PESHAWAR: The recent rocket attack on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Syed Masood Kausar in Orakzai Agency negated some of the claims made about the success in the action against the Taliban in the volatile region.
The governor had gone to Orakzai Agency on October 11 to inaugurate development projects when he came under rocket attack by the militants.
The Darra Adamkhel Taliban, reportedly operating from Orakzai Agency, later claimed responsibility for the attack. There have been conflicting reports about the group’s leader Tariq Afridi as the authorities claimed in the past that he was killed in a military operation but the militants have denied the claim.
The governor was lucky to have survived the attack, but a child was killed and nine other people, mostly government officials, were wounded.
The brazen attack on the governor and other high-ranking civil and military officials indicated that the militants were still strong enough to launch such attacks and cause embarrassment to the government.
Neither the government nor the military authorities seem to have taken serious notice of the assassination bid on the governor. No inquiry was initiated as to why the governor was taken to an unsafe area. It would have been a huge embarrassment if he had been harmed.
Government officials and tribal sources said parts of Orakzai Agency are still a stronghold of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) headed by Hakimullah Mahsud.
They estimated that several hundred Pakistani militants and foreign fighters continue to occupy 25 squares kilometres area in upper Orakzai Agency.
The militants who were driven out of other tribal regions and districts as a result of successive military operations had sought refuge in the Orakzai Agency and are now operating from the mountainous areas in upper part of the Orakzai tribal region.
The tribal sources said the militants are currently holding an important and strategic location called Mamozai, linking upper Orakzai on the one side with Tirah valley in Khyber Agency and on the other with lower and central Kurram tribal region.
Though the TTP militants suffered heavy losses during the ongoing military operations in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan,
the military is still facing
resistance from the Taliban fighters in some of the troubled spots such as Orakzai Agency.
The military had conducted a major military offensive in South Waziristan’s Mahsud-populated area in 2009. It was followed by an offensive in Orakzai Agency due to the belief that the militants had shifted there from South Waziristan. The military authorities had stated at the time that Hakimullah Mahsud had established control and command centre in Orakzai Agency.
Major General Nadir Zeb, Inspector General of the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC), had once described Orakzai Agency as the centre of gravity, wherefrom the militants could move everywhere.
Government functionaries are of the view that Orakzai Agency is the most favoured place for the militants to operate.
From Orakzai, the militants used to plan attacks on the Pakistani forces and government installations in other tribal regions and move freely into Peshawar and other cities to carry out acts of sabotage.
Surrounded by mountains, Orakzai Agency is the only one out of the seven tribal agencies that does not border Afghanistan.
The Taliban have often bragged in the past that Orakzai is far away from Nato forces across the border and from the US drones.
It was relatively easy for them to move northwest into the Khyber and Kurram agencies and use Bilandkhel, a small village which links Orakzai with North Waziristan, to the south to sneak into the border to fight the coalition forces.
Pakistani officials believe Hakimullah Mahsud was earlier hiding in Orakzai and had moved to South Waziristan after becoming the TTP chief following the killing of Baitullah Mahsud in a drone attack in Zangara village in South Waziristan on August 5, 2009.
When Baitullah Mahsud was alive, he had made Hakimullah the commander of three important tribal regions including Orakzai, Kurram and Khyber.
Security officials thought Hakimullah had moved again to Orakzai when the Pakistan Army launched military operation against his group in South Waziristan.
They are now clueless about the whereabouts of the TTP leader, who they think is always on the run.
Orakzai tribesmen said that despite successive military actions, Orakzai Agency is still insecure even though the offensive there was launched four years ago.
Clashes continue and have forced thousands of tribespeople to flee their homes and villages. Majority of displaced families are living in Hangu and Kohat districts while others shifted to Peshawar and even Karachi due to the insecurity in their native region.
The Orakzai tribesmen believe that until upper Orakzai Agency is cleared of militants, insecurity will continue not only in Orakzai but also in the neighbouring Kurram and Khyber tribal regions and in Hangu and Kohat districts.
Tribal elders in the sectarian-torn Kurram Agency are afraid that the militants hiding in upper Orakzai could once again derail the peace they have restored after months of efforts.
“Our efforts may prove useless if the militants do not stop their activities in upper Orakzai,” stated a tribal elder, who played an important role in peace negotiations between the Sunnis and Shias in Kurram Agency
Tribal sources in Kalaya, headquarters of Orakzai Agency, said the Taliban were still active in upper parts of their tribal region and were kidnapping people, running their own prisons and dispensing their own harsh justice.
Kalaya is sited about 20 kilometres to the northwest of Mamozai, and the militants easily managed to launch rocket attack on the governor and other officials to
show their presence and highlight their relevance to the situation.