A relatively less known al-Qaeda operative is the target of the latest suspected drone strike in the volatile South Waziristan, the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Sheikh Abu Turab name is listed among the most wanted terrorists by Saudi Arabia, media reports suggest. Despite an intense drone campaign and military operations since 2004, presence of the hardcore al-Qaeda elements speak volumes of the fact that the area has still not been purged of terrorists.
Locals and Pakistani intelligence agencies are skeptical about the activities and rank of Abu Turab in the terror network. “The name of another person killed with Abu Turab is also a mystery,” a tribal elder told VOA Deewa, pleading anonymity. “Arab fighters belonging to al-Qaeda have taken shelter with the Wana-based Taliban headed by Salahuddin Ayubi”, said the source adding that even the mention of their presence in the area by local tribesmen is inviting trouble.
The Wazir Taliban came under the command of Salahuddin Ayubi when its founder Mulla Nazir was killed in a US drone strike last year. The Local Taliban force is in an agreement with the Pakistani military since 2005 but is fighting against the NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Mullah Nazir spearheading an uprising of the Ahmadzai Wazir against the fighters of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in 2007 successfully flushed them out of the Wazir land. However, Mulla Nazir later told a press conference that al-Qaeda fighters were welcomed and they will be protected.
Al-Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden along with his three to four wives and lieutenants moved to South Waziristan after he escaped US bombing on his Tora Bora mountainous hideout in Afghanistan’s Nangrahar province. Osama was killed in a US raid on his compound in Pakistan’s garrison city of Abottabad on May 2, 2011. He was living there for more than five years with his three wives and several kids. Apart from al-Qaeda, reports suggest that the Wazir territory of South Waziristan is still a safe sanctuary for Chechens and Uighurs. China is demanding from Pakistan to take action against Uighur fighters hiding in the Waziristan region.
The ongoing military operation in North Waziristan, officials in the Pakistani political administration said, was conducted by the government mainly due to the pressure from China, where the Uighur separatists are being trained and sheltered by Taliban. Locals claim that fighters from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and the Uighurs are the prime target of the operation. The Uighurs pursue their goal for a separate state under the umbrella of Islamic Movement of East Turkistan (IMET). Tribal sources informed that the Uighur fighters are on the run and that China was able to disrupt their internet links and other communication systems. The outgoing Corp Commander Peshawar, Gen. Khalid Rabbani during his farewell visit to South Waziristan early this week called upon the Ahmadzai Wazirs either to expel foreign terrorists or be ready for a similar situation being faced by tribesmen in North Waziristan.
Most of the Arabs, Chechens and Uighurs are believed to have shifted to the Wazir land in South Waziristan ahead of the military operation in North Waziristan. Afghan officials claim the Haqqani Network is not the target of Pakistani military operation, a claim Islamabad has rejected and insists that the ongoing drive was against all the terrorist groups hiding in the tribal region. The Pakistan military has, however, so far couldn’t target a known member of the terrorist organization, the Haqqani Network.
The increasing popularity of India in Afghanistan has worried Islamabad. India has invested around $2 billion in developing Afghanistan’s infrastructure over the decade. The former Afghan president Karzai declared India as friend No. 1 in his farewell speech. Already, Kabul and New Delhi signed a strategic treaty followed by a similar agreement between Afghanistan and the United States to the chagrin of Pakistan. The conflict of interests of India and Pakistan is, as some experts believe, sandwiching Afghanistan, thereby fanning another era of proxy war.
To begin with, for example, Pakistan-based Punjabi Taliban chief Asmatullah Mua’awiah has announced quitting terrorism inside Pakistan but pledged to continue their “Jihad” in Afghanistan. The presence of the sanctuaries of the militant outfits in Pakistan near Afghanistan is seen as a continuation of the Pakistan’s deep state old mindset—seeking strategic depth across the Durand Line.
To counter Pakistan, the United States and India both have developed a new friendship for combating terror in the region, increasing economic cooperation and sharing know how in the civil nuclear sector. The US has denied civil nuclear assistance to Pakistan, mainly due to trust deficit, analysts believe.
Washington and New Delhi have also recently increased pressure on Pakistan for dismantling terrorist facilities being used for violence in Afghanistan, India and elsewhere. Soon after the meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington this week, the US treasury department placed sanctions on two Pakistan-based entities for links to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) and Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM). The department also placed sanction of the chief of HuM Fazlur Rahman Khalil and two other Pakistani individuals.
President Obama and premier Modi also urged for dismantling the terrorist havens in Pakistan, a long-standing demand which has not been addressed to the satisfaction of the stakeholders. Based on their statement, Pakistan’s leading newspaper Dawn in its October 3rd editorial, “Price of Inaction” cautioned,
“Consider that the joint US-India statement also refers to “dismantling” terrorist safe havens: is that an ominous sign that however remote the possibility at the moment, the US and India have begun contemplating the possibility of targeted counterterrorist operations on Pakistani soil at some point in the future?”