ANALYSIS: Between the military and militants —Farhat Taj
With the Haqqanis moved to the safety of Kurram, a military operation will begin in North Waziristan that will kill innocent civilians and also lead to large-scale human displacement. In all the areas of FATA where military operations have been conducted, people complain that the army deliberately targeted civilians and let the Taliban flee or avoided firing at the terrorists
Recently, there has been news in the national and international media that Jalaluddin Haqqani’s network, based in North Waziristan, is being shifted by the military establishment of Pakistan to Kurram to flee the relentless US drone attacks that have considerably damaged the group. Most media discussions about this development focus on external factors, like how difficult it may become for NATO and US forces to gather intelligence and strike the Haqqani group in Kurram, and the possibility of an extension of the US drone attacks to Kurram. The last possibility is also claimed as leading to more anti-Americanism in the wider society of Pakistan, which, unlike tribal society, seems to oppose the drone strikes as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
No due attention is being paid to the impact of the arrival of the Haqqani fighters on the people in Kurram and the areas close to it. With the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, all the nearby districts were destabilised. D I Khan, with its mixed Sunni and Shia population, was rocked by sectarian attacks, the people in Tank and Bannu were attacked and the civilians in all frontier regions came under repeated terrorist actions.
The point is that Jalaluddin Haqqani is widely respected among the Taliban groups and he uses his position to influence them and to make peace among warring Taliban groups. When two Taliban groups anywhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan have a go at each other’s throats, Jalaluddin asks his sons to invite the two to one of his guesthouses in North Waziristan. He ultimately convinces them to stop fighting against each other by giving money to some and weapons to others. People in Waziristan constantly complain that our intelligence agencies always try to push all militants, Pakhtun, Punjabi and foreigners, into the ‘Haqqani loop’. Staunchly anti-Shia sectarian groups are also linked to the Haqqani network. So many militant groups now coming to Kurram, including the sectarian groups, will inevitably intensify sectarian violence against the civilians from Kurram to Kohat, the region with a mixed Sunni-Shia population.
This means that the Sunni IDPs from Parachinar (Kurram), displaced since 2007, and Shia IDPs from Sadda (Kurram), displaced since the 1980s, should forget about going back to their native areas in the near future. The Shias in upper Orakzai suffered at the hands of the Taliban and this was followed by the Taliban atrocities against the Sunnis in upper Orakzai. The Ali Khel, the biggest tribe in Orakzai, lost its entire mixed Sunni and Shia leadership (over 100 tribal leaders) in a suicide attack by the Taliban. The Shia area in lower Orakzai that has remained largely stable could face acute, violent attacks from the anti-Shia groups. Some of the Orakzai Sikh families displaced by the Taliban have been given refuge by the Shias in lower Orakzai. Instability in lower Orakzai could displace the Sikh families once more. Both Kohat and Hangu with their mixed Sunni-Shia population have already been victims of several sectarian attacks. There have also been suicide attacks on the general public in both cities regardless of sectarian distinction, including the attacks on markets and families of policemen. Residents of the two cities may now be exposed to intensified violence of the kind never seen by them before.
Moreover, the US is putting pressure on Pakistan to start a military operation in North Waziristan and, seemingly, Pakistan will give in. With the Haqqanis moved to the safety of Kurram, a military operation will begin in North Waziristan that will kill innocent civilians and also lead to large-scale human displacement from the area. In all the areas of FATA where military operations have been conducted, people complain that the army deliberately targeted civilians and let the Taliban flee or avoided firing at the terrorists. This is the key reason why so many people became displaced in the tribal areas where the military operations have been conducted. This is also precisely the reason why the people in FATA favour drone strikes on the militants instead of military operations; the former never miss their target, the latter always kills civilians in large numbers and have been unable to kill any leading Taliban commander in so many military operations. Despite the relentless drone attacks in North Waziristan, there is no mass scale displacement from the area. There would be large-scale human displacement from North Waziristan if a military operation begins in the area.
How long will the ‘strategic assets’ — the Haqqanis — of the military establishment be moved from one area of FATA to another to destabilise it along with nearby districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? It has been years since the people of FATA and the adjoining districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been trapped between the military and the militants. The two have killed civilians when they are fighting each other as well as when they are not fighting each other. The recent media debate about the Haqqani’s new destination in Kurram is from the point of view of NATO and US forces, the strategic considerations of the military establishment of Pakistan, and state level relations between Islamabad and Washington. There seems to be no one to voice the local people’s perspective in the whole debate, the people who will most likely become innocent victims of the strategic transport of the Haqqanis from North Waziristan to Kurram.