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Shadowboxing?

 

By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, June 06, 2014

 

At a traditional tribal Jirga in Miranshah on May 25 – presumably at the instance of Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the Haqqanis – a scion of the Waziristan’s fabled Faqeer of Ippi was also present. His name is Sher Mohammad. The Faqeer of Ippi had risen a private tribal militia, or lahkar, to resist the British in 1936. Sher Mohammad is a grandson of Faqir of Ippi’s brother.

During the Jirga, elders and militants spoke about the “endless miseries” that Dawar and Utmanzai Wazir tribes of North Waziristan had been facing because of the continuous military and militant operations.

Taking advantage of the raging sentiment against militarism, Sher Mohammad Ippi resurrected a theme that had served as the driving motive for his granduncle’s anti-British jihad: khpal watan, khpal Ikhtiar (our land, our authority). If foreign and local forces don’t seize their activities and do not agree to live in peace, we must wage a war in defense of Waziristan, said Sher Mohammad Ippi. And that became the major rallying point for the entire gathering. It was also misconstrued as a declaration of war on Pakistan by Wazir tribesmen.

According to another version, Sher Mohammad demanded that the government stop the military strikes and hold dialogue with the tribesmen to restore law and order. The first of its kind in nearly a decade, the Jirga’s aim was to “establish peace in the country in general, and in Waziristan in particular”

A script unfolding

The gathering took place against the backdrop of legitimate woes faced by Wazir tribes – massive displacements, disruption in business, destruction of livelihoods and deadly targeting of military interests in the region. They also sounded wary of the growing buzz about a military offensive in the region following a string of deadly direct attacks in retaliation of ambush attacks on military and FC convoys and installations.

So it made perfect sense that men and women, young and old, had all converged on Miranshah to express their anger, followed by demands for definitive action against those jeopardizing peace in the region.

Did it all happen in a vacuum as a spontaneous reaction to the volatile conditions, or was it part of carefully crafted script that various stakeholders had been working on for quite some time?

Probably both. People at large seem fed up with the uncertainty prevailing in the region. Also, the military’s patience with the guarantors of the 2007 peace agreement – renewed in February 2008 a day before elections – wore thin and it apparently conveyed to the Haqqanis and Hafiz Gul Bahadur to get ready for action against all those attacking and hurting Pakistani interests. The obvious targets include several commanders of Pakistani Taliban (associates of the Shehryar Group), who had been living in the areas of North Waziristan that are virtually controlled by the Haqqanis and Gul Bahadur. That also implied that despite being perceived as “friendly” towards the state of Pakistan, these warlords certainly ignored – if not approved – anti-military actions by these hostile factions of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Hafiz Gul Bahadur and his comrades did provide sanctuaries to foreign militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and Al Qaeda.

No surprise that much of the anger during the Miranshah Jirga was directed at him. A number of foreigners have also been living under their the Haqqanis’ wings too.

This alarming situation – from the government’s perspective – necessitated correction and realignments.

Realignments 

Soon after the warnings by the military, the TTP split. The faction that left the umbrella organization is led by Khan Said Sajna – who wields considerable influence in Mehsud-dominated areas of South Waziriatan, such as Laddah, Pirghar, Makeen, Shakai and Janatta.

Clearly, Sajna represents those Mehsud-based TTP elements which are not hostile to the presence of the military. He also favours talks within the framework of the constitution of Pakistan, and would want the displaced people to return home as soon as possible.

Hafiz Gul Bahadur, despite his recent noises against the impending military action and his opposition to the polio campaign, also belongs to the so-called “good Taliban” and has served as the guarantor of peace deals in North Waziristan.

Following the Jirga in Miranshah and his rare belligerent brinkmanship, interlocutors persuaded Hafiz Gul Bahadur into a meeting in Rawalpindi or Islamabad late in May, according to some tribal sources. The meeting was supposed to iron out mutual differences, but he is ostensibly striving for a better deal.

Those who know Hafiz Gul Bahadur took his belligerence with a pinch of salt. He is only trying to raise his stakes in the unraveling situation in Waziristan, they say.

This leveraging may have paved the way for the revival of a trilateral Shura consisting of Tehrik-e-Taliban North Waziristan (led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur), the faction of TTP led by Sajna, and Tehrik-e-Taliban South Waziristan (Maulvi Nazir group), currently led by commander Salahuddin Ayubi in the Ahmedzai Wazir areas bordering Afghanistan.

This, coupled with an unrelenting pressure from the military, has led to a realignment in North Waziristan. The relentless bombing of Al Qaeda-linked foreign militants has already forced up to 170 families to leave in search of safe havens in Orakzai and Mohmand agencies, both being strategically near the Tirah valley in Khyber agency and the eastern Afghan province of Kunar. Those abandoning North Waziristan include Punjabis, Uzbeks, Uighur Chinese, and Arab Al Qaeda remnants.

The Fazlur Rehman-led Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam is likely to take the lead in the next round of talks with the Taliban because the group enjoys considerable support in FATA, and it also supports Sajna.

Some reports even suggest that during his Islamabad visit, Gul Bahadur also met with Fazl. These talks will be accompanied by strikes, both by the military and the militants who have defected the TTP.

Warlords of Waziristan

The realignments may culminate possibly in an agreement between the new tripartite Shura – the “reconcilable” Taliban – and the government, with the objective of flushing out TTP militants associated with the Hakimullah and Sheharyar groups – the “irreconcilable” Taliban. The long running tribal feuds between them will dovetail the government’s strategy of reducing the social space for the irreconcilable Taliban. Unfortunately, warlords continue to be a part of this new strategy – a dependence enforced by circumstances as well a direct consequence of skewed security paradigm. By implication, regional warlords will continue serving as the instruments of a questionable peace management strategy.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk