The American Commander of the US-led
coalition forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Barno stated on April 18
that terrorists were infiltrating into Afghanistan from Pakistan and
Islamabad had been asked to begin a fresh operation against remnants of
al-Qaeda presently hiding in the
Waziristan region of Pakistan.
However, Peshawar Corps Commander Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain was quick to
dismiss Barno's claim on April 20, describing it as a highly
irresponsible remark: "Lt. Gen. Barno should not have made that
statement. It was a figment of his imagination. There is no bloody
operation going on until we have the right intelligence", Safdar said,
while ruling out joint military operations with the US-led coalition
forces, adding, "My strategy is to achieve the end goal without firing a
The Peshawar Corps Commander's statement was followed by Director
General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj. Gen. Shaukat
Sultan's rejoinder, claiming, "no such military operation is being
launched, and we decide for ourselves what needs to be done and when and
where". Barno made his statement during a meeting of Tripartite
Commission of the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan that was held
in Islamabad on April 18.
According to Pakistani media reports, the US General claimed during the
meeting that the remnants of Taliban and al-Qaeda were planning to stage
some high visibility attacks over the next six to nine months, which
would get them back on the scoreboard after suffering major strategic
reversals. "The coming spring would therefore see a fresh operation in
North Waziristan to nip their planned offensive in the bud", Lt. Gen. Barno was quoted as
Ten days later, on April 28, Lt. Gen. Barno in an interview to The
New York Times (NYT) stated
further: "The Americans have been training Pakistanis in night flying
and airborne assault tactics to combat foreign and local fighters in the
tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border." Significantly, this
was the first time the American military acknowledged the training.
Barno further admitted that the presence of American troops in Pakistan
was regarded as extremely delicate, adding that he had visited the
Special Services Group headquarters of the Pakistan Army at Cherat, near
Peshawar recently, where he watched a display by the units trained by
the Americans in their new Bell 4 helicopters.
However, the NYT report also quoted ISPR Director Maj. Gen. Sultan as
saying that there were no American military trainers at Cherat and that
Barno had probably been referring to joint military exercises between
the two countries. He told the newspaper in a phone interview, "The
Pakistan Army has been training with many countries of the world. We
have also been conducting joint military training with the US Army many
a time earlier. They benefit from each other's experience. They learn
from each other. That's what has been happening, and nothing else." Yet,
contrary to the claims of the Pakistani Generals, the report stated that
the Pakistan Army was gearing up to go into the last redoubts of al-Qaeda
and foreign fighters - the tribal areas of North Waziristan near the
border with Afghanistan.
In all likelihood, Lt. Gen. Barno's statement was not a 'figment of his
imagination'; he just made public something General Safdar and his
superiors did not want the Pakistani people to know. The Pakistan Army
has been fighting the invisible enemy in Waziristan without much
success, often giving an impression of failure. Whatever the truth,
statements and counter statements by American and Pakistani Generals
clearly indicate that the troubles in Waziristan are far from over.
Since the military authorities have banned the entry of newsmen into the
region, nobody knows what is actually going on in Waziristan. The only
available source of information is the ISPR spokesman, whose claims are
always contested by the Opposition and the media in public.
US intelligence sleuths stationed in Pakistan evidently believe that the
country continues to be a potential site of militant recruitment and
training, and al-Qaeda's 'operational commander' Abu Faraj al-Libbi,
presently hiding in Pakistan's tribal belt, continues to hire local
recruits to bolster up his terrorist organisation's manpower, which
continues to grow in strength despite the capture of over 500 of its
operatives from within Pakistan over the past two years. According to
intelligence sources, most of the al-Qaeda fugitives on the run from
Afghanistan are being sheltered by the heavily armed populace on the
Pak-Afghan border, where they are being trained in terror.
US intelligence findings indicate specifically that some of the al-Qaeda
training camps have already been reactivated along the southeastern side
of the Pak-Afghan border. These reports further suggest that Osama Bin
Laden, and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, may also be in the region.
Meanwhile, General Pervez Musharraf also confirmed that Osama Bin Laden
is not only alive, but is residing in the Pak-Afghan tribal area. "Osama
is alive and I am cent percent sure that he is hiding in Pak-Afghan
tribal belt", stated during an April 22, 2005, interview with CNN.
Similarly, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the American Special
Presidential Envoy and Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, have
repeatedly alleged that terrorists continue to operate against
Afghanistan from Pakistan.
Lt. Gen. Barno's apprehensions that "the Taliban and al-Qaeda can launch
their big offensive from North Waziristan in next nine months",
consequently, appears to carry weight and belies repeated claims by
Pakistan that the Waziristan area has returned to normalcy after
successful Army operations. As a matter of fact, the Peshawar Corps
Commander, Lt. Gen. Hussain, had declared in January 2005 that the 'back
of the terrorists has been broken' and that only a few of them had
survived, "roaming around in small batches". The Corps Commander's
statement came two years after the Pakistan Army started operations in
South Waziristan in January 2003. The Army had to launch the operations
after being alerted by the Americans to the presence of Taliban and al-Qaeda
elements in the Waziristan region. Lt. Gen. Hussain had further
announced in January 2005 that out of the 6,000 foreign terrorists, 600
had already been captured and another 150 killed. He also admitted that,
during the operations, 200 Pakistan Army personnel had been killed at
the hands of the terrorists.
The heavy losses suffered by the Pakistan Army eventually compelled its
High Command to suspend the military campaign and pursue peace pacts
with the local tribes. The first such accord was signed at Shakai with
Waziri warlord Nek Mohammad in April 2004. Nek Mohammad reneged and was
killed by an American guided laser missile. The second agreement was
signed at Sararogha in February 2005 with Baitullah Mahsud, the
chieftain of the Mahsud tribe. The deal was mediated by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam
leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman, at a ceremony that ended with shouts of
"Death to America". Interestingly, the pact with Baitullah Mahsud did
not forbid Abdullah Mahsud, the most wanted fugitive from the Mahsud
tribe, from attacking the US forces across the border in Afghanistan.
Despite reports of his being killed in a Pakistan Army ambush in
February 2005, the fact remains that Abdullah is still alive and remains
the foremost militant commander in the Waziristan area.
Interestingly, the Sararogha peace pact did not require that Abdullah
surrender the foreign terrorists allegedly taking shelter with him; it
simply bound him not to attack the Pakistan Army and not give shelter to
foreign terrorists. It did not bind him to lay down arms or not fight
across the Durand Line. The man swears allegiance to Mullah Mohammad
Omar, the Taliban ameer (chief); he moves around in a
bullet-proof car and is followed by some 30 armed guards; he owns two
castle-like houses in North and South Waziristan. As Abdullah Mahsud has apparently failed to honour his side of the
bargain, the Pakistan Army has once again been asked by the Americans to
launch fresh operations in its territory. Earlier, Lt. Gen. Barno had
declared, in February 2005, after the signing of the Sararogha agreement
with Baitullah Mahsud: "The foreign fighters in the tribal belt had to
be killed or captured instead of being given amnesty through so-called
Interestingly, however, both the peace accords make no mention of the
Pakistan Army's previous condition that the tribal militants must
produce foreigners hiding in Waziristan
and ensure their registration. The Army's insistence on this condition
had led to the collapse of the Shakai agreement signed between the
Peshawar Corps Commander and 'Commander' Nek Mohammad's militant group,
in April 2004. The militants' failure to produce the foreign militants
hiding in the area had triggered a new round of fighting that ended up
in Nek's death on June 19, 2004.
The February 2005 peace agreement took an intriguing turn on February 8,
2005, with Lt. Gen. Safdar Hussain claiming that tribal militants
demanded Rs. 170 million during the course of peace negotiations, and
eventually settled for Rs. 50 million to repay debts they owed to al-Qaeda-linked
foreign militants. The BBC quoted the Corps Commander as saying that the
four former wanted militants had insisted they needed the money to pay
back huge sums to al-Qaeda. Haji Sharif and Maulvi Abbas received Rs. 15
million each, while Maulvi Javed and Haji Mohammad Omar were each paid
ten million rupees.
The disclosure fuelled speculation that the Government had been paying
money to buy-off militants in South Waziristan. However, Haji Omar, on
behalf of the Wana militants, denied the Corps Commander's claim and
made it clear that he and the four other militants had only been paid Rs.
4.2 million by retired Colonel Inamullah Wazir and the Inter Services
Intelligence (ISI) officials who negotiated with him and the other four
militants on behalf of the Army, and this amount was for rebuilding
their houses that had been destroyed during the military operations.
"Each of us received around Rs. 800,000. My brother Haji Sharif and I
got a total of Rs. 1.6 million, while our third brother, Noor Islam, who
wasn't part of the peace agreement, didn't receive any money. This
amount was far less than the losses we incurred as a result of the
damage suffered by our apple orchards and demolition of our family
houses plus a hospital in Kalooshah that alone was worth more than Rs. 4
million," he added.
The ongoing 'war on terror' being waged in the Pakistani tribal areas
has clearly not been without its share of controversies, charges and
counter-charges. This was inevitable given the difficult nature of the
military operations and the enigmatic relationship of the partners
involved in fighting terror. But the angry public exchange between the
Peshawar Corps Commander and the Commander of the US forces in
Afghanistan could easily have been avoided with a little discretion.
Given the strong public sentiments against the Bush administration in
Pakistan, especially in the areas bordering Afghanistan, such
controversies are bound to evoke strong public reaction and embarrass
the Government. These are, indeed, testing times for the Pakistan
Government, the Army, the security apparatus and the people of Pakistan.