December 19, 2007

Terror Across The Durand Line


Outlook , India

Till now, the various Talibanised Pakistani tribal groups operating against the Pakistan Army had been operating autonomously of each other, but now they are attempting to unite them..


B. Raman


The number of acts of suicide terrorism in Afghanistan increased from 17 in 2005 to 123 in 2006 and has already touched 140 so far this year. During the same period, the number of acts of suicide terrorism in Pakistan increased from two in 2005 to six in 2006 and has already touched 50 till now this year. The dramatic increase in suicide terrorism was a sequel to the Pakistan Army's commando action in Islamabad's Lal Masjid from July 10 to 13,2007.

There has been an average of four acts of suicide terrorism per month in Pakistani territory as against 12 per month in Afghan territory. According to Afghan authorities, the majority of the acts of suicide terrorism in Afghanistan was co-ordinated from Pakistani territory. The suicide terrorists were recruited and trained in Pakistani territory. The tribal belt of Pakistan has thus become a major recruiting, motivating and training ground for suicide terrorists meant for operations in both countries.

Since December 14, 2007 alone, there have been three acts of suicide terrorism in Pakistani territory. In the latest of these incidents, which took place on December 17, 2007, nine members of a soccer team of the Pakistan Army were killed in the garrison town of Kohat in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

The dramatic increase in suicide terrorism in this region has been accompanied by a decrease in the number of conventional-style attacks mounted by the Neo Taliban against Afghan and NATO forces and in the number of cross-border infiltrations from Pakistan into Afghanistan by conventional fighting groups as distinguished from individual suicide terrorists.

A despatch of the Associated Press datelined December 17,2007, from Bagram in Afghanistan has quoted Brig Gen Joseph Votel of the US Army as saying that attacks along the Afghan-Pakistan border have dropped more than 40 percent since July,2007 He attributed this decrease to the onset of winter, the rise in terrorist attacks in Pakistan and an increase in communication and coordination among NATO, Afghan and Pakistani forces.

This decrease has been noticed since the killing of Mulla Dadullah, the Neo Taliban Commander, by the US forces in Afghan territory in May, 2007. It would not, therefore, be correct to attribute it even partly to winter, which is setting in only now. The suicide terrorists on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have shown a capability for operating autonomously even in the absence of an iconic leader to motivate and guide them. But, the Neo Taliban's conventional fighting forces have not shown a similar capability. The killing of their commanders has an impact on their fighting prowess. While the killing of Dadullah has not had any impact on the wave of suicide terrorism, it has definitely affected the morale of the conventional fighting forces. Mansoor Dadullah, his successor, has not yet been able to build a similar image of himself among the conventional fighters.

The US is presently hunting for Jalaluddin Haqqani, his son Sirajuddin Haqqani and other Neo Taliban commanders in the hope that their elimination could further affect the morale of the conventional fighting formations of the Neo Taliban.

It is interesting to note the US Brig-Gen. comparing the decline in cross-border activity in Afghan territory to the increase in incidents in the Pakistani territory. Since July,2007, there has been an increase in conventional fighting between different jihadi groups and the Pakistan Army in South and North Waziristan and in the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and in acts of suicide terrorism in the tribal belt as well as in the non-tribal areas of Pakistan.

Whereas the Neo Taliban's conventional operations in the Afghan territory have been both offensive and defensive, the Pakistani Taliban's conventional operations in Pakistani territory have been largely defensive. They have not so far come to notice for attacks in large formations on the Pakistani army positions in the tribal areas. Wherever there was an administrative and military vacuum, the jihadis moved into it and fiercely defended themselves when the Pakistani security forces tried to dislodge them. In the process, they managed to inflict heavy casualties--particularly on the para-military forces-- and captured a large number of security forces personnel. The Pakistan Army's operations to dislodge the Pakistani Taliban from South and North Waziristan in October,2007, ended in a stalemate after the Pakistani security forces suffered a large number of casualties. The operations in the Swat Valley, which are still continuing, have been a little more successful in the sense that the Army has dislodged the followers of Mulla Fazlullah of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) from many of the positions occupied by them, but the morale and resilience of Fazlullah's followers remain intact.

Till now, the various Talibanised Pakistani tribal groups operating against the Pakistan Army have been operating autonomously of each other though all of them are inspired by the ideology of the Neo Taliban and Al Qaeda. One has not seen instances of tribal groups from one area going to the assistance of groups in other areas, when they are attacked by the army. Now, an attempt is being made to unite the different Talibanised Pakistani tribal groups.

To promote joint action, 40 tribal leaders from South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Aurakzai, Kurram, Khyber, Mohmand and Bajaur tribal agencies and from the NWFP districts of Swat, Buner, Dir, Malakand, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Tank, Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan and Kohat are reported to have met at an undisclosed place in South Waziristan on December 14,2007, and formed a joint resistance movement called the Tehrik Taliban-e-Pakistan with Baitullah Mehsud of South Waziristan as the Amir. Hafiz Gul Bahadur of North Waziristan and Maulana Faqir Muhammad of Bajaur will be the deputy Amirs. They decided to step up their offensive action against the NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan and strengthem their defensive actions against the Pakistani security forces. They gave a 10-day ultimatum to the Pakistani government to stop its military operations in the tribal areas and to release Maulana Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who was captured by the security forces during the commando action in the Lal Masjid. They have threatened to launch a joint fight against the government if their demands are not met.

While the joint front, if it functions as intended, should be able to keep up the present level of suicide terrorism on both sides of the border and even step it up further, it is unlikely to be able to step up offensive conventional attacks on the security forces.


B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.

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