By: Imtiaz Waziri
In the wake of United States of America’s (USA) policy towards Pakistan in regard to existence of safe heavens alongside Durand Line in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Pakistan has once again tried to dupe its international partners. As part of the effort, a military operation titled Khyber-4 was launched in Khyber agency trying to portray that Islamabad is going after the terrorists hiding in the agency.
Many political & security analysts and common people of FATA believe that the recent Pakistan military incursion, Khyber-4, launched by Pakistani military in Khyber Agency was a face saving attempt. The military operation was tactically planned to present the sacrifices and commitment of Pakistan government and in particular the army on the fight against terrorism to the United States congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain. The people of FATA believe that the military operation Khyber-4 was launched in a bid to defuse the recent wave of pressure by the international community rather than shunning terror sanctuaries. Conducting such friendly military exercises in FATA for deceiving the international community is a tried and tested formula of Pakistani military establishment. This drama has commonly been performed since Bush era each time an American delegation plans to visit Pakistan administered territories, Islamabad conducts some sort of so-called military raids in FATA, aimed at misleading and pleasing the US administration.
It is worth mentioning that people of Rajgal Valley, the site for the latest episode of “military operations” had already been displaced in 2014 and the valley was under the control of large number of Pakistani troops deployed there. Taking advantage of the opportunity being provided by the US, not only Khyber Agency but the whole of FATA has been shaped as military cantonment by the army where locals have no right to freedom of expression and movement and it still remains no go area for national and international media outlets, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other humanitarian organizations. Local residents of FATA going through extreme search while passing any military check-points, only those are allowed who carry “Watan Card” a distinct Identify Card issued by the Pakistani military to the locals including children over age of five.
Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the public relations arm of Inter-Services Intelligence, Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor, said that operation khyber-4, part of wider military operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, was aimed at wiping out terrorist groups including militants of Islamic State (IS) in Rajgal Valley, an operational base for the terrorist groups that are operating from the area and are targeting Afghanistan and Pakistan. As per the reports, the military offensive was supported by the Special Services Group (SSG) commandos and Pakistan Air force. ISPR announced completion of its first phase and claimed killing of 13 terrorists and injuring 6. The announcement also reported that a Pakistani soldier was killed in exchange of fire and a total of 90 kilometers area was cleared where military check-posts were built on the highest and craggiest top of mountain, Brekh Muhammad Kandao, along the Durand Line. The Defence Ministry of Afghanistan has rejected the so-called military offensive and urged Pakistan to take military action against Taliban safe heavens and breeding nurseries existing in Peshawar, Quetta, Islamabad, Lahore, Abbottabad and Karachi instead of bombing mountains in Rajgal Valley of Khyber Agency.
Prior to this, minor and massive military operations, Khyber-1, Khyber-2, Daraghlam (Pashto word for coming after you), Bya Daraghlam (Pashto word for coming after you again) and Khyber-3 were conducted in the same tribal region. Each time Pakistan claimed success and complete eradication of terrorist groups from the area. In the aftermath of each so called military success, Pakistani army established heavy military installations, forts and check-posts throughout the FATA region. However, militancy and militarism in FATA continues to increase with the passage of each day resulting in suppression and bleeding of local people and more power, strength and space is offered to “Good Taliban”. Despite many of military raids, Ansar-ul-Islam and Lashkar-e-Islam leadership including all other groups of Taliban, recognised as good Taliban by Mr. Sirtaj Aziz (Ex-Foreign Affairs Advisor to Prime Minister), are still safe and secure. The locals have witnessed and question that how in every military operation why the militant groups and the notorious Haqqani network has been never taken. It has been noticed that the army always provided safe way for good Taliban and Haqani Network members to leave the area. In the meantime Bara Bazaar in Khyber Agency, Mir Ali and MiranShah Bazaars in North Waziristan and Mehsood belt in South Waziristan has been looted and razed to ground resulting in unbearable economic losses for the local people. Same is the case with Mohmand, Bajaur, Kurram and Orakzai Agencies. Massacre of Pashtuns in Parachinar, capital city of Kurram Agency continues while the so called Good Taliban enjoy patronage of Pakistani military establishment. Military curfew and various inhuman tactics of suppression is a routine practice experienced by twenty million human beings in all seven tribal regions of FATA. Time and again innocent families across FATA have been forced to leave their native homes and many of them are still living in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan and south-eastern parts of Afghanistan, where they are suffering worst living conditions because of the displacement. On the other hand, civil and military establishment of Pakistan has been engaged in generating and re-organizing terrorist outfits against Afghanistan, India and US-led North Atlantic Treaty Oganisation (NATO) member countries and strengthening its position along Durand Line which is a clear violation to the decision and promise, Jinnah, the first governor general of Pakistan made with the people of FATA. Entrance of Pakistani military and any governmental step without proper and prior consultation with locals of FATA was strictly prohibited. After the unduly creation of Pakistan, majority of FATA people opposed joining Pakistan and stood for Independent Pakhtunistan under the leadership of Haji Mirza Ali Khan, commonly known as Faqir Ipi, the hero of freedom movement against British imperialism who openly opposed creation of Pakistan and firmly launched movement for independent Pakhtunistan. Most importantly, as per Independence Act, there was no legislation on any valid forum recommending FATA to be a part of Pakistan. This is the reason FATA people question legitimacy of Pakistani state apparatus presence in FATA region and they demand interference of the international community to decide the fate of FATA under the umbrella of the United Nations (UN), potentially the modest way to win this war on terror.
Any change needs high cost of sacrifices but the people of FATA are paying rather higher cost for this double game that the government of Pakistan is carrying in the war on terror. Paving ground for double game and harboring Taliban reign in FATA, the Pakistani army has ruthlessly been slaughtering thousands of those local elders, social and political activists questioning and opposing this bloody game on their soil. In recent years, around two thousand influential community elders across the FATA region have been killed. More than forty thousand innocent civilians in FATA have been slayed by the security agencies and Pakistan government backed Taliban. Their blood was traded by labeling them as local and international terrorists and in return Islamabad received five thousand US dollars per head. It is mentionable that record keeping of civilian casualties in FATA has officially been prohibited. Moreover, social, cultural and traditional valves and norms are being ruined and suppressed on gun point. The common practice of target killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearances, harassment, imprisonment in torture cells by the security agencies and Pakistan supporte Taliban has compelled a large number of liberal and democratic people to leave their native hometowns and take shelter in settled districts of Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan while some of them have relocated to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), thanks to some of the family members based in the Arab country. All seven agencies of FATA and districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan bordering Afghanistan are still serving as launching pads for cross border terrorism against Afghanistan. Only Afghan Taliban’s are currently running more than 15 fund raising centers in Pashtun belt of Baluchistan. The Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan splinter groups and the notorious Haqqani network are enjoying freedom in almost all districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where they are being allowed to run offices.
The current state Government in Pakistan and security establishment came under fire when lawmakers raised the issue in a meeting in March in upper house of the Pakistani parliment. Big cities like Peshawar, Gilgit Bultistan, Quetta, Lahore, Islamabad, Abbottabad, Karachi, southern Punjab and Pakistan occupied Kashmir remain safe havens for the leadership and masterminds of more than 50 terrorist and extremists groups where each of them enjoy luxurious lives in highly secured zones.
Islamabad assumed important position in US geopolitical interests in the region following 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror. Bilateral relations between the two countries were bolstered when Washington named Pakistan a major non-NATO ally in 2002 which provided an opportunity to Islamabad to receive billions of US dollars as military and civilian aid. The aid meant for fighting terrorism, however; is being used for strengthening its position along Durand Line and for nurturing of various terrorist outfits against Afghanistan, India and US-led NATO member countries. Keeping in view the pro-terror role and duplicity, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brooking Institution in its analysis published in 2008 declared Pakistan as World’s most active terror sponsoring state. The US author Danoel Byman also once wrote, “Pakistan is the today’s most active terror sponsor state”. Washington, nevertheless; was reluctant to voice concerns loudly against Islamabad.
While the US continued to turn a blind eye on double game policy of Pakistan, President Ashraf Ghani led Afghan government genuinely came forward at the beginning of 2015 to make peace with its hostile neighbor and to change Islamabad’s Taliban bloody game. Violating all the democratic and diplomatic norms, the Afghan President made a visit to Pakistan Army General Headquarters (GHQ) for the sole purpose to establish durable peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the region. Beijing and Washington got on board and the Quadrilateral Group launched a round of peace efforts to eliminate the trust deficit between the two countries. In addition to that, several regional economic cooperation initiatives involving West, South and Central Asian states provided Pakistan perfect opportunity to turn around and abandon its terrorism projects. But Pakistan, dominated by the Zia’s era policy, use of radical non-state actors to achieve its foreign strategic interest in the region but missed the opportunity. As a result, the Taliban militants have been able to expand and intensify its onslaught. It was a case of generous Pakistani lobby in Washington, prolonged underestimation or simply a chaotic AfPak strategy, the US did not challenge Islamabad’s role in any serious and constant way. Finally this spring, US policy-makers felt fatigue with Pakistan’s continued double game and opted to look for alternative options.
In a radical move, the US Congress raised concerns over continuation of aid to Pakistan and passed a bill imposing restrictions on USD450 million aid and supply of eight F-16 jet fighters. Since 2002, the average annual US aid to Islamabad remains USD2bn and in 2010 alone, Islamabad was provided USD4.5bn in military and development aid. In return, Pakistan grew and flourished anti-American sentiments among the country people. Public opinion polls in Pakistan indicate that majority of Pakistanis consider the US as a bitter enemy. The former US envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, former Pakistan Ambassador to Washington, Hussain Haqqani, former Chiefs of National Directorate of Security (NDS) of Afghanistan Rahmatullah Nabil and Amrullah Saleh, Chief of Mutahida Qaumi Movement, Altaf Hussain, and democratic school of thought in FATA have repeatedly urged Washington to get tougher on Pakistan to win war on terror. A US Congressman Adam Kinzinger is of the opinion that the United States must put hard lines of its foreign policy when it comes to its ties with Islamabad. He said in May 2017 while addressing at an event held at Wilson Centre that Washington should go for any effective measures to make Pakistan comply with United States Afghanistan strategy and even if that entails crossing border. Similarly, European Parliament Vice President Ryszard Czarnecki in his opinion piece published in May 2017 emphasized on US and European Union (EU) to revisit Durand Line to end Pak terror policy. Another member of European Parliment, Petras Austrevicius, in June 2017 called Pakistan undeclared factory of terrorism and so-called Jihad. He called on EU and responsible Western democracies to come together and send a strong message to Pakistan that they have zero tolerance towards support to terror groups and networks. The US armed Services committee Chairman, Senator John McCain has also been working for effective US strategy on Afghanistan.
Besides all these Pakistan is moving on its old track in war on terror and currently sleeping in a bed with China and Russia to counter and defuse the pressure by international community. However, the above mentioned respected voices against Pakistan’s double game, killing of Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership inside the settled districts of Pakistan, imposing conditions on civil and military aid to Pakistan, more focus on Afghanistan and weighting India are encouraging signals in the new US policy. However, words need to translate into action, practical measures restraining Pakistan’s support to terror outfits and joint global community’s pressure on Pakistan will help in making Pakistan retreat from its usual double game. Else, continuation of this double game can result in larger security threats experienced by the West in 2001 in the shape of 9/11.
Imtiaz Waziri (twitter@imtiazwaziri) is a Pashtun Nationalist politician from North Waziristan and former Central Chairman of Pakhtun Students Federation, Pakistan. He is connected on ground to his tribe and community and as such has first-hand information about proceedings in the FATA region.