Guerrilla warfare in dense populations is the hardest on civilians
n November 16, six Khyber Pakhtunkhwa policemen were martyred when a police van in Lakki Marwat district came under gun fire. Inspector General Moazzam Jah Ansari then visited the district despite threat to his life to boost the morale of the force. This was not an isolated incident. Policemen and high-ranked government officers have been the target of several assassination attempts including suicide attacks. The frequency of such attacks had decreased drastically after the successful military operations against militants in the tribal areas. There has been a sharp increase in such incidents over the last year. Extortion and attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have also increased.
The withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistanwas believed to be an opportunity for peace in the region. Concerning the American withdrawal, Pakistan had warned against haste and a power vacuum. During the withdrawal of Russian forces from Afghanistan, then president Zia-ul Haq had sought stabilisation of the war-affected Afghanistan before a complete withdrawal of Russian forces from the country. He had demanded that administrative and political issues be resolved before the withdrawal of forces.
This time too, Pakistan had wanted a resolution of the administrative and political problems in the presence of American and coalition forces. But the US completed the withdrawal processin a matter of months. This resulted in administrative and economic problems that are now threatening the security of the entire region.
Pakistan has started negotiations with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan with help from the Afghan Taliban. Unfortunately, some of the participants in these negotiations on behalf of the Pakhtunkhwa government appear to lack a basic understanding of Afghan politics, history and tribal sentiments. To understand the Afghan militancy, it is necessary to first understand the tribal society, its social fabric and way of thinking. An understanding of the changes in the region and Pak-Afghan relations since British rule is also important.
After leaders of the Pakistani Taliban had announced a ceasefire for an indefinite period to allow the negotiations to go ahead, some commanders intensified their attacks on Pakistan’s soil. There can be two reasons for this. One; that the Taliban believe that more of their demands can be met by putting such pressure, and two; that some factions among the Tehreek-i-Taliban fear being marginalised in the process and want to assert their importance.
In the recent attacks in North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Khyber, Bajaur, Dir, Peshawar, Charsadda, Nowshera and Mardan, Pakistan Army, Pakhtunkhwa Police and intelligence personnel have been targeted. Some people from the business community and the ruling party have also been attacked. The opposition has alleged that some ministers in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf provincial government and the chief minister’s brother are paying ransoms to the militants. The ministers have not denied these reports. The Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan has confirmed that his colleagues are receiving threatening calls. Several ministers, too, have said that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has demanded huge sums of money from them and threatened them with violence.
Three key militant commanders were killed in an intelligence-based operation in the Kulachi area of Dera Ismail Khanon November 15. The next day, six policemen were killed in Lakki Marwat.
Earlier, the re-emergence of the Taliban in Swat and threatening calls to public figures had created fear throughout the province. The military leadership has said that there is no tolerance for militancy. Corps Commander Sardar Hassan Azhar Hayat has not only met with various stakeholders but also personally visited these areas. He has assured the residents that some of the social media gossip has no basis in fact. The protest demonstrations against militancy were provided security by the authorities. Meanwhile, intelligence-based operations against militants have also increased.
Based on information provided by intelligence agencies, the army and the police have conducted joint operations in the region. As a result, dozens of key militants have been killed and captured. Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has said that some of its most important commanders have been killed despite the ceasefire. Although the ceasefire announced by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan was unilateral and for an indefinite period, some TTP associates were still attacking the police. For the first time in North Waziristan, several men were shown on video confessing theircrimes. All these men were locals. The video was meant to remove the public’s doubts regarding target killing and helped restore public’s confidence in the security authorities. Whether they can put an end to terrorism and violence in the region is yet to be seen. Following these operations, several intelligence officers of the army and police have been attacked. Recently, an Anti-Terrorism Court in Hazara Division awarded death sentences to two culprits found guilty of facilitating a suicide attack on Chinese engineers in Dasu, Kohistan, in 2021.
On November 3, a Special Branch official was targeted in Mardan. After an extortion call to Tehreek-i-Insaf leader Atif Khan from Mardan and a failed suicide attack, intelligence agencies have stepped up their work. Intelligence agencies of the army and police have formed a joint task force through the Counter Terrorism Department.
It was reported that a militant commander, Hassan Qadir alias Mohsin Qadir alias Sheikh, who was involved in the killing of the Special Branch officer, was hiding in a safehouse and that his mobile phone was switched off. When a CTDteam traced the location and reached it, militants started shooting at them. Authorities claimed that Qadir was killed in the exchange of fire. Heavy weapons were recovered from the location. There had been a Rs 5 million bounty on the deceased’s head. Sources said that he was also wanted in several murder cases. It was said that he had received training in Afghanistan and had been in touch not only with the Tehreek-i-Taliban but also with some criminal elements, manly smugglers.
On November 15, three militant commanders, Chaudhry, Zarqawi and Saad Betani, were killed in an intelligence-based operation in the Kulachi area of Dera Ismail Khan. In a statement immediately after this operation, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan vowed retaliation. On November 16, six policemen were targeted in Lakki Marwat. The law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies in the areas adjacent to the Pak-Afghan border have a tough job. Guerrilla warfare in dense populations is the hardest for civilians. This is kind of war the police and military are fighting.
The writer is a Peshawar-based journalist, researcher and trainer