Leading Pakistani Islamist Organizing Popular Movement against South Waziristan Operations

Andrew McGregor

November 25 2009

As the Pakistani Army pushes deeper into South Waziristan, a vocal political challenge to Islamabad’s cooperation in the War on Terrorism has emerged in the form of Syed Munawar Hasan, the Amir (leader) of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI)—the leading party in the religious coalition that rules Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP)—and  a member of the ruling coalition in Balochistan Province.

Syed MunawarSyed Munawar Hasan

Syed Munawar was a student of JI founder Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maududi (1903-1979), one of the leading theorists of political Islam. A member of JI-Pakistan since 1967 and the party’s Secretary General since 1993, Syed Munawar has begun a very public campaign to rally support among Pakistan’s conservative religious community against the U.S. role in the region and Islamabad’s offensive against Taliban extremists in South Waziristan. He is also calling for a diplomatic campaign against India for its alleged role in terrorist activities within Pakistan.

In recent well-publicized rallies and Friday sermons, Syed Munawar has issued a series of provocative statements and demands. According to the JI’s Amir:

• Pakistan should sever all ties with India and begin a diplomatic campaign against the country at the United Nations in response to the discovery of Indian arms in South Waziristan and Balochistan. The government has failed to do this because India is backed by the United States. Indian Hindus are organizing atrocities against India’s Muslim, Sikh, Christian and Buddhist communities (Jasarat [Karachi], November 15; The News [Islamabad], November 14). JI is organizing “black days” of protest against India in mid-December.

• Muslim Kashmiris have been waging a struggle for freedom from India for 62 years. India has responded by sending a 700,000 man “army of savages” (Jasarat [Karachi], November 15). Though JI claims it is dedicated to a peaceful and democratic process, the exception is Kashmir, in which case the movement actively supports armed groups fighting Indian rule.

• State terrorism is the real form of terrorism due to the massive firepower available to modern states. Millions of people have died in the “unprecedented” destruction caused by state terrorism (Jasarat [Karachi], November 15)

• The United States is seeking to create a “mini-Pentagon” in Islamabad by expanding its embassy there. Islamabad is “under the occupation of Blackwater [renamed Xe Services LLC in February]” and Washington is pushing for an expansion of the counter-insurgency operations to North Waziristan. The ongoing drone attacks on insurgent leaders are an assault on the sovereignty of Pakistan but come as part of a campaign to change the borders of Pakistan (The News [Islamabad], November 19). Syed Munawar called on Army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to write a letter to President Barack Obama demanding a halt to the drone attacks (The Nation [Lahore], November 20).

• The October attack on the Army’s GHQ in Rawalpindi was not the work of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) (as the movement claimed in an October 12 TTP statement), but was instead the work of the United States and India. “I am not ready to believe that the Taliban are so powerful that they would dare attack the GHQ” (Dawn [Karachi], October 12; The News [Islamabad], November 19).He identified “the secret terrorist force, Blackwater” and India’s Research and Analysis Wing (RAW – India’s external intelligence agency) as the perpetrators (The Nation, November 20; Jasarat, November 12).

Is Pakistan Reversing Strategy of Isolating Baitullah Mahsud in Waziristan?

Andrew McGregor

August 6, 2009

As Pakistani F-16 fighters attack Taliban targets in South Waziristan, the government and military leadership appear to be reconsidering their earlier attempts to persuade other Taliban commanders in the region to remain on the sidelines during a much-delayed ground campaign against Baitullah Mahsud, leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Baitullah MahsudBaitullah Mahsud

The government’s appeals were directed principally at Siraj Haqqani, leader of the deadly Haqqani Network and son of renowned Afghan mujahideen leader Jallaludin Haqanni, Deobandi warlord Hafiz Gul Bahadur of the Uthmanzai Wazir (see Terrorism Monitor, April 10), and Ahmadzai tribal leader Maulvi Nazir, whose complex loyalties are somewhat difficult to grasp, being simultaneously pro-Bin Laden, anti-Baitullah Mahsud and pro-Pakistan when suitable (see Terrorism Monitor, May 14, 2007). Pakistan’s press has reported a series of meetings between government officials and TTP leaders designed to isolate Baitullah, as well as warnings issued to Taliban factions not to interfere with military convoys on their way to Waziristan once the planned offensive begins.

Bahadur and Nazir overcame their differences with Baitulllah in February, when they joined Baitullah in the Shura Ittihad-ul-Mujahideen (Council for United Holy Warriors) at the urging of Afghanistan’s Mullah Omar (The News [Islamabad], February 23). Little has been heard of this alliance since, suggesting this was only a temporary display of unity. Maulvi Nazir is a bitter rival of Baitullah. His participation in the new alliance was likely only a sign of his loyalty to Mullah Omar and there are conflicting reports on whether he will support or oppose Baitullah once the campaign begins.

A July 28 suicide attack by Bahadur’s faction against government security forces killed two members of the Frontier Corps and wounded five others, suggesting Bahadur has rejected the government’s advances (The News, July 29; Geo News, July 28). With Siraj Haqqani likely to side with Baitullah to protect his cross-border network, Islamabad appears to have realized the isolation of Baitullah within the Pakistani Taliban is unlikely. After having served as their sponsor for several years, Baitullah is likely to be joined in any conflict against government forces by the remnants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which has been based in Waziristan since being expelled from Afghanistan in late 2001. Known a decade ago for their skills in mountain warfare, the present capability and strength of the Uzbeks is uncertain after years of attrition and isolation from Uzbekistan, but Baitullah’s fall will surely result in their destruction, giving the remaining Uzbeks a strong incentive to repel any government incursion.

While there have been numerous unconfirmed reports of negotiations between the government and Baitullah, a senior Pakistani military official told an Islamabad daily that it was now too late for talks: “Both the civil and military authorities have concluded that Baitullah is an enemy of Pakistan and must be dealt with accordingly” (The News, August 3).

While the major Taliban leaders appear to be lining up behind Baitullah, a number of lesser commanders appear prepared to seek retribution from Baitullah for various past offenses. A former ally of Baitullah, Turkistan Bhittani, has already started operations against Baitullah’s men in the Tank region after having declared his readiness to take on Baitullah’s men as soon as Islamabad gave the green light (ANI, July 13; AFP, July 11). Bhittani has joined with two other factions in the reformed Abdullah Mahsud group (named for the late Mahsudi Taliban leader). Local press reported the new Amir of the alliance, Waziristan Baba (a.k.a. Ikhlas Khan) had sworn revenge on Baitullah for killing people in South Waziristan and destroying schools and hospitals (The Nation [Islamabad], July 23). A later statement from existing Abdullah Mahsud commander Qari Misbahuddin Mahsud denied the appointment of Waziristan Baba, claiming he had been sent by Baitullah to create rifts amongst the Abdullah Mahsud Taliban. According to Qari Misbahuddin, Waziristan Baba had already been expelled after less than two months in the Abdullah Mahsud group. A decision had been made to kill him, but he escaped before it could be implemented (The News, July 24).

The Pakistani military is still in the process of consolidating its control of Swat, Buner and Dir. Militants driven out of these areas are reported to be regrouping in Shangla District. For the moment, Baitullah’s ability to operate beyond South Waziristan appears to be restricted, giving the government time to pursue its aerial campaign (using American supplied targeting intelligence) against him while avoiding a wide-scale conflict against a combination of Taliban factions in Waziristan. Aerial operations, however, are incapable of establishing the government’s writ across the Tribal Agencies of northwest Pakistan. Pakistan’s F-16s cannot carry out night operations, leaving the battlefield to the Taliban at night.  As American and international pressure builds for a ground assault on South Waziristan, Islamabad will use the bombing campaign to buy enough time to find alternatives, whether through the submission of Baitullah Mahsud, or the creation of a tribal alliance capable of ensuring victory in a land campaign.

A senior Pakistani security official explained the government’s decision to act against all of South Waziristan’s Taliban warlords rather than attempt to isolate Baitullah. “We have delayed the operation only to broaden its horizon. The militants in the border regions have developed joint networks, therefore it is imperative to confront them on both sides of the border so that they do not slip from one area [to] another during the course of operations… It would be difficult to confront Baitullah Mahsud and leave the other ones alone. The operation would have to be an all-out war against all of them” (Adnkronos International, July 31).

This article first appeared in the August 6, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor 

Kenyan al-Qaeda Leaders Killed in Waziristan Missile Strike

Andrew McGregor

January 15, 2009

Two Kenyan nationals were among those killed in a New Year’s Day missile strike on a house in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal agency. Although the strike occurred on January 1, the identities of those killed were not confirmed until January 9. Although U.S. officials do not comment officially on missile attacks in the Frontier region of Pakistan, it is believed the attack was carried out by a Hellfire missile launched from a CIA Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) (Daily Nation, Nairobi, January 9; Daily Times [Lahore], January 10; al-Jazeera, January 9).

Kenyans 1Osama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ali Msalam)

The two Kenyans are believed to have been associated with al-Qaeda since the mid-1990s. Osama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ali Msalam) was wanted in connection with numerous bombings in Pakistan, including the 2008 Danish Embassy suicide attack and the September 20, 2008, bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. Al-Kini was also a suspect in a foiled attempt to assassinate former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (Daily Nation, January 9).

Kenyans 2Shaykh Ahmad Salim Swedan

Both Mombasa native al-Kini and his Kenyan lieutenant, Shaykh Ahmad Salim Swedan, were wanted for their roles in the deadly 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam and had five-million dollar bounties on their heads. According to a Kenyan security official, “Kini received money from al-Qaeda to run the East African cells. He was a logistician for the terrorists in this region before he went to Pakistan” (The Standard [Nairobi], January 11). Al-Kini first trained in Afghanistan in 1994 before returning to Kenya. Following the embassy bombings he fled to Pakistan. After becoming head of al-Qaeda operations in the Zabul province of Afghanistan in late 2001, al-Kini rose to become al-Qaeda’s operations chief for Pakistan.

Shaykh Ahmad Salim Swedan also fled Kenya after the embassy bombings but sneaked back to carry out the Kikamabala bombing in 2002 before fleeing again to Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.

The strike took place in the village of Karikot, where seven suspected militants from Punjab province were killed in a pair of missile strikes on December 21, 2008. The area is dominated by Ahmadzai Wazir fighters led by Maulvi Nazir, an opponent of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mahsud (The Nation [Islamabad], December 23).

This article first appeared in the January 15, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Pakistan’s Frontier Corps Abandon Colonial-Era Fort to Taliban

Andrew McGregor

August 6, 2008

Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps is pulling out of fortified positions in the Taliban hotbed of South Waziristan, including a 1930s-era colonial fort at Ladha that was the center of heavy fighting last January, when it came under attack by 250 to 300 insurgents in the largest of a series of recent assaults by tribesmen on the stronghold (Pakistan Times, January 12). 20 to 30 militants carrying rockets and small arms were killed in that attack, which was repulsed only through the use of artillery and mortars (PakTribune, January 19). Tribesmen have also made a habit of abducting soldiers stationed at the fort. Rumors are now circulating in the region that the pullback is only a preliminary step in a large-scale offensive by NATO or Pakistan government forces (The News [Islamabad], August 1). The Ladha garrison of several hundred soldiers appears to be relocating to the town of Razmak in Northern Waziristan. Smaller posts in the Saam region of South Waziristan were also being abandoned. Many of these posts were located in areas belonging to the Mahsud tribe, from which local Taliban leader Baitullah Mahsud hails.

Ladha FortFrontier Corps spokesmen cited difficulties in supplying Ladha Fort and a decision to transform the building into a hospital as reasons for pulling out the garrison. The latter reason has left some locals perplexed – a hospital was recently built only ten kilometers away but has never been fitted out with medical equipment or supplies. One elder told journalists that elders from several sections of the Mahsud tribe had been urged by government officials to demand a hospital in Ladha (The News, August 1). Th Frontier Corps Inspector General, Major General Muhammad Alam Khattak, noted that the fort had lost its strategic importance after local people erected housing outside its walls, pointing out that “a tribal jirga (assembly)” had requested the fort be turned into a hospital (Daily Times, August 1). Addressing speculation that the fort was being turned over to the Taliban as part of a negotiated peace settlement with the new government in Islamabad, General Khattak would only say; “The fighting phase is over in this area, and now negotiations are being held with the people” (Gulf News, July 31).

In an optimistic vein, General Khattak suggested it would not matter if the Taliban seized the fort after it was turned into a medical facility, as local tribesmen would then rise up to expel the Taliban (HI Pakistan, July 28). A spokesman for the Tehrik-i-Taliban of Pakistan declared; “We will definitely capture all those posts vacated by the FC in Ladha and Saam” (The News, August 1).

This article first appeared in the August 6, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Taliban Commanders Accused of Blowing Up NATO Oil Tankers Released on Bail

Andrew McGregor

April 23, 2008

Four Taliban commanders arrested for organizing the destruction of nearly 40 oil tankers at the entrance to the Khyber Pass on March 23 have been released on bail. The tankers were carrying fuel for NATO forces in Afghanistan when six bombs ripped through the parking lot where they were awaiting clearance to pass through the Torkham border crossing. As part of the terms of their release, the South Waziristan Taliban commanders agreed to return 50,000 gallons of fuel and two oil tankers to Khyber Agency merchants and to release two abducted drivers (Daily Times [Lahore], April 17).

JavedJaved Ibrahim Paracha (Photo – Arshad Mahmood Virk)

The bail conditions were arranged after a jirga, or council, composed of Waziristan Taliban leaders—including Mir Qasim Janikhel and Ishaq Wazir—and Zakhakehl and Qambarkhel elders met to decide the case. The four accused Taliban commanders all hail from the Janikhel Wazir sub-tribe and include Khalid Rehman. The jirga was held at the home of Javed Ibrahim Paracha, who stated he had been asked to host the meeting by Interior Affairs Advisor Rehman Malik and Interior Secretary Kamal Shah (Daily Times, April 17). The Zakhakel and Qambarkhel elders agreed to withdraw their testimony against the suspects after initially charging them with terrorism.

Paracha was an interesting choice to head the jirga. A lawyer by trade, Paracha has aided many Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects and created support networks for the families of convicted terrorists. Paracha has been imprisoned twice by Pakistani President Musharraf for his political activities and claims to have been tortured by the FBI while incarcerated. According to Paracha, they were unable to coerce him by physical means so they offered him half a million dollars to become a “bridge” between the United States and the Taliban and al-Qaeda (New Yorker, January 28). He was a member of the national assembly from 1997 to 2002 on the ticket of the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) and has built two madrassas, where the students are taught that “only Islam can provide the justice they seek” (New Statesmen, March 28, 2005). Paracha is also responsible for promoting sectarian attacks on the tiny Shiite community in his hometown of Kohat and neighboring villages (Daily Times, February 11, 2006).

There are other reports that Paracha was approached by the United States in 2005 to use his links with the militants to act as a conduit between Washington and the Taliban. At first, Paracha confirmed meeting to discuss this with State Department Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes and several U.S. military officials at an Islamabad hotel, but later stated that his visitors were “American businessmen who did ask me to help the U.S. ‘reconcile’ with al-Qaida and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. The businessmen sought my help against anti-American feelings and for a safe exit of U.S. troops from Afghanistan under an agreement” (Daily Times, November 17; 2005; Dawn [Karachi], November 17, 2005; UPI, November 22, 2005).

Meanwhile the main highway supplying Coalition forces in Afghanistan from Pakistan continues to suffer interruptions, the latest being a six day closure last week due to fighting between Lashkar-i-Islam militants and Korikhel tribesmen resisting the militants’ attempt to impose “moral reforms” in the region (The News [Islamabad], April 19).

This article first appeared in the April 23, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Iraqi al-Qaeda Trainer in Waziristan Releases Video

Andrew McGregor

April 16, 2008

An important but elusive al-Qaeda operative based in the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region has released a videotape calling for jihad against the United States and its allies until final victory (The News [Islamabad], April 9). The veteran Iraqi jihadi, Abu Kasha—also known as Abdur Rahman al-Iraqi, Abu al-Marajel, and Arab Malang—has so far been known for his secretive ways, refusing to be photographed or to give interviews to media. Addressing a group of disguised jihadis in Arabic, Abu Kasha praises Osama bin Laden during the video and warns that the death of each mujahid will be avenged by the killing of 10 Coalition troops.

Reportedly operating from Mir Ali in North Waziristan and Afghanistan’s Kunar province, Abu Kasha runs a training camp for would-be jihadis, including special instruction in suicide bombings. Al-Qaeda has vowed revenge for a strike on Mir Ali by a CIA Predator UAV earlier this year (Al-Sahab Media, February 6; Al-Jazeera, February 7). Abu Kasha has a small command of his own under two local sub-commanders, Imanullah and Haq Nawaz Dawar (Daily Times [Lahore], January 9, 2007). He is also reported to have close ties to a breakaway faction of Uzbek fighters formerly under Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan leader Tahir Yuldash. A Pakistani military operation against Mir Ali last summer killed 15 jihadis, including 10 Uzbeks, but failed to kill its probable target, Abu Kasha (South Asia Terrorism Portal, August 19, 2007).

This article first appeared in the April 16, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Ahmadzai Wazir Tribesmen Negotiate Return of Taliban Commanders

Andrew McGregor

April 9, 2008

The Afghanistan Taliban are mediating ongoing negotiations for the return of Taliban commanders and Uzbek militants to the Wana region of South Waziristan after they were forcibly expelled last year by Ahmadzai Wazir tribesmen under the command of rival Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir.

Maulvi NazirMaulvi Nazir

The negotiations will likely result in the return of the expelled Taliban commanders, but while Maulvi Nazir appears to have softened his stance towards the Uzbeks, their return remains strongly opposed by Ahmadzai tribal elders despite guarantees of their “good behavior” by the Afghan Taliban (Daily Times [Lahore], April 4). The Uzbeks have turned down offers to resettle in Taliban-controlled areas of Helmand and Zabul provinces, where they could be targeted by ISAF forces (Dawn [Karachi], April 5, 2007).

The Taliban commanders seeking to return—Ghulam Jan, Maulvi Abbas, Haji Muhammad Umar, Maulvi Javed Karmazkhel and Noor Islam—were all commanders under Nek Muhammad, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2004. They were well known for harboring the Uzbek militants whose predilection for violent activities—including contract assassinations—created major rifts with the tribesmen who had initially offered them refuge after being driven out of Afghanistan in late 2001. The Utmanzai Wazirs of North Waziristan have joined the Ahmadzai in their attempts to expel the Uzbeks from the region (The News [Islamabad], April 5). The Uzbeks are hardened veteran fighters who cannot easily be eliminated by any one party. They are mostly veteran members of Tahir Yuldash’s Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), though rival leaders have emerged during their long exile from Uzbekistan.

As part of a peace agreement with the Pakistan government in early 2005, Maulvi Abbas, Haji Muhammad Umar and Maulvi Javed Karmazkhel were issued massive cash payments from the secret service fund to repay money they claimed al-Qaeda had advanced to finance attacks on Pakistani security forces (Dawn, February 8, 2005). Noor Islam is a Wana-based Taliban commander closely associated with Uzbek and Arab elements while Ghulam Jan is a strong opponent of Maulvi Nazir (Daily Times, January 9, 2007). Haji Muhammad Umar and Noor Islam belong to the powerful Yargulkhel sub-tribe of the Ahmadzai; Maulvi Nazir is from the much weaker Ghulamkhel sub-tribe but wields considerable influence in the area due to his skills as a fighter.

At a meeting two weeks ago between Maulvi Nazir and his local rival, Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander Baitullah Mehsud, the latter told Nazir that he would not expel the Uzbek militants from the region as he had been asked to harbor them by Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin Haqqani and the day-to-day commander of the Haqqani network (The News, April 5). Due to tribal animosities, the Ahmadzai and Mehsud have maintained separate Taliban commands.


This article first appeared in the April 9 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

South Waziri Tribesmen Organize Counterinsurgency Lashkar

Andrew McGregor

January 14, 2008

Four days after the murder of nine members of a government-sponsored peace committee in the Pakistani region of South Waziristan, tribal leaders have vowed to organize a special force of tribesmen to expel foreign militants from the region. The deceased were involved in an attempt to broker a ceasefire between government forces and local militants (PakTribune, January 7). The killings are part of a continuing rash of nighttime assassinations of tribal elders who refuse to cooperate with the Taliban/al-Qaeda insurgency against Pakistan’s central government that began in 2004. The growing violence marks the collapse of the conciliatory “Waziristan Accord” negotiated by regional governor Ali Muhammad Jan Orakzai in September 2006. Orakzai resigned on January 6.

South Waziristan 1Maulvi Nazir (AP)

Maulvi Nazir—a 33-year-old tribal leader also known as Mullah Nazir—is leading the effort to take retribution for the slayings. Most of those killed in the attacks were loyal to him. A former Taliban commander believed to have connections to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), Nazir has publicly accused Baitullah Mahsud of the killings. Baitullah, appointed as the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan coalition late last year, has also been blamed by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007, a charge Baitullah has denied. Baitullah’s ascendance as leader of Pakistan’s Taliban began with the death of militant leader Nek Muhammad in a U.S. Hellfire missile attack in June 2004. As a result of Baitullah’s alleged involvement in the murders, members of his Mahsud tribe have also been targeted by Nazir’s followers, who are members of the rival Ahmadzai Wazir tribe. The Ahmadzai are particularly strong in the western part of South Waziristan, where they control the passes and trade routes into Afghanistan. Vehicles mounted with loudspeakers have been driving around the Wana region, ordering Mahsud tribesmen to leave the area (Daily Times [Lahore], January 9). Shops and markets in the area remain closed in anticipation of renewed violence.

The killings were the result of two separate rocket attacks on the evening of January 6. The first, in the regional capital of Wana, killed three; the second, at the office of Maulvi Khanan—a close aide of Maulvi Nazir—in nearby Shakai, killed six and wounded five (Dawn [Karachi], January 8). Immediate retribution took the form of one Mahsud tribesman killed and four abducted the next day (Daily Times, January 9).

Forming the Lashkar

Thousands of angry tribesmen assembled in a jirga (a tribal meeting to consider important issues) on January 9. Malik Ghaffar, a tribal chief, declared that one man from each house should gather the following day to plan a course of action (Dawn, January 9; Daily Times, January 10).

A lashkar is a body of tribesmen formed as a war party to deal with a particular incident. This may be in response to a family feud, a tribal clash or in reaction to a specific government policy. The size of the lashkar is in proportion to the perceived degree of threat [1]. In this case the lashkar will be formed from 600 armed tribesmen. According to tribal elder Meetha Khan, “The lashkar will give two options to those sheltering the foreigners, either to stop sheltering them and return to their tribe, or face the eviction of their families from the area” (AP, January 10).

Situation in South Waziristan

South Waziristan is one of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of western Pakistan, a region where the central authority of Islamabad is very weak. The region was also highly resistant to British colonial rule, has little infrastructure and is difficult to reach or travel through.

Despite the presence of at least 80,000 soldiers from the regular army and the paramilitary Frontier Corps in the region, government control remains light, and is administered through a series of colonial style political agents. Sharia law is enforced through self-appointed leaders like Maulvi Nazir. Technically the area is officially subject to the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a colonial holdover that still incorporates the concept of collective responsibility, which has long been abandoned in most parts of the world. The Ahmadzai, for example, were fined $95,000 in 2004 for failing to stop rocket attacks on federal security forces (BBC, March 4, 2004). Demolition of homes, closure of businesses and seizure of vehicles remain common punishments regardless of the guilt of the individuals so affected. Homes in the region are built like small fortresses, increasing the difficulty of rooting out militant suspects. Violation of the integrity of these homes is regarded as a major offence, while the death of an individual in security operations inevitably leads to a vendetta (badal).

The IMU in South Waziristan

The Ahmadzai believe that the assassins of the elders are Uzbek militants from the community of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) fighters who crossed into South Waziristan from Afghanistan in 2001. Led by Tahir Yuldash, the Uzbeks had been allowed by the Taliban to take refuge and set up training camps in Afghanistan after a number of setbacks in their Central Asian jihad. Initially trained and led by Uzbek veterans of the Soviet armed forces, the Uzbeks are skilled fighters who have taken on security duties for the al-Qaeda leadership in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Since their arrival the Uzbeks have established successful farms and businesses as well as integrating into the local community through intermarriage. By doing so, the Uzbeks have availed themselves of the powerful local custom of melmastia (“hospitality”), which involves the protection of the host party against all attempts to harm or seize the guest. At the same time the Uzbeks have become involved in local vendettas as guns-for-hire and are blamed for much of the violent crime in the region. This has resulted in a number of violent battles between tribesmen and Uzbek fighters in recent years. Already well-known in Afghanistan as a Taliban commander, Maulvi Nazir made his reputation locally by leading tribesmen in successful attacks against the Uzbeks last year, driving most of them from the Wana Valley in April 2007. The Uzbeks have developed especially close ties to members of the Mahsud tribe but are no longer united under a single leader.

Tribal Differences and Rivalries

There are indications that the murders of the Ahmadzai leaders may be part of an intra-clan struggle for leadership of the Ahmadzai. According to one report, Maulvi Nazir’s brother and rival, Noorul Islam, has claimed responsibility for the attacks as retaliation for Maulvi Nazir’s alliance with the government and his initiation of a war against the Uzbeks. According to Noorul, “Maulvi Nazir is the government’s agent and he will pay a heavy price for killing mujahideen” (Udayavani, January 10). Not all members of the Mahsud tribe support Baitullah’s growing feud with the Ahmadzai: a jirga of 80 Mahsud elders met with Baitullah’s followers on January 8 to try to defuse a potentially devastating tribal war.

Nazir is a member of the small Kakakhel sub-clan of the Ahmadzai and achieved dominance over larger and traditionally stronger groups within the tribe such as the Zalikhel clan and the Yargulkhel sub-clan through the political and military support of the Afghan Taliban and the ISI. There are other local Taliban leaders, however, like Hajji Umar—a Yargulkhel and brother of the late Nek Muhammad—who oppose Maulvi Nazir.


Even though Baitullah Mahsud has denied involvement in the assassinations of the Ahmadzai elders, his men continue to attack Pakistani security forces in South Waziristan. A rocket attack on a security post at Chugmalai on January 7 killed one and injured three. Three security men were abducted the next day near Mouli Khan Sarai (Daily Times, January 9; Udayavani, January 10). Security forces responded with mortar attacks on Mahsud targets. Militants have also cut off food and water supplies to the security forces’ fort at Laddah (Dawn, January 8). Interim Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz announced that Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and the Pakistani army have begun a joint operation to take Baitullah Mahsud alive in order to “trace his accomplices,” but denied rumors that foreign agencies would take part in the hunt (Daily Times, January 8). There have been reports in U.S. newspapers in the last few weeks that the Bush administration was considering inserting U.S. Special Forces and CIA operatives into the tribal regions of Pakistan (NYT, January 5; Washington Post, January 6).

It would be a mistake to regard Maulvi Nazir as either pro-Washington or pro-Islamabad. Nazir acts in his own interest, those of his clan and those of his tribe and will ally himself with anyone he perceives may further those interests. His extended family owns property on both side of the Afghan-Pakistani border and he travels freely between the two without interference from the Afghan Taliban. The apparently impending explosion of violence in the Waziristan frontier region will only create further instability that can be exploited by the Taliban and al-Qaeda.


  1. Sher Muhammad Mohmand, The Pathan Customs, Peshawar, 2003, p.42


This article first appeared in the January 14, 2008 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor