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The JUI-F might have enough traction to carry the MMA without the JI. It is the party’s changing relationship with militant groups and the establishment that is its problem

By Zia Ur Rehman

December 2012 issue

http://pique.pk/politics/06-Dec-2012/the-maulana-looks-around

It is the country’s top Islamist political party. And as the general elections approach, the JUI-F’s strategy is coming under the scrutiny for reasons more than mere election results. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the master of Pakistani political maneuvering, has heated things up a bit by reviving the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal. The latter is, however, going to be without two key components: the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Sami (JUI-S). He has brought in influential electables, including turncoats and has organised big rallies in Karachi, Sukkur and several districts of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.

This latest avatar of the MMA will comprise of five religious parties: the JUI-F, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e- Pakistan (JUP), Tehrik-e-Islami Pakistan and Jamiat Ahle Hadith. It also includes a faction of the JUI referred to as JUI-Senior. Officially, the MMA still exists in parliament. Only that all of its parliamentarians belong to the JUI-F.

The biggest surprise of the 2002 elections, the MMA was a coalition of six religious parties, representing the Deobandi, Barelvi, Shiite and Ahl-e-Hadith schools of thought. They had first joined hands to create the Difa-e-Afghanistan Council, a greater alliance put together by Maulana Samiul Haq in 2001 to resist the U.S. arrival in Afghanistan. The MMA had gone on to participate in the 2002 polls and had emerged as the third largest party in the National Assembly, behind the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q). The alliance had bagged a total of 45 seats in the National Assembly from all over the country. Among them, 29 seats were won in KP and 5 seats were won in Karachi. Similarly, the coalition won 49 out of 99 seats in the KP (then NWFP) assembly and went on to form a government in the province. Securing a number of seats in Balochistan, the MMA joined a coalition government in Balochistan with PML-Q. It is pertinent to mention that the JUI-F had emerged as the single largest party in Balochistan and NWFP and had bagged more national and provincial assembly seats than that of its allies in the MMA. In Balochistan, only the JUI-F candidates won the seats while the other MMA members including the JI failed to secure any seat in this province.

Political experts say that it had been the first time ever that an alliance of religious parties had been able to show a respectable result in the elections. Compared to their performance in the previous elections of 1993 and 1997, where the combined vote of the religious parties was between 2-4 percent. In 2002, however, they bagged nearly 11 percent of the total votes cast.

But by October 2007,  the MMA was on the verge of a split because of a widening rift between the JI and the JUI-F. Both parties disagreed on whether to resign from the national and provincial assemblies in protest against President Musharraf’s attempts to continue in power. They also disagreed on whether to contest the 2008 general elections. However, the JUI-F had a solo-flight in the 2008 general elections by using the name and election symbol of the MMA, while the other components of the alliance, most notably the JI, boycotted the elections in protest. In these polls, the MMA could only secure 7 seats of National Assembly, 8 seats of KP Assembly and 6 seats of Balochistan Assembly.

The JI leaders insist that the bad results of MMA in 2008 polls happened because of their decision to boycott the polls. Political analysts, however, disagree. “The circumstances in 2002 were totally different. After seizing power in October 1999, the Musharraf military regime extensively rigged the 2002 elections to sideline its political opposition, spearheaded by the PPP and the PML-N and supported the MMA, campaigning on the dual issues of enforcement of Sharia and opposition to the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan,” says Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai, a Swat-based political analyst.

Political observers believe that the religious parties still seek inspiration from their 2002 success and feel that the magic could be revived through unity in their ranks. But differences between the leadership of the JI and the JUI-F are the main hurdle in reviving the alliance.

As per media reports, central leaders of both parties, addressing public meetings and gatherings in various parts of KP, pulled no punches while leveling allegations and criticizing each other’s leadership. Even statements of heads of both parties were also interesting. “We don’t need Fazlur Rehman’s Shariat as in his Shariat, he will be the chairman of Kashmir committee and Akram Durrani will be senator,” said Munawar Hassan, the JI chief. In response, Fazlur Rehman in a statement said that having the JI in the MMA will be like adding alcohol in pure water.

Mushtaq Ahmed Khan, provincial Naib Amir of the JI, said that Maulana Rehman has already decided to revive the MMA without the JI and JUI-S. “Rehman was responsible for the destruction caused due to the NATO supplies, drone attacks, enforcement of secular policies in the country and operations against innocent people because he supported the pro-US government of Zardari,” he said.  “The MMA, without the JI and the JUI-S, is meaningless because in the past, the JUI-F won most of the seats with the support of these two parties. But now it will be impossible for it to do so.”

“The religious parties and anti-US political forces are in constant contact regarding the formation of the alliance,” said Maulana Yousaf Shah, a central leader of the JUI-S, adding that unlike the JUI-F, the new alliance would not issue tickets for the next elections to corrupt capitalists.

On the other hand, the JUI-F leaders have accused the JI of demanding 50 percent of the MMA tickets for its candidates in upcoming polls and governorship of KP in return for restoring the MMA. But the JI leaders dispelled this impression.

“Our party has a traditional vote bank and mass support throughout the country in general and in the KP, FATA and Balochistan in particular,” said Maulana Rahat Hussain, a former senator of the JUI-F, adding that It is impossible to accept each and every demand of the JI.

The JI leaders failed to enhance their influence in KP and FATA despite their hectic efforts, political analysts agree. Fazlur Rehman’s decision of restoring the MMA has implications for JI leaders. It is also learnt that the JI and the JUI-S have been working to form another alliance to counter the MMA, which may consist of political and religious parties that are part of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC). The DPC is an alliance of religious outfits that was formed after a NATO airstrike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers late last year. Some of the DPC’s outfits are allegedly linked with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. These also include the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), all of whom are operating under new names.

Eyebrows were raised when the JUI-F did not join the DPC. “We always oppose sectarianism and violent means of politics but the JI, at the behest of intelligence agencies, is leading the DPC. Defense of Pakistan is the job of security forces, not the political parties,” said a leader of JUI-F.

Although the restoration of the MMA has been deferred for one month, the JI is likely to witness division in its ranks on the issue of joining the DPC or the MMA. Some party members are advocating for a return to the MMA while other groups are putting their weight behind the DPC with an aim to make some adjustment with Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI). Interestingly, former JI chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed, on whose watch the Jamaat parted ways with the JUI-F, is making last ditch efforts to include the JI in the MMA.

Ahmed Wali Mujeeb, a journalist who has covered religious parties extensively, is of the view that the JI, which is limited to Dir and Buner districts, cannot deny the importance of the JUI-F, the country’s most influential and resourceful religious party. Therefore, efforts to include the JI in the MMA are still going on. The JUI-F has a strong organizational structure and support in the KP, the FATA and Balochistan, which mainly relies on a large network of madrassas and mosques.  The JUI-F mainly functions as an ‘electoral party’ where successes in elections, no matter how limited, have given them the opportunities to form governments at the provincial level in KP and Balochistan as well as a presence in federal cabinets, and hence access to resources and power, he said.

Political analysts say that the JUI-F has widespread support in Southern KP and FATA, and it is considered the only political party in Pakistan that has a strong organizational structure in the volatile tribal areas. In October, the JUI-F formed a 32-member committee comprising of their leaders from several tribal agencies and six Frontier Regions under the leadership of Mufti Abdul Shakoor, which concluded the 12-day tour of the tribal region.

After reviving the MMA, the JUI-F is now focusing on mustering the support of influential politicians from various region of KP. Recently, the JUI-F has emerged as the single largest political party in southern districts of KP after two more lawmakers – Munawar Khan Marwat, an MPA of PML-N from Lakki Marwat and Atiqur Rehman, an MPA of Qaumi Watan Party from Hangu – joined it in September. Former Awami National Party MPA Shaukat Habib from Kohat and PPP’s former Lachi Town Nazim Fawad Khan also joined JUI-F a few months ago. Divisional president of  PPP Ihsanullah Ihsan, who belongs to an influential family in Surai Nowrang area of Lakki Marwat, and a PPP leader from Bannu, Malik Riaz, who served as divisional president for a long time, have also joined the JUI-F. The recent induction of “clean-shaven” politicians in the JUI-F, who would be the party’s candidates in upcoming polls, is an attempt to change the party posture, observers opine.

After strengthening southern districts of KP and FATA, the JUI-F is now eyeing central KP, Malakand and Hazara divisions, as its leaders, particularly former chief minister Akram Khan Durrani, are contacting other heavyweight politicians. However, the party is not strong in these areas.  In the 2008 elections, the JUI-F won only one out of the 36 provincial assembly seats from central KP. It contested elections from Peshawar, Mardan, Charsadda, Nowshera and Swabi. Six of its candidates lost by a small margin, while the majority of its candidates came in third. The ANP and the PPP won the polls from this part of the province. However, local political analysts say that JUI-F can win some more seats from Mardan in the upcoming polls. Similarly, The JUI-F suffered miserably in Malakand division, consisting of Swat, Buner, Upper and Lower Dir, Malakand, Chitral and Shangla, with no candidates winning in 2008. However, it performed well in the Hazara division. The ANP, PPP and PML-N all are interested in making seat-to-seat adjustments, whether at the district or division level, with the JUI-F, which will help the latter in Malakand and Central KP.

Haji Ghulam Ali, a JUI-F senator and former district mayor of Peshawar, and former KP chief minister Akram Khan Durrani, are the expected candidates for chief minister, the party sources said, adding that Ali, who is also a relative of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, has recently announced that he would contest the election of provincial assembly from PK-5 Peshawar.

One interesting new aspect is the changing JUI-F ideology. Like ANP and other liberal parties, leaders of the JUI-F in KP and FATA are also concerned about their safety in upcoming elections. The JUI-F, which is considered ideologically a pro-Taliban party, is now also a target of Taliban militants. Key leaders and activists of JUI-F have been targeted and killed in KP and FATA by Taliban militants during the last four years. Even the party’s chief, Fazlur Rehman, has been targeted in two failed assassination attempts. Maulana Mairajuddin, a former MNA from Mehsud area of South Waziristan, Maulana Noor Muhammad Wazir, a former MNA from the Wana area of South Waziristan and Haji Khan Afzal, former district mayor of Hangu, have been killed by the militants.

All this is puzzling. The JUI-F had a strong influence on Pakistan’s militant groups and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Waliur Rehman Mehsud and most other militant leaders in the region were affiliated with the party in the past. Although no group has claimed the credit for these attacks, analysts believe that the attacks and assassination attempts were carried out by irreconcilable Pakistani militant groups, which disapprove of the JUI-F’s policies, especially supporting the present government, which is busy in carrying out military operation against Taliban militant groups in FATA. “The attacks on JUI-F leadership are a result of a growing ideological divide among Pakistani Taliban concerning the legitimacy of the Pakistani state,” says Raees Ahmed, a security analyst. Pakistani Taliban openly denounce democracy and label Pakistan an “un-Islamic” state, while the JUI-F supports democratic means as well as the authority of the Pakistani state, he said.

“Militant outfits have been targeting the JUI-F ever since the party started condemning suicide attacks in Pakistan,” said a party leader from the FATA . He said the attacks on Fazlur Rehman and killing of JUI-F workers were proof that the Taliban and the JUI-F were not ideologically aligned.

The militants have been distributing pamphlets in the tribal areas, warning residents not to attend JUI-F rallies and have threatened their local leadership, said the leader, adding that certain ‘hidden forces’ were trying to bring hardcore Taliban militants into FATA’s electoral politics, replacing, what he called, the mature JUI-F leadership.

The Afghan Taliban have also threatened a number of political and religious leaders from KP, citing them responsible for the death of Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, according to a report in daily The News. The JUI-F chief is on top of the new hit-list prepared by the Afghan Taliban, the report said.

The writer is a journalist and researcher.  He may be reached at zia_red@hotmail.com

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Tall claims

Posted: November 24, 2012 in Pique, Published in
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By Zia Ur Rehman

November 2012 issue

http://pique.pk/security/14-Nov-2012/tall-claims

Despite the government’s announcement that its military offensive in the mountainous regions of Swat, Dir, Bajaur and  Mohmand  areas of northwest Pakistan had succeeded in securing the region, recent subversive attacks by militants of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have not only belied the military’s claims but have also whipped up fear among local residents. The attacks make it clear that the militants, who had dispersed and fled to Afghanistan and the adjacent tribal areas during the operation, are regrouping and trying to regain a foothold in the region.

Although local tribal elders and military officials agree that the resurgent Taliban are not in a position to regain control in Swat, Dir and other tribal areas, there is a fear that they will restrict their battle to hit-and-run tactics  — an ideal approach to guerrilla warfare, one suited to the region’s rugged terrain.  After regrouping inside Afghanistan, the TTP, which was on the run a year ago, is now staging well-coordinated and lethal attacks in different parts of FATA.

The most recent reminder of this trend is, of course, the Taliban’s attack on Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year girl who had earned international fame for blogging about the reign of terror in Swat in 2008 and 2009, while she was returning from her school in Mingora, Swat. Malala’s attackers shot her in broad daylight and fled without being caught, although there was a check post in the vicinity.

Although Swat was known, within the country and without, for its scenic beauty, the name became more synonymous with terror for viewing audiences across the world following the emergence of the Taliban, led by Maulana Fazlullah,  in the 2008 and 2009 and the subsequent Pakistani military operations in the valley. Bloodshed and atrocities followed, causing the army to launch a military operation named Rah-e-Raast against the militants in April, 2009. The government confidently claimed that militants were wiped out from the valley in a successful military operation.

However, local tribal elders and experts suggest that only the lower cadre of the militants were arrested or killed by the security forces in Swat operation, and that Fazlullah and his key lieutenants, along with a number of armed fighters, managed to flee securely into the Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan during the operation. Now they are staging a resurgence by carrying out cross-border attacks in bordering areas of Dir, Bajaur and Mohmand agencies. Militants stage attacks on Pakistani soil and go back to their safe havens inside Afghanistan. In 2011, security in the border areas remained volatile, with 69 reported clashes and cross-border attacks, which killed 225 people, according to Pakistan Security report 2011, prepared by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think-tank.  Pakistani military commander Major General Ghulam Qamar asserted that since February 2012, there have been 17 major cross-border incursions where Pakistani Taliban fighters entered Pakistan from Afghanistan to attack Pakistani interests.

Security officials and local tribal elders suggest that cross-border attacks in Pakistani territory have been carried out by the militants belonging to Swat, Dir and Bajaur chapters of TTP with help from Afghan militants. Sirajuddin, spokesperson for the TTP’s chapter for the Malakand division, said that Fazlullah is leading the militants’ attacks from Afghanistan’s border provinces and is in touch with fighters in the Malakand division. He claimed that Fazlullah is commanding over a thousand diehard fighters who regularly move across the porous border.

Police officials in Swat say the attack on Malala was carried out by the militants loyal to Mullah Fazlullah. Law-enforcement agencies in Swat have arrested several suspects, but the mastermind of the attack – identified as Ataullah, a resident of Sangota area, is said to have fled to Afghanistan. Sources in the police say that the suspects were aged between 20 and 30 and were not involved in militancy at the time when the Fazlullah-led militants held sway in Swat.

“Political elders and leaders of anti-Taliban peace committees of Swat are key targets of the Taliban because they played an important role assisting law enforcement agencies in the operation against the militants,” said Saifullah Khan, a leader of Nekpikhel Qaumi Jirga, an anti-Taliban armed volunteer force formed in Kabal tehsil.

Five prominent anti-Taliban figures like Malala have been attacked in the last six months. Afzal Khan Damghar, a prominent political leader, was shot dead by an unidentified gunman on July 12. Damghar, a hotel owner associated with Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, had played a key role in maintaining peace in the valley. Alhaj Zahid Khan, a leader of Swat Qaumi Jirga (SQJ) and president of All Swat Hotels Association, was injured in an assassination bid on August 3 while he was on his way to a mosque for evening prayers. Separate attacks in Swat also injured peace activists Idrees Khan of Bara Bandai and Muftaiuddin of Kanju.

“Anyone who takes side with the government against us will have to die at our hands. You will see. Other important people will be our target soon,” TTP Swat’s spokesman Sirajuddin told reporters. He said Damghar was his close relative, but he had ordered his killing because he was against the Taliban.

Despite Pakistan’s announcement that the military offensive had succeeded and the area was secure, recent attacks by militants of the TTP have whipped up fear among local residents.

A major reason for the increase in such attacks was that the local administration was not effective, said Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai, a Swat-based analyst. “The security forces carried out an operation and cleared the area from the militants. Now it is the responsibility of the civil administration and police to have an effective law-enforcement and intelligence network in the valley at the level of villages,” said Sardar.

A former princely state until its incorporation into Pakistan in 1969, and now divided into two districts, of Lower Dir and Upper Dir of the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province, Dir borders Swat, the Bajaur Agency, the Chitral district and Afghanistan. Except for the small Dogh Darra area, Dir remained largely undisturbed in recent years, even as militant activities in the region increased. However,  the Taliban militants continued their subversive activities and gained momentum during April 2008 . Dir has also remained a strong base for the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM). The hometown of TNSM founder Maulana Sufi Muhammad is in Dir.  Security analysts say that Dir had become a hub of militancy when hundreds of militants fled from neighboring Bajaur and Mohmand Agencies to Dir because of on-going military operations in the tribal areas.

The militants of Dir are led by Hafizullah Kochwan, who hails from Nihag Darra in Upper Dir. But sources among the TTP say that Qari Abdul Jabbar from Timergara is emerging as a new leader. Jabbar headed a small group of around 400 militants chased out of Malakand during the military operation.

In early 2009, Taliban from neighboring Swat started asserting their authority in the Dir area, leading the military to launch an operation against the militants in April 2009. The then Operational commander Colonel Nadeem Mirza declared , in April 2010, the entire area of Dir clear of militants following the operation.

The Dir region has been the target of several such cross-border attacks. The June 24 raid was the most brazen of such attacks when scores of militants based in Afghanistan’s Kunar province crossed the border into Upper Dir and attacked a group of Pakistani soldiers on patrol. Three days later, they released a videotape showing severed heads of 17 of them.The videotape, prepared by Omar Studio, the Taliban’s media wing, includes a statement by Hakimullah Mehsud, TTP Central chief and Maulana Fazlullah.

Also, the Taliban have started targeting “pro-government” elders and police since the beginning of 2011  – ¬sending not only shockwaves throughout the population of Dir but also belying the military’s claims of clearing the area of the militants.

Bajaur Agency remained the major source of concern for security forces during the month of September. In August, militants of TTP intruded from across the border into Tehsil Slarzai of the agency, which borders with Kunar province of Afghanistan. They captured some mountains of strategic importance in Batawar area and inflicted heavy losses to security forces. Pakistani military launched a military operation, backed by local tribal elders, in rooting out the militants which was continued for 17 days.

“We completely eliminated extremist elements and the writ of the government has been re-established in the area,” Security forces Sector Commander North, Brigadier Haidar,  talking to journalists on Oct 19, said, adding that the Bajaur agency was now firmly under the control of security forces with units deployed in every corner of the district.

From the beginning, Bajauri militants were led by Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, a notorious Pakistani militant commander, who also remained a deputy of Baitullah Mehsud, the first slain head of TTP. However, TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud sacked Faqir Muhammad in December for his brokering a ceasefire with the military, and appointed Dadullah as the new Bajaur chief of TTP. Dadullah, whose real name was Jamal Said, had a close association with senior members of Al Qaeda from 2003 to 2007. He was the chief of TTP’s moral police and in-charge of the Taliban’s treasury. On August 24, Dadullah, along with his several fighters, was killed in a NATO airstrike in the Chawgam area of Shigal district of Kunar province. Maulvi Abu Bakar was then appointed the acting chief of TTP Bajaur.

Mohmand Agency remained relatively peaceful, although a few incidents of target killings, IED blasts and schools blowing up occurred in recent months.

Indigenous Taliban emerged as a major social force in the Mohmand Agency in 2006, when armed militants began patrolling the district and ordering residents to follow the social codes they imposed. The militants of Mohmand are led by Omar Khalid, whose real name is Abdul Wali.

Rising incidents of atrocities and attacks on governmental officials and installations compelled Pakistani security forces to launch operations against the Taliban in Mohmand in October, 2008. By September 2009, Pakistani security forces claimed to have cleared 80 percent of Mohmand of insurgents, the exceptions being militant strongholds near the Afghan border. However, many in Mohmand Agency believe that the Taliban have not been defeated and they are still active in bordering areas.

Experts believe that the militants belonging to Swat, Dir, Bajaur and Mohmand are hiding in Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nuristan provinces. “Fazlullah is leading the attacks from Afghanistan’s border provinces and is in touch with fighters in the Malakand division,” Sirajuddin, the spokesman for TTP’s Malakand chapter, told local reporters over the phone. “We move across the porous border regularly,” he added. This acknowledgment gives credence to Islamabad’s claims that the TTP has found safe havens in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces bordering Pakistan.

Media reports suggest that Qari Ziaur Rehman, a key commander of Al Qaeda who hails from Kunar, and Sheikh Dost Muhammad, a Nuristan-based local Afghan Taliban leader, are hosting and helping the Pakistani militants in Afghanistan’s bordering areas. Rehman is believed to be once a close confidante of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and even hosted him once after his epic escape from the Tora Bora mountains in 2001 and there is no evidence of Rehman’s group defying the authority of Mullah Omar, head of Afghan Taliban.

On the hand, the Afghan Taliban have repeatedly denied any involvement in attacks in Pakistani territory. “The Afghan Taliban insurgents limit their operations to Afghanistan and never launched attacks in Pakistan or any other country,” Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the Afghan media.

Recent cross-border attacks in the bordering areas also suggest that the militants belonging to Bajaur, Swat and Dir are not regrouping but also adopting a new strategy of large-scale attacks on Pakistani security forces. The TTP’s reappearance in bordering areas also indicates that the TTP used its eviction as an opportunity to regroup and recruit new fighters. Instead of weakening the militants, the army operation seems to have shifted the hub of militancy from settled areas of Swat and Dir and tribal area of Bajaur to the border areas.

Experts believe that there are no sign that the militants will be able to penetrate deep inside Swat or Bajaur. They will continue the hit-and-run tactics, an ideal guerrilla-warfare approach in the rocky terrain, usually arrive in a big wave, attack and retreat back in Afghanistan.  “The TTP aim is to carry out these cross-border attacks, which do not just take a toll in terms of casualties, but also have a psychological impact,” said Aqeel Yousafzai, a security analyst and author. He thinks the militants (through cross-border attacks) reinforce the fear of the Taliban in the local population and serve as a reminder of what could happen to them were they to help the government and the army.

Some analysts believe violence on both sides of the border is a joint strategy of al Qaeda, the TTP and Afghan Taliban to hurt ties between Islamabad, Kabul and Washington to increase mutual mistrust.

Jan Assakzai, a London-based expert who monitors militancy in Afghanistan and Pakistan very closely, says that there are all shades of militants, including Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda, operating in Nuristan and some parts of Kunar. Former Afghan defense minister Shah Nawaz Tanai opined that Taliban elements in both countries helped each other during the 10-year resistance against the former Soviet forces and the same cooperation is continuing today.

The TTP’s use of safe havens in Afghanistan mirrors the Afghan Taliban’s successful use of safe havens in Pakistan. Analysts believe that though the two groups are believed to be helping each other but they fight only for themselves. No Afghan Taliban groups are reported to be taking part in the recent cross-border attacks.  For example, with help of Pakistani militants, Nuristani Taliban kidnapped a Greek social worker, Athanassios Lerunis, from Pakistani Chitral district in Sep 2009 and shifted him to Nuristan. Lerunis was reportedly released in April 2010 in exchange of three key Afghan Taliban commanders, Maulana Rahmatuddin Nuristani, Ustad Yasir and Maulvi Abdullah Akhund.

Some experts think that the recent rise in cross-border attacks is a part of joint strategy to stop a possible military operation against Haqqani Network. Raees Ahmed, a security analyst, is of view that the TTP has recently stepped up attacks in Bajaur agency in response to the impending army operation in North Waziristan. The alliance between the leadership of Al Qaeda, the TTP, Afghan Taliban and other national and transnational militant groups might be looking for a new but familiar safe haven in bordering area of Malakand division and Bajaur before starting a military offensive in North Waziristan, experts opine.

The writer is a journalist and researcher and covers militancy in Pakistan. Email : zia_red@hotmail.com