ISLAMABAD: The news of Maulvi Nazir Wazir’s death in an American drone attack in South Waziristan has not gone down well with the Pakistani security establishment, which considered him to be a friendly Taliban leader who was operating in South Waziristan more or less under the control of the Pakistan Army and who was at daggers drawn with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Ameer CommanderTehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Ameer Commander Hakimullah Mehsud nowadays.
The Pakistani security establishment’s stance towards Nazir was in sharp contrast with the Obama administration’s viewpoint which had identified him as a most dangerous al-Qaeda ally who had openly supported Osama bin Laden and the fugitive ameer of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar. The Pakistan Army had signed a peace deal with Nazir in the summer of 2009, stipulating that he would not shelter any of al-Qaeda or Taliban militants in his area and that his fighters won’t target the Pakistani security forces. Subsequently, when the Pakistan Army had launched a military operation in South Waziristan against the TTP in October 2009, Maulvi Nazir’s areas had been simply left untouched. While the Pakistani establishment considered Nazir to be a “good Taliban” who had never declared a war on the state of Pakistan unlike Hakimullah Mehsud, the Americans used to describe him as a “bad Taliban” and their “worst enemy” for sheltering al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters and for aiding and abetting cross-border ambushes against the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, especially in Paktika, Zabul and Helmand provinces.
In a May 2011 interview with Syed Saleem Shehzad of the Asia Times, Nazir had openly supported Mullah Omar and bin Laden while rejecting claims that he was opposed to al-Qaeda. “Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are one and the same. At an operational level, we might have different strategies, but at the policy level we are one and the same,” he had stated in the interview.
Nazir was also close to the Waziristan-based Haqqani militant network, which has been blamed by the Americans for carrying out several high-profile terrorist attacks in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan in recent years. Nazir used to hold exclusive sway in South Waziristan and even in parts of Paktika province across the border. Until 2012, he used to own property in Kandahar, being a dual citizen of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Several top al-Qaeda leaders, including Ilyas Kashmiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, Osama al Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, and Abu Zaid al Iraqi, had been droned to death in South Waziristan while being sheltered by Nazir. He had been targeted by US drones on several occasions in the past, but survived each time. The most recent attack was in June 2012.
Having survived several Predator strikes, Nazir was finally killed in the wee hours of January 3 when two missiles struck his vehicle in the Sar Kanda area of Birmil in South Waziristan. The drone strike also killed two of his most senior deputies, Atta Ullah and Rafey Khan. The funeral prayers for Nazir and his associates were offered in Wana and all the five dead were buried in a graveyard in Azam Warsak area of South Waziristan. His death came hardly a month after having survived the November 29, 2012 suicide attack in Rustam Bazaar of Wana. Seven militants were killed in the attack while Nazir had suffered some minor injuries on his face and legs.
Although, no group had claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, the TTP was the prime suspect. Following the failed assassination attempt, the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe, led by Nazir, had ordered all the Mehsud tribesmen to leave South Waziristan by December 5, including the TTP loyalists. It was further announced that those who fail to leave, and any locals aiding them, would face stern action and their homes would be demolished. These decisions were taken after it transpired that the bomber who tried to kill Nazir was a Mehsud who was most likely sent by Hakimullah Mehsud to avenge the July 5, 2012 killing of his close aide, Wali Muhammad Yargulkhel.
But the TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan had strongly refuted his group’s hand in the failed bid, saying, “The TTP may have organisational differences with him (Nazir) but there are no ideological differences between the two militant groups”.
There are those in the Pakistani security establishment who believe that Nazir’s killing could further sour the already tense military-to-military ties between Washington and Islamabad because the American drones have perished someone who was a friend and who had never pursued any particular anti-state agenda like Hakimullah Mehsud who openly seeks the ouster of the Pakistani state. They believe that Nazir’s elimination could help the TTP regain its lost ground in South Waziristan region, which had been declared a no go area for the Mehsuds in the wake of the November 29 suicide attempt on Nazir.
In fact, Nazir had been enjoying cordial ties with the Pakistani security establishment since the days of the so-called Afghan jehad. He had been an active commander of the Gulbaddin Hikmatyar’s Hizb-e-Islami at that time, which was being backed by the ISI. Nazir later joined the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and remained politically aligned with the Jamiat-Ulema-Islam (JUI-F), led by Maulana Fazlur Rahman. But he moved back to South Waziristan when the Taliban lost their ground to the US-led coalition forces in November 2001. By 2003, Nazir had made his way on to Pakistan’s most-wanted list of Jihadis-turned-terrorists. He finally surrendered to the Pakistani authorities in 2004, only to be declared clean and clear. Immediately after being released, Nazir had signed a peace deal with Nek Mohammad, a powerful Taliban commander of South Waziristan who was killed in a US drone attack in 2004.
Nazir had re-emerged in the spotlight in November 2006, when a high-powered Taliban Jirga crossed over from Afghanistan and met with the Waziri tribal leaders to select a new Taliban leader for South Waziristan after local elders complained that the Taliban fighters had precipitated tension between the Taliban and the locals as a result of target killings and unbecoming behaviour. The Jirga subsequently appointed Nazir the Ameer of Taliban’s Waziri faction in South Waziristan. By the spring of 2007, Nazir was in control of most of the western part of South Waziristan, including Wana, where he imposed a brutal form of Shariah law.
Under his system of governance, Nazir had established Islamic courts and a six-member committee chaired by none other than himself to settle local disputes in accordance with Shariah. After he had established control in South Waziristan, Nazir was asked by the Pakistani military establishment to challenge the Uzbek militants operating under the leadership of Tahir Yuldashev of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). This led to a bloody battle in 2007-2008. The Uzbeks lost around 200 people as well as their bases in fierce clashes with Nazir’s private army, which stood victorious mainly because of the backing of the Pakistan Army.
In June 2012, Nazir had banned polio vaccination drive in South Waziristan, claiming that the programme was being used by the Americans to gather intelligence and conduct drone strikes in the Waziristan tribal region. But at the end of the day, he was targeted by a US drone.