Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Afghanistan : the fallout of operation Waziristan

October 18, 2009

m3Pakistan has opened an offensive against members of the Pakistan Taliban in the mountains of south Waziristan near the Afghan border. Quite apart from what it means for the Pakistani state as it engages in its toughest battle yet with the militants, the obvious question to ask is what impact will the Pakistani thrust into the rugged region have on the war next door in Afghanistan ?

One assessment is that the Waziristan operation may have a limited impact immediately. The Pakistani army hasn’t given any details of mission objectives, but most people reckon that it is for now targeting Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban who has declared war on the state, and a band of Uzbek fighters who have set up base there. There are no indications so far that it intends to take on other powerful militant leaders such as Hafiz Gul Bahadar, Mullah Nazir or the Haqqani network who are focused on Afghanistan as the Long War Journal and others note. And therefore this one is more about Pakistan itself, of seizing the initiative back from the militants in an “increasingly bloody domestic struggle against Islamic extremism,” as the Washington Post put it.

But some experts say the Waziristan operation cannot leave Afghanistan untouched one way or the other. At its simplest, the operations, if successful, could put pressure on Al Qaeda, a pivotal supporter of the Taliban in Afghanistan, providing training and strategic planning as the New York Times notes.

But it could also have some other, unintended consequences. Winston Churchill once said attempts to subjugate the turbulent region were as “painful and tedious an undertaking as to extract the stings of  a swarm of hornets, with naked fingers.”  So if the Pakistani army has stirred the hornet’s nest, by going in, there is every possibility that it could force hundreds of militants back into Afghanistan, argues Joe Klein in a Time magazine blog.

m4Or it could convince some of the foreign fighters, including the leadership of Al Qaeda, that Pashtunistan (loosely the Pashtun-dominated area straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan) has gotten too hot for comfort and leave the area altogether, Klein writes. They might decide to move elsewhere, perhaps Yemen or Somalia.

Stratfor carries the idea further and makes two interesting propositions. One, because South Waziristan has since the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan become “jihadist central” hosting jihadists of every stripe stretching from Uzbek to European militants, it is going to be an impossible task for the Pakistani army to distinguish the good jihadi from the ones that have turned against Pakistan.

“Both the good Taliban aligned with Islamabad that carry out their operations in Afghanistan and the bad Taliban fighting against Islamabad are based in South Waziristan, and telling the difference between the two factions on the battlefield will be difficult — though undoubtedly elements of Pakistani intelligence will attempt to help their Taliban friends (like the Haqqani network and Mullah Omar’s network) avoid being caught up in the coming confrontation,” Stratfor wrote.

And so some of these fighters will move to North Waziristan, Peshawar, Quetta and other population centres. Some others, and this is more ominous, will move back home or take refuge elsewhere.  So while the exodus will disrupt the militant infrastructure in Waziristan, it will also force hundreds of people trained in terrorist tradecraft to live elsewhere  – and operate.

“As these foreign militants scatter to the four winds, they will be taking their skills with them. Judging from past waves of jihadist fighters, they will probably be found participating in future plots in many different parts of the world,” Stratfor warns. This migration from South Waziristan, which has almost certainly begun given that the army operation was months in the making, is going to give counter-terrorism officials from Boston to Beijing cause for worry , it says.

[Photograph of Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud and women in a Kabul street]


Extremely good balanced view. No army has ever been successful in this region since Alexander as the terrain is most difficult but excellent for local people.

If at all Pakistan Army is successful then these people will relocate to other areas and that may take pressure of Pakistan.

This situation is extremely dangerous for Afghanistan as when the theater of war changes to Afghanistan after the end of this operation, when the Pakistani Taliban move to Afghanistan. In both cases of victory of defeat of Pakistan army, NATO will also have to have some proactive policy to take on the enemy on their end as they will become very dangerous with the additional numbers.

Posted by ratee | Report as abusive

Thank you for this blog. I’ll be a regular reader

Posted by Tom Burton | Report as abusive

The Pakistan army will claim victory in a couple of months to silence its western critiques. There is a need for the west and the resy to know that the Afghan people have entered the picture clearly. No amount of pressure will change that picture or its results, historically known.

Posted by Yar45 | Report as abusive

Pakistan and Afghanistan have had a long running conflict over Pashtunistan and Pakistan has always had a policy to control Afghanistan and it succeeded through the Taliban.There will never be peace in Afghanistan again unless something or someone persuade Pakistan to abandon this policy.Now that the Pakis have the definitive upper hand through the nuclear bombs,it’s highly doubtful anybody be able to persuade them to change course.Recall from history that it was the Afghan,Iranian and Uzbek armies which created the entity now called Pakistan and it seems the Pakis want to return the favor now.

Posted by Zartosht Ariana | Report as abusive

This is a very balanced view and to the writer of last comment, Pakistan wasn’t formed on favor of any armies at all, it was a political movement of muslims of India.

Yes, Pakistan Army is targeting the elements of baitullah mehsud/qari hussain faction because they are immediate threat to Pakistan. The war within Afghanistan has become private affair of US vs Afghan Taliban and I believe its good that they settle it on their own. I am surprised if US is concerned about potential movement of militants from south waziristan (the current war area doesn’t have any immediate border with afghanistan) , why hasn’t ESAF deployed any additional troops on the border to tackle the militants?

Posted by Ahsan Shamim | Report as abusive

It seems quite likely that Pakistan Army will through militants out of its borders because the difference between power is much great than most critiques are ready to admit. Arguement that in past no military has conquered this tough terrain, seems absurd in the circumstances as Army is not trying to conquer the region rather fighting with few thousand militants. As far as matter of distinguish between “good” and “bad” jihadis is concerned, it isn’t a big issue as “good” jihadis are already at daggers drawn with “bad” jihadis. Pakistan Army is very serious this time to “punish” these insurgents.

Posted by Sahibzada Ezaz | Report as abusive

The author has quoted history from the Raj period. It is not entirely relevant in the present environment. Pakistan Army is not Colonial Army and Mehsuds of the Raj time are no more the same.
Wazirs, the largest tribe of Waziristan are not necessarily hostile to Pakistan Army. Mahsuds are only hostage to the militants. The tribal fibers have ceased to exist in the Mehsud area.
Terrain and weather doesn’t favor a quick fix. Pakistani Nation in general and Mehsud tribe in particular may become impatient with a protracted military operations. This should be the down side of this offensive.
Isolation, strangulation of militants denying them population centers and road infrastructure should be the operational strategy of Pakistan Army. This will force themilitants to flee to their hideouts in the mountains in severe weather without regular supply. The Army should protect the population centers and assist in the rehabilitation of population. The Army Aviation and PAF should follow the militants and their supply chains in the mountains.
Combined arms operations, supported by PAF and gunship helicopters(and drones if made available) aiming at blocking routes to Baluchistan, North Waziristan, Afghanistan as well as to the settled districts of DI Khan and Tank will be required.
Political work with sizeable economic package to resettle Mehsuds back in their homes should greatly assist in winning them back from militants.
Waziristan operation is relatively difficult than the Swat operation. But it is not as difficult as for the colonial power. The Colonial Army operations in Waziristan were also successful. Mirali-Razmak-Makeen-Wana road and many other roads in Waziristan were constructed, not without great sacrifices. The British cemetery at Miran Shah is an evidence of blood of young Britons in the wilderness of Waziristan.The construction of military camps at Miran Shah, MirAli, Razmak, Wana and Jandola and forts and fortresses along the roads were not constructed without bloodshed. If they could do it why should we be hostage to militancy?
Tribesmen are not in favour of militancy.It is the economic gains, trade and jobs which this “disorder” is offering.
FATA neither has agriculture nor industry. Transportation and trade are the only means. Militants offer jobs, economic activity and facilitate trade.It is all about economy.


i dont agree taht there is a good and bad taliban. Pakistan is not supporting talibans anywhere. Pakistan really wants to wipe out all these malicious elements from Pakistan. bcz we want to join a race with othere great nations like germany, to get on top, and be considered a respected nation. and thats all.
ut if some analysts are keep on blaming the State of Pakistan. then it is very necessary to ask USA that why they inevented talibans? these analysts must ask this question as well.

Posted by waqas jan | Report as abusive

Many in Pakistan fail to understand the value of their vote. Agreed we go to the polling stations whenever we are lucky enough to have elections, but having an ink mark on our thumb does not mark the end of our civic duty. When we come out in numbers, those politicians that take Pakistanis for granted are shaken to the core. Those law enforcement agencies carry out their duty with justice. Not only the government, but the army also realizes that it becomes powerless when it is dealing with the nation as one. If we, the people, are able to wield such influence over these powerful institutions by coming together as one unit, lord save the militants if we truly unite as Pakistan.

Posted by AHR | Report as abusive

I think the biggest task in this conflict for pakistan to succeed is to treat the displaced people with utmost sympathy and provide them all the necessary help .Because winter is coming in that harsh terrain and Pakistan has to convince those displaced that this war is for their benifit to get rid of the foreign jihadis who took advantage of their hospitality .There is a difference between the heroic struggle of their past against the foreign invaders and colonialist who wanted to occupy their land .Now they have to fight against these terrorists whose aim is the same to make them subservient.Their brand of islam is not acceptable to any sensible muslim.they are killing their own children burning their own schools and mosques.Now the biggest threat they are creating in muslim world is sectarism and disunity.Perhaps they may be Israelis agents.Pakistan based Jumaat Islami seems to be acting like foreign agents.My message for THE WORLD AND PAKISTAN IS HELP THE POOR DISPLACED OF WAZIRISTAN IF THEY WANT TO WIN, JUST LIKE THE WAY SWATI DISPLACED PEOPLE WERE PROVIDED WITH SHELTER,FOOD AND CASH OTHERWISE IF THE LOCAL PEOPLE ARE NEGLECTED ,IT IS GOING TO BE ABLEEDING WOUND FOR PAKISTAN

Posted by DR A LATIF | Report as abusive

US/India/Israel has been sponsering terrorist bandits, called Pakistani taliban, to create chaos in Pakistan so that their dream of sending troops in Pakistan materializes. All the weapons that have been caught from these bandits are either US, German, or Indian make. The moment the Pakistan military went in Waziristan, the US troops vacated all check points along the border to ease the movements of these terrorists.

But Pakistan Military has given them all a great surprise. They have wiped out the terrorists and their leadership in Swat and now its the turn in Waziristan…and they are not going to attack any other group that is not fighting Pakistan, like the Taliban (of Afghanistan) or the Hikmatyar or Haqqani group fighters, as they are supportive of Pakistan and only wants the invading US/Nato forces to get out and they will get out, sooner or later…their time seems to be coming to the end and their irresponsible plans in this part of the world is only bringing them closer to a total failure!!! Sooner they get out, the less lives are lost, the better it is..but it is inevitable!

Posted by David | Report as abusive

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