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December 5, 2014

Drones intensify hunt for Fazlullah as Pak-US ties improve

 
December 5, 2014

ISLAMABAD: In a clear sign of the rapidly improving Pak-US and Pak-Afghan ties, the CIA-run American drones have intensified their drive to hunt down the most wanted Ameer of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Mullah Fazlullah, who has recently made ‘Khurasani’ a part of his name.
According to well-informed sources in the security establishment, Fazlullah now ranks No 1 on the list of potential targets for the American drones because he has recently been tagged as a “common enemy” of the US and Pakistan.
Fazlullah had escaped to Afghanistan in 2009 after the Pakistani forces had launched a military operation against his group in Swat and demolished his head office. Since then, his militants are operating from the Nuristan province and carrying out cross border ambushes against Pakistani forces deployed on the Pak-Afghan border.
For the last five years, Islamabad had been seeking Fazlullah’s arrest and extradition from the Karzai administration, alleging that he was being provided shelter and support by governor of the Kunar province and the Afghan intelligence agencies.
Even though Afghan authorities had been expressing ignorance about Fazlullah’s presence on their soil, it was in June 2012 that the Swati Taliban themselves had declared that they were using Afghanistan to launch cross border attacks on the Pakistani forces. “Mullah Fazlullah is leading the Swati Taliban to carry out cross border attacks from the border provinces of Afghanistan.
He is fully in touch with his fighters, so said Sirajuddin, the spokesman for Malakand chapter of the TTP, adding that Fazlullah was commanding over 1,000 diehard fighters.
The Pakistani military authorities had taken up with some senior military officials of the US and Isaf the issue of cross border attacks on the Pakistan Army posts in Dir, Chitral and Bajaur by Fazlullah-led militants, especially after the September 15, 2013 killing of Maj Gen Sanaullah Niazi, the General Officer

Commanding (GOC) of Swat Division. According to the intelligence information, the Pakistani authorities have already shared with their Afghan counterparts, Fazlullah shuttles freely between Kamadesh and Chapa Dara districts in the border provinces of Nuristan and Kunar to conduct cross border ambushes inside Pakistan.
But the Karzai administration remained in a state of denial about Fazlullah’s presence in Afghanistan despite the fact that the Pakistani military authorities had been told by some senior Nato military officials last year that their forces were not in a position to act against him because he operates from Nuristan and Kunar provinces which had fallen to the Afghan Taliban in 2009 after the withdrawal of US allied forces from their forward bases there. The Pakistani authorities were further told that the US and Nato would have to shift 40 percent of their military assets to eastern Afghanistan to fight Fazlullah and other militants.
But with the recent change of government in Afghanistan, things seem to be improving not only between Kabul and Islamabad but also between Washington and Islamabad, especially in the wake of some high-level visits of the three countries’ civilian and political leaders. Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif’s Kabul visit in November was reciprocated by the new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani during which he also paid a rare visit to the GHQ. Ghani, who had made peace and security his top agenda point for the Islamabad visit, also lauded Pakistan’s sacrifices in war on terror and laid a floral wreath at the Martyrs Monument which was a significant gesture given the history of strained ties between the two countries.
The other noteworthy visit (to Washington) was conducted by General Raheel Sharif which is being described as a landmark in Pak-US relations. In his interaction, with the US top military and government officials, he had pointed out co-relationship of regional problems including Pakistan’s sacrifices during war against terrorism, success of the Operation Zarb-e-Azab, Afghanistan factor, the US blame game, etc. in order to remove hurdles in Pak-US relations. According to well-informed sources in the security establishment, the COAS also urged upon the Americans to act against Fazlullah and stop him from using Afghan territory against Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan has found evidence of new sanctuaries set up by the TTP and its affiliates in the Afghan territory near the border with North Waziristan where Operation Zarb-e-Azab is continuing since mid-June, 2014. These sanctuaries are meant to create problems for the Army and disrupt the anti-Taliban operation.
Subsequently, while General Raheel Sharif was still in Washington, the CIA-run drones targeted Mullah Fazlullah in Nazyan village of Nangarhar province of Afghanistan on November 24, 2014. The first reported strike against Fazlullah killed five TTP militants while the TTP ameer had a narrow escape. Since then, Fazlullah is under the radar of the US drones which are making frantic efforts to hunt him down fort the last 10 days. Yet another drone targeted Fazlullah in Shirzad district of Nangarhar on December 1 that killed three Taliban commanders and two fighters. The Americans subsequently claimed that the target of the drone was a leadership cell of the Pakistani Taliban which also included Fazlullah. Nevertheless, another drone attack targeting Fazlullah — third in a series — was carried out on December 2 in the Reney Parchao village of the Lal Pur District of Nangarhar province which killed some key militants belonging to the Swat chapter of the Taliban led by Fazlullah.
As things stand, sources said, Fazlullah is being tracked by spies on the ground and drones from the skies. Asked as to why Fazlullah has been declared a “common enemy” of the US and Pakistan, a security official said the TTP ameer is wanted by the Americans for orchestrating the killing of three US soldiers in a roadside blast in Shahi Kot area of Lower Dir on February 3, 2010. The US soldiers, who were actually trainers, were accompanying the Pakistani security forces to Maidan area in Lower Dir which was recaptured from Taliban after the 2009 Swat operation. The blast killed three schoolgirls and three US soldiers — Sgt Mark Stets, Sgt Matthew Sluss-Tiller and Sgt David Hartman. The killing of the American soldiers had matchless significance as they were the first known casualties of the US troops on Pakistani soil. Fazlullah had claimed responsibility for the attack. Therefore, he should get ready to pay the price after being declared a common enemy.