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Waziristan: Terror Destination

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By Sanchita Bhattacharya
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

Waziristan, Pakistan's lawless tribal region, which has for long served as a safe haven for terrorist groups operating in India, Afghanistan, and other countries, is, according to the latest reports, now hosting a new terrorist formation, the Ansar Al-Tawheed fi Bilad Al-Hind (ATBH, Supporters of Monotheism in the Land of India). According to a May 22, 2014 news report, "the cadres of Ansar Al-Tawheed can be seen training at al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan’s North Waziristan."

Significantly, according to a May 20, 2014, report, the group issued a video in which its leader Abdur al-Rehman al Hindi declares, "O lions of faith, target the oppressive and infidel Indian Government's financial centres and economic interests within India and those located around the world, until Indian Government reaches the brink of destruction". In the video, al-Rehman appeals, in Arabic, to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad; al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri; Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); as well as to al Qaeda’s leaders in Yemen (Nasser Al-Wuhaishi), in Somalia (Mukhtar Abu Al-Zubair), and in North Africa (Abu Mus'ab 'Abd Al-Wudoud), to come forward to ‘protect’ the Muslims of India. He also urges Indian Muslim youth to join the global jihad of al Qaeda and migrate to the lands of Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, and warns Indian intelligence agencies against mistreating 'Islamic scholars' like Maulana Abdul Qavi, who was arrested by Indian Police on March 24, 2014, in New Delhi, in connection with the Ahmedabad serial blasts and other terrorist incidents dating back to 2003.

This emerging group is not the first to get apparent training in the disturbed tribal belt of Pakistan. Outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM), Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) and Indian Mujahideen (IM) have a history of receiving regular training in camps based in the region. According to a 2007 report, in 2006-2007, Jihadi organisations operating in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) were moved to North and South Waziristan. The report maintains that these groups brought with them a specific guerrilla strategy, which soon altered the dynamics of the Taliban, and asserts that the move “reorganised and regrouped the Taliban movement along the lines of a separatist guerrilla movement that has had a cascading affect in the region.”

The Waziristan region of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), comprising two Agencies - North and South - is located in a narrow belt which runs along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, the Durand Line. The area comprising North and South Waziristan is characterized by rugged hills with deep gorges and it is mostly impassable. The region provides safe-haven for terrorists because of the autonomous nature of the territory, with local tribal establishments exercising much of the authority, creating an environment of impunity. The Shawal Valley of North Waziristan and the Shakai Valley of South Waziristan have, respectively, provided shelter to fleeing terrorists since the US Operation Enduring Freedom commenced in Afghanistan in 2001. However, the volatile mix of terrorism and tribal affinities in the region is not a post 9/11 phenomenon; the mountains of Waziristan had long been used as a base for mujahideen ('holy warriors') during the Afghan Wars against the Soviet occupation. The fighters, including a multi-national force drawn from across the Muslim world, had been armed and trained by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). When the Russians withdrew, many of those fighters settled down in Waziristan and became part of the local population.

LeT, among the most prominent anti-India terrorist formations, has been working from this region under the protection of the Haqqani Network, which maintains a sophisticated insurgent complex that stretches from North Waziristan Agency, through the southeastern provinces of Afghanistan, all the way to Kabul. The expansion of this network has provided the LeT, in tandem with the Haqqanis, the ability to stage spectacular suicide attacks on Indian targets in Afghanistan. Notably, the LeT’s involvement in the attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008, and the May 23, 2014, attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat Province of Afghanistan, has been well established.

LeT breakaways have also received training and refuge in the Waziristan region. An unnamed Pakistani intelligence official told the media, “A lot of hard-liners have broken away from LeT and gone to North and South Waziristan... There are a number of splinter groups that are much more radical. The problem is not LeT per se, it’s the elements of LeT that have broken away and found their place in Waziristan..."

Cadres of the IM, now principally acting as an LeT proxy, have also been trained in the region. The IM has been involved in almost all the terrorist attacks in India, outside J&K, after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. A May 21, 2014, report cited Intelligence sources to claim that at least six IM operatives, including Mirza Shadab Baig, Shahnawaz Alam, Muhammad 'Bada' Sajid, Alamzeb Afridi, Shafi Armar and Sultan Armar, were believed to be training at al Qaeda-linked camps in North Waziristan for a fresh round of attacks in India.

Investigations have further revealed that two Indian IM operatives based in the Waziristan, were suspected of operating a website that invites Indian youth to join the jihad. While one hails from Bhatkal, a port town in the Uttara Kannada District of Karnataka, and has named himself after Mohammed Ata, the 9/11 attacker, the other is from Mumbai in Maharashtra (name not known). Both of them are said to be in touch with their IM counterparts in India.

The arrest of IM operative Zia-ur-Rehman alias Waqas, a Pakistani national, by the Special Cell of Delhi Police in Ajmer, Rajasthan, on March 22, 2014, further revealed the 'importance' of the Waziristan region in South Asian terrorist scenario. Deputy Commissioner of Police (Special Cell), Sanjeev Kumar Yadav disclosed, "The 25-year-old Rehman had undergone a 21-day training known as 'daura-e-aam' at the Naushera camp of LeT in Pakistan. (He also) attended advanced training at a camp in Waziristan- FATA."

The region also hosts JeM terrorist camps, including one that was located in Gangi Khel near Wana in South Waziristan. The JeM 'chief', Maulana Masood Azhar and senior operative Rashid Rauf, are believed to be operating from Waziristan. Rauf was thought to have been killed in a US airstrike in North Waziristan on November 21, 2008, but the report was never confirmed. Rauf has been identified as the primary plotter for the July 7, 2005, London bombings. JeI camps are also located in the Mir Ali town of North Waziristan. According to a January, 2013 report, "Mir Ali also hosts at least three suicide training camps for the Fedayeen-i-Islam, an alliance between the Pakistani Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. In early 2011, a Fedayeen-i-Islam 'spokesman' claimed that more than 1,000 suicide bombers have trained at three camps."

In February 2014, HM leader, Mast Gul alias Haroon Khan, who was involved in the infamous attack on the Charar-e-Sharif shrine in J&K in 1995, emerged from the Waziristan area. Little was known of his whereabouts after he was injured in an ambush near Peshawar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in August 2003. Along with Mufti Hasaan Swati, who claims to be the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) 'commander' for the Peshawar area, Gul appeared before the media on February 5, 2014, at Miranshah, the capital city of North Waziristan. Earlier on March 28, 2006, three HM militants were arrested at Tank near South Waziristan, along with explosives and ammunition. Senior Superintendent of Police Dar Ali Khattak disclosed that the three were on their way from South Waziristan in a vehicle, when they were apprehended at a checkpoint in Tank.

HuJI also established a training camp in the Razmak area of Waziristan, shifting most of its fighters from the training camp at Kotli in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) in 2008. In 2009, HuJI leader Ilyas Kashmiri reportedly operated from a militant training center in Miranshah in North Waziristan.

Terrorist activities in the region have been 'legitimized' by the presence of the so-called 'good Taliban' - sanctioned and supported by Islamabad - on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line. Hafiz Gul Bahadar - the "good Taliban commander" maintains a “peace agreement” with the Pakistani military, which allows him to run a state within a state in North Waziristan. The peace agreement allows North Waziristan to serve as a base for the movement of Taliban in Pakistan, along with other terrorist groups that also include the anti-India LeT, IM, HuJI and JeM, among others.

The explosive mix of the jihadist ideology and terrorism in the tribal areas is creating a dynamic that can potentially destabilize not only the Af-Pak region, but much of South Asia as well, creating a direct potential for escalating terrorism, supported and promoted by the Pakistani establishment, in India.

[Source: SATP]

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