t the citizens care about the nation anymore??

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  • Sherlock
    Jun 18, 2014 - 10:55AM

    @Usman: Stories?? It is documented in more than one documentary by the BBC. In fact there is a very popular piece about what happened when the Taliban leadership was cornered in Afghanistan. Please do some research before dismissing these events. Denial is the reason for the plight Pakistan finds itself in.

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  • Just a Thinker
    Jun 18, 2014 - 11:27AM

    I sincerely think the theme is true. The solution of this problem lies in the elimination of terrorists, especially those who have been brain washed by either lack of provisions or the lack of money to buy arms. I think this problem can be catered more easily if we all decide to once and for all get rid of this problem. We as a nation should realize that no other country will be sincere enough to think for us alone. We must try our own best by helping each other and the state and depertments. The people of waziristan if they want to be safe must themselves realize that they must not be brainwashed by foreign terrorists. There is thin line between helping and helping to terrorise. If they want to give shelter to needy, better be those who will not cut their throats after that. We must call the police when we wee some body creating terrorist activities, help the army by putting a better picture of theirs rather than showing them as butchers. We must help. Every army has bad or less people but this does not mean the whole army is bad. Every govt does mistakes but the success lies in making a move in the right direction after all. We must consider overall effect when judging about anything.

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  • Np
    Jun 18, 2014 - 11:49AM

    @Usman:
    Why is it clear that @najeebullah is an Indian? Are you saying that no Pakistani cabe objective and only Indians are objective?

    In any case even your own leaders admit that many of the strategic assets went rogue and that Pakistan did have a policy of bleed India with a thousand cuts. Is it not a fact that money was collected in mosques and outside shops for jihad against India? What did he say which was untrue?

    Oh and by the way, I am an Indian and have never claimed otherwise.Recommend

  • Jun 18, 2014 - 12:03PM

    Not so surprisingly, Musharaff’s role in relocating the Taliban and Al Qaeda commanders to Pakistan is completely ignored.

    Pakistan military is still paying for that decision, 50,000 people have died owing to that decision.

    No point blaming anyone else, especially the hapless civilian Govt of Pakistan.

    I remember Hillary Clinton pleading Pakistan to attack North Waziristan, but most of the columnists on ET, Dawn and The News said it was not in Pakistan’s interest.

    How wrong were they.

    The irony is : The people who have been most wrong about Pakistan are Pakistanis themselves!Recommend

  • malik
    Jun 18, 2014 - 1:58PM

    …”… some people think that by clearing North Waziristan, terrorism in Pakistan will be eliminated. It will not, because terrorism is part of our society now. Our cities are infested with terrorist sleeper cells. Yet, this operation in Waziristan will reduce terrorism to certain extents………”….

    agree 100 % …. it will need around 5-10 years after the operation to clear this …and too after a relentless and concentrated effort ….. but we are in a habbit of leaving things half-way……. Katchi handiyaan utardey heyn assi…. tey oo feyr kharab ho hi jandi hey…

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  • Trilok
    Jun 18, 2014 - 2:19PM

    The Pakistan´s Think tank should start anew from abc and explore new methods to develop peace and security for its nation by setting new ideals like friendship with neighbors and reject anti Hindu ideology and define Nationhood on the basis of internationally recognized basis like ethnicity,language and culture.There should be no tolerance for weapon carrying self proclaimed religious extremists who are in fact a band of criminals.Take away firearms from the civilians and there should be only one force that is the State ( Police and Army,Navy,Air force and Border Security organizations).Start good schooling for the kids and provide employment to young men and women. Pakistani Folk is very intelligent .Do not make fool of them in the name of religion .Recommend

  • Jawad Iqbal Jawad
    Jun 18, 2014 - 4:04PM

    Islam is Deen of Allah and He will protect it. All we need at the moment is to cut down this madrasah system. We need sholars and not mullas, the product of these madrasas which are actual nurseries of terrorism. Children are taught hatred for the people of other shools of thought and ipinion. Religious education must be the part of our regular education and there must be proper faculties of Islamic studies and education in colleges and universities. Mulagardi is actually deshatgardi

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  • Truther
    Jun 18, 2014 - 8:37PM

    @numbersnumbers:
    Stupid and totally baseless comment!! I dare you PROVE what you are saying here

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  • Truther
    Jun 18, 2014 - 8:42PM

    @Sherlock:
    Yeah so if some BBC (OR CNN, NAT GEO, AL jazeera or whatever) Documentary claims that is what REALLY happened, then it must be TRUE. WOW your standards for judging the TRUTH are quite low dude!!!

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  • numbersnumbers
    Jun 18, 2014 - 11:17PM

    @Truther: (yeah, in your dreams!!!!)
    And I DARE YOU to go to wikipedia and search for “Kunduz Aiirlift”, (also known as the “Airlift of Evil”, where you will see an explanation of events, along with REFERENCES for you to expand your knowledge on the subject!!!
    BTW, you neglected to tell ALL of us just where we can read your version of the “TRUTH” about the Kunduz Airlift!!!
    Just asking, of course, Dude….Dude….Dude…..Dude…..Dude!!!!!

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  • Najeebullah
    Jun 19, 2014 - 12:13AM

    @Truther:
    We read and watch reports on BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, NY times and Wpost which are based on twisted facts and lies and so we remain ignorant. BUT I wonder what is the source of your information?? Do you have some supernatural or magical powers to know the truth without reading and watching our sources??

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  • Gp65
    Jun 19, 2014 - 12:10PM

    @Najeebullah:
    Truth is revealed to him.

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  • Rex Minor
    Jun 19, 2014 - 2:19PM

    ET mod. please allow the revised comments to avoid becoming the mouth pieace of Pakistan military.;

    The military author is good at writing fairy tales but not a very good war correspondent. He would be good though at writing short stories for children. Albert Einstein once said that the military people are so good at using their backbones that they never take the effort to make use of the large brain that they also have. Pakistani army could even prove that the theory of relativity has some thing to do with ‘terrorism’ of science. I can assure the writer that in time he will come out of his paranoia, when Pakistan army will start showing the white flag and make a run to save the capital. Why therefore this cacophony when the Sharifs have just starte the so called Operation of ethnic divide against the Pakhtun folks

    Rex Minor

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  • goldconsumer
    Jun 19, 2014 - 5:13PM

    @numbersnumbers:
    Rofl! “After” the American invasion, i.e when the amercan jets, stealth bombers and air borne early warning systems were up, we successfully managed to airlift most wanted people on earth by none other than a simple C-130 aircraft!! And in addition to this pure Bull crap, how would one explain the early presence of American war systems in Arabian seas weeks before the actual invasion did take place?
    I think you have given so much credit to our PAF that i for a moment forgot the Bin Ladin incident!
    Simple fact is that we (and by we means us and our allies the Americans) brought Jihadi mentality to life. We created a “snake” that bit us both and have paid a big price. The US after 9/11 thanks to its advance millitary, clear cut policies and better infrastructre (hence called a super power) managed to get things right enough to a point that you didnt see any major terror attack after 9/11. Although many other related incidents did happen as US is, and will always be the prime target of their Ex friends Alqaeda but still we Pakistani’s have learned a bitter lesson.
    We will get the one day or the other. Be it decades. Just worry about your own “saffronization”. Dont repaeat mistakes we made. Good luck.,

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  • Rex Minor
    Jun 19, 2014 - 7:43PM

    @goldconsumer:
    It took the Taibans days to talibanise entire Afghanistan after Soviets withdrawl and to set up a Taliban style Government; it took the waziris 24 hours from their base to march through Abbotabad, Pakistan and Baramula to reach the capital of Kashmir, driving out the Maharaja and his rag tag army .
    It will take them lesser time to take over Islamabad and karachi sea port because of modern air transport infra structure. The Indians support for Pakistan army carnage is based on their strategy to see weakened Pakistan and stronger Afghanista since traditionaly they have had excellent relations with successive Afghan Governments.

    Rex Minor

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  • numbersnumbers
    Jun 19, 2014 - 10:26PM

    @goldconsumer:
    Since you didn’t bother (obviously) to google search the “Kunduz Airlift” for any detailed information before responding, you were therefore ignorant of the fact that Pakistan called Washington and arranged for “safe passage” out of Kunduz via PAF C-130 aircraft for some Pakistani personnel trapped in the surrounded city.
    Since the Northern Alliance had made it clear that any non-Afghans captured when the city fell would be dealt with “harshly”, Pakistan asked for permission to airlift them out!
    However, the scope of the airlift and the NON PAKISTANI “passengers” (Afghan Taliban commanders, Al-Qaeda fighters, plus numerous other sympathizer “ASSETS”) Pakistan intended to relocate to safety was not revealed at the time of the agreement!

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  • numbersnumbers
    Jun 19, 2014 - 10:55PM

    @Rex Minor:
    Wow, so you say that “it took the Waziris 24 hours from their base to march through Abbottabad, Pakistan and Baramula to reach the capital of Kashmir (Srinagar), driving out the maharaja and his rag tag army”!
    Hmmm, since the distance between just Abbottabad and Srinagar is around 1000 kilometers (some 600 miles), then those super human Waziris must have “marched” with all their equipment at around 40 KILOMETERS (25 MILES) PER HOUR for 24 straight hours!!!!
    Unless of course you have your “facts” wrong!!!

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  • Rex Minor
    Jun 19, 2014 - 11:28PM

    .
    Numbers Man,

    I usualy do not communicate with infidel numbers, but ask Hillary Clinton who equaly challenged the report of the CIA and had to submit. THese people do not walk but run a marathon, which the world has not witnessed since the times of Roman legions and the Germanic tribes! or better ask the author, if he has ever met a waziri tribesmen? But what is your interest on a Pakistani Site?

    Rex Minor

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  • cmann
    Jun 22, 2014 - 2:53AM

    @Rex Minor:
    You should be careful as to what you wish for.Your preference for your rulers to be TTP might just come true.That will be the end of Pakistani state and by corollary yours.It is people of your color that have exploited Pakhtuns in the name of religion,honor,hospitality,bravery to their ultimate detriment.Let them live peacefully for once.

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  • goldconsumer
    Jun 22, 2014 - 11:27AM

    @numbersnumbers:
    I did google it bro and all I could find was sources from some unnamed CIA official, RAW official, northern alliance guy and what not.
    Even a person with common sense can understand that what this airlift was nothing but treason in the eyes of US constitution! The personnel (Al qaida and Taliban) responsible for killing 2500 plus American lives on American grounds were set to go free because they had a “deal” with a county’s dictator! That truely amusing. And yet i dont find any convictions or even trials or hearings of senate over this issue. That speak for it self

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  • goldconsumer
    Jun 22, 2014 - 4:57PM

    @cmann:
    There is no pakhtoon exploitation. Those who did chant this slogan have been wiped off in the recent election..

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  • Jul 4, 2014 - 8:00AM

    The tone of this article worries me very much. Especially the dehumanizing language meant to justify mass murdering people for the crime of being too religious, organizing their own local government, and toting guns. Do NOT allow the US to convince Pakistan that this makes any sense at all. If your goal is a future Pakistan that is a democracy where people live in freedom and peace, then you should look towards those people who organize locally and try to do similar organizational things in various regions rather than trying to stomp them out like they are some inferior species. In the US, we have certain regions where people insist on being religious, toting guns, and have traditionally opted for States rights vs Federal government. The US Constitution limits the federal government and encourages states to handle their own business. Pakistan should welcome this type of civic engagement instead of reacting with fear of loss of authority. Pakistan should follow the US Constitutional guidelines for their future democracy and NOT the manipulations of those whose actual goal is population control of Asians.

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