Posts Tagged ‘Cross Border attacks in Dir’

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Report by Zia Ur Rehman

The Friday Times

July 29 – Aug 04, 2011

http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta2/tft/article.php?issue=20110729&page=5

Cross-border attacks show that Swat Taliban, who had fled to Afghanistan during the 2009 army operation, are now gaining foothold in Malakand

A graphic video footage was posted on the LiveLeak website on 18 July, showing militants executing 18 Pakistani policemen who were captured from Upper Dir. In the video, the Taliban militants first accuse the policemen of being enemies of God and of killing six children during the military operation in Swat, and then fire at the policemen, killing them all.

The policemen were captured on June 1 after around 300 Taliban militants crossed the border from Kunar province of Afghanistan and attacked police checkposts and villages in the Shaltalu area of Upper Dir, killing 75 people including 30 paramilitary and police personnel, according to locals and police officials. The video has not been attributed to a specific Taliban faction, but police officials and locals believe that the killings were carried out by the militants of Swat and Dir who had dispersed and fled to Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan during the military operation in 2009. They are now regrouping and trying to regain a foothold in the region. “In the video, the faces of militants were covered, but their Pashto accent clearly showed they belong to Swat or Dir,” a parliamentarian elected from Upper Dir told TFT.

In the past four months, 14 cross-border incursions allegedly carried out by Pakistani militants with the help of Afghan Taliban demonstrated the continued strength of the militants in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas, in spite of several recent Pakistani military operations and the presence of NATO troops across the border. Most of the attacks took place in Dir region while other incursions have occurred in Bajaur Agency, Mohmand Agency, Chitral and South Wazirstan Agency. Dozens of people, including security personnel and members of anti-Taliban Lashkars, have been killed. The most recent attack occurred on July 24 when more than 50 militants crossed the border from Afghanistan and stormed the Kitkot village in Mamond Tehsil in Bajaur Agency. Residents of the bordering areas, especially Upper Dir and Bajaur, are now asking the government not to install additional security posts in their areas for fear of new attacks.

The government believes Pakistani Taliban have hideouts in Afghanistan’s Kunar and Nuristan provinces from where NATO had pulled out its troops. “Terrorists from Swat had found safe havens these areas in Afghanistan and are launching cross-border attacks inside Pakistan from there,” Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) director general Maj Gen Athar Abass told BBC Urdu. Many security analysts believe that militants led by Maulvi Fazlullah, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad and Hafizullah (heads of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in Swat, Bajaur Agency and Dir region respectively) who fled to Afghanistan during the 2009 military operation, have started returning and are now targeting their rivals, especially the security forces. The assertion was seemingly corroborated by the TTP leaders when they claimed responsibility for the attacks in Dir. Omar Hassan Ahrabi, a spokesman for TTP in Malakand division, said his organisation had carried out the attack “with Afghan allies”.

The attacks also show that the militants are not only regrouping but also adopting a new strategy of large-scale attacks on government and security forces. TTP Bajaur leader Faqir Muhammad, previous thought dead, recently told The News that his group, in collaboration with Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban, had changed its strategy and would now focus on large-scale attacks on state targets and security agencies like it did in Dir.

Hafizullah, who hails from Nihag Darra in Upper Dir, heads the TTP in Dir region, but Qari Abdul Jabbar from Timergara is emerging as a new leader, said a TTP militant from the region. He said Jabbar heads a small group of around 400 militants chased out of Malakand during the military operation. Elders and police officials in Upper Dir say militants are hiding in and operating from Kunar and Nuristan with the help of Qari Ziaur Rehman, a key commander of Al Qaeda who hails from Kunar. Rehman operates in Pakistan’s Bajaur and Mohmand tribal regions as well as in Kunar and Nuristan in Afghanistan.

“The presence of the militants in three areas in Upper and Lower Dir has already been reported: the Osherai pass that links Swat with Upper Dir, Barawal that borders with Afghanistan’s Kunar province, and the Maidan area of Lower Dir that borders with Bajaur Agency”, said Khadim Hussain, a security expert who has worked extensively on militancy issues in the Tribal Areas.

Locals claim that the militants have begun roaming in their hills, 12 schools in the area have been reportedly destroyed, and many pro-government people have been killed in the last few months. That sends shockwaves through the region and belies the military’s claims of having cleared the area.

Instead of weakening the militants, the army operation seems to have shifted the hub of militancy from settled areas of Swat and Dir to the border areas, said Bahram Khan, a leader of anti-Taliban militia in Upper Dir.

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 Malakand before starting a military offensive in North Waziristan, Khadim Hussain told the TFT. He said the recent cross-border attacks may be precursors to a battle between the security forces and the Taliban for the social and administrative control of Malakand division after high-profile targets were targeted by Drone attacks in FATA.

Afghan authorities have also expressed concerns over infiltration from the Dir and Chitral areas of Pakistan to Afghan provinces of Nuristan ad Kunar. “Both Afghan and Pakistani Taliban from the bordering areas are regularly attacking the Afghan security officials and people in Nuristan’s Bargmatal and Kamdesh districts,” Nuristan governor Jamaluddin Badar told Afghan media.

Security officials say the militants will not be able to regain control of Dir. Instead, they will continue the hit-and-run tactics, an ideal guerrilla-warfare approach in the rocky terrain. There will be significant impact on the neighbouring Bajaur Agency, Swat and Chitral districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan. Dir will be a strategic base for attacks in these areas and a safe haven for militants fleeing military operations in these regions.

Zia Ur Rehman is a journalist and a researcher who works on militancy and human rights. He can be contacted at zia_red@hotmail.com

The border areas of Dir and Bajaur have emerged as a new hub of militancy in Pakistan, and stand to threaten peace efforts. 

http://www.himalmag.com/component/content/article/4515-from-across-the-border.html

Himal SouthAsian, Web Exclusive

28 June 2011

By Zia Ur Rehman

In the past two months, Pakistan’s Bajaur Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), along with Dir district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, saw three cross-border incursions, allegedly carried out by Pakistani militants with help from Afghan allies. These attacks, which took place despite several army operations in Pakistan and the NATO presence across the border in Afghanistan, demonstrated the continued strength of militants along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. The situation also prompted discussion on cross-border militant movement during the recent meeting of the high-level Afghanistan-Pakistan joint commission in Islamabad.

 

 

Photo: tribune.com.pk

The most recent cross-border attack occurred on 16 June, when more than 200 militants crossed the border and raided the houses of local anti-Taliban militia in the Mamond area of Bajaur, killing around nine civilians. Casualties rose to 15 militants and 12 security personnel during subsequent clashes between the Pakistani security forces and the militants. Earlier, on 1 June, a three-day clash resulted in the deaths of dozens of people in Barawal, in Upper Dir, after hundreds of heavily armed militants targeted a poorly defended security post in Shaltalu. Likewise, on 22 April, a border security post in Lower Dir came under attack by militants, resulting in the death of more than 16 security personnel. Residents of Barawal are now requesting the government not to install additional security posts in their areas, for fear of inciting new attacks.
While the Pakistan government blames the Afghan Taliban for this violence, local tribal elders and security experts believe otherwise.
According to the latter, these attacks have probably been carried out by Pakistani militants, especially accomplices of Maulana Fazlullah, head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Swat, with help from Afghan militants. Reportedly, following the 2009 military operation in Swat, Fazlullah and his commanders fled to nearby provinces in Afghanistan, and some believe that these exiled forces have now been returning and targeting their rivals, including the security forces. The TTP claimed responsibility for the 1 June attacks in Dir, thus seeming corroborate this assertion. Omar Hassan Ahrabi, a spokesperson for the TTP in Malakand Division, said that the group had carried out the attacks together ‘with [its] Afghan allies’, adding that the attackers had managed to seize Pakistani anti-aircraft weapons before returning safely to hideouts in Afghanistan.
Large-scale
Apart from the possibility of Pakistani militants regrouping in Malakand and Bajaur, many security observers suggest that these groups are adopting a new strategy of large-scale attacks against government and security forces. Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, a TTP leader in Bajaur previously thought dead, recently stated that the TTP, in collaboration with al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban, plans to target state and security agencies. While the reappearance of Faqir Muhammad is already a major blow to ongoing peace efforts in insurgency-affected areas, such large-scale attacks will make the attempt at debilitating the group even harder.
In the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden operation in Abbottabad, the group has stepped up suicide bombings, attacks on paramilitary cadets, a naval base and a US consulate convoy. This has challenged government assertions that army operations against the militants have succeeded. Indeed, instead of weakening the militants, the army operations seem to have merely translocated the hub of militancy from tribal areas to provincial areas such as Dir. Local people in Upper Dir claim that the militants have begun roaming on their hills. And while nine schools in the area have been reportedly destroyed by the militants, others have remained closed after receiving threatening letters from the TTP. Beginning this year, the TTP militants have also started targeting ‘pro-government’ elders and police personnel – sending not only shockwaves among locals of Dir, but also belying the military’s claims of clearing the area of the militants.
The latest attacks on civilians seem to be the militants’ way of deterring the locals from forming an armed anti-Taliban militia, as they have done in the past. In mid-June 2009, such an armed militia had killed two militant commanders in Dogh Daara, Dir. After the recent militant attack on Dir, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has announced stronger support for such village militias. Nonetheless, past experience looms large; previous experimentation with militias has had catastrophic outcomes, as the militants struck back with suicide bombings, killing villagers and tribesmen indiscriminately. In June 2010, for instance, a suicide attack at a local mosque in Dogh Daara killed 30 tribesmen. In addition to indiscriminate suicide bombings, the militants have also tended to kidnap militia personnel and take them to bordering provinces in Afghanistan.
The security and government officials say that the TTP militants will not be able to regain control of the Dir region. Instead, it will likely restrict their fighting to hit-and-run tactics, an ideal guerrilla-warfare approach in the rugged terrain of Dir. More worryingly threat posed by these cross-border attacks has already had a significant impact on neighbouring districts and tribal areas. Because Dir borders Bajaur, districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa such as Swat and Chitral, and Afghanistan, it will not only provide a strategic base for attacks in these areas, but will also act as a sanctuary for militants fleeing military operations in neighbouring regions. Afghanistan has already accused the Pakistani militants for attacks on its soil, in particular in Kunar and Nuristan provinces bordering Pakistan. It is therefore imperative that the governments of Islamabad and Kabul collectively tackle the issue of cross-border militant incursions – before the attacks become as ‘large-scale’ as the militants seem to be threatening.
Zia Ur Rehman is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Karachi.