In the crosshairs of US drones

People in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region live

Residents live under a constant fear of being hit as dozens of unmanned drones buzz the skies over North and South Waziristan. The drones frighten children and women who sometimes become the victims, especially if the intended targets are anywhere close to their homes.

According to local tribal sources, the Americans have planted several spies whose job is to insert microchips in vehicles which are then tracked and taken out by missiles fired from drones.

When the US drone attacks started several years ago, their priority was to get the al-Qaeda leadership, But a lot has changed since then, and it appears the Americans have expanded their targets to include foreign fighters, the Pakistani Taliban, and al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

According to one senior Pakistanii military official, the accuracy of the drone raids has increased but that it still causing civilian casualties because of the nature of the way local houses are built.

The large adobe-type mud structures are wall to wall and so, often adjoining structures collapse under the pressure of heavy explosions.

Holy warriors

For some loyals, it is their duty to help the Mujahideen, or holy warriors, as they are known and are willing to pay the price.

 With increasing attacks also comes an ever larger number of people queuing up to join the ranks of the holy warriors.

During the war against the Russians these tribal lands were the launching pad for Mujahideen taking on another super power the Soviet Union after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

The Americans armed and financed these people to fight a jihad against what they called the Godless Communists. Many Americans argued that as people of the Scriptures who believed in one God – the Christians and Muslims – had a duty to defeat the “Russian empire”,  then America’s number one enemy.

Who would have thought that that the same Americans would one day be bombing their former allies who helped win the Afghan war?

Covering and area of approximately 12,000sq km North Waziristan borders Khost province of Afghanistan and is inhabited by mostly Wazir tribesmen.

However, the influx of Mehsud tribesmen dispersed by Pakistan’s military, after it launched a summer assault in 2009 in South Waziristan in this region, has disturbed the local balance of power.

Heading north

While the populations fled south to seek refuge with relatives and in makeshift camps, the fighters went north – to neighboring North Waziristan.

Ever since their retreat from the south, they have tried to intensify the fight against the army in the north, in the hope of relieving the pressure on their stronghold in South Waziristan’s Mehsud belt that includes Makeen, Sara Rogha and Laddah.

However, the Wazir tribesmen have so far stayed away from attacking the Pakistani military except for small skirmishes which sometimes have claimed the lives of Pakistani Soldiers.

It is this very factor that has led Pakistan to adopt a cautious policy of restraint so as not to upset the precarious balance.

Sandwiched between fortifications of the Pakistani military and the Afghan frontier, where US-led multinational forces are seeing a surge of boots on the ground and an intensified war as a result of a Taliban re-emergence, the tribes are caught in the middle.

Source of attacks

The US believes that at least 50 per cent of the attacks inside Afghanistan can be traced to North Waziristan.

The US also believes that this region is the stronghold of the legendary Afghan commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, who they believe was giving sanctuary to al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

The fact of the matter is that while there is no doubt that the Haqqani network is strong in this tribal zone, they also have a considerable power base in Khost and in the adjoining provinces of Paktia and Paktika.

As such the Haqqani network has the ability to continue his campaign against the US-led multinational force inside Afghanistan.

Headed by the younger Siraj Haqqani, the network has caused serious problems for the foreign forces in Afghanistan.

As long as the people see the Americans as foreign invaders, there will be plenty of volunteers ready to fight for the Haqqani network.

After the Pakistani military launched several assaults on the Pakistani Taliban in Swat, Buner, Dir, Bajaur and South Waziristan (considered to be the impregnable fortress of the Mehsud tribesmen led by Baitullah Mehsud killed in a US drone strike), the Pakistan military’s push forced many Mehsud tribesmen loyal to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan into North Waziristan.

Turkmen, Uzbek, Punjabi and other foreign fighters who had sought sanctuary in this rugged mountainous terrain are also reported to have filtered across into North Waziristan.

Under pressure

Now led by the younger Hakimullah Mehsud, they have been trying to take on the military in the north in the hope of relieving the pressure on their stronghold in the south.

However, loyalists of Gul Bahadur, the senior Taliban commander in North Waziristan, does not want a head on conflict with Pakistan when its main battle was across the border.

The Pakistani military was already spread thin due to its deployment On the eastern frontier with India while maintaining a considerable presence on its western border with Afghanistan and coping with relief and rehabilitation efforts.

As such it did not want to be sucked into a quagmire in a region where it is already pinned down.

Movement in this troubled area is only possible after imposition of curfew to minimise the risk of ambush. The army has to sweep the roads for roadside bombs before they can move from one fortification to another.

They are taking the heat for the US missiles attacks, which many Pakistanis now say are happening with a secret but tacit approval of the Pakistan government.

More from Features
Most Read