On Both Sides Of The Border
The Afghan-Pakistan border region has become the front line in
the war against Islamic militants. The area is a patchwork
quilt of territories where militant groups have gained strength
in some places but have lost ground in others.
Immediately after the US-led invasion of 2001 the Taliban fled;
only to return in 2003, when the Americans deployed to Iraq.
Now they bide their time for the day when the Americans go
home. As the US Forces leave positions the militants then move
in and take over control.
These Islamic disciples, don't stop and fight their enemy face
to face, unless cornered, preferring the irregular tactics of
bombing and destruction. If chased they will run and they will
run as long as the chase is on, when it ends they stop and
await the time, they can return.
HELMAND Across From CHAGHAI
Kabul's control has never been strong in the remote southern
plains of Helmand province which is why it emerged to be the
most significant Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan.
While further south, across the border in Pakistan, lies the
equally remote Noshki-Chaghai region of the Balochistan
province, where they went. And since 9/11 this region has been
In the Baramcha area on the Afghan side of the border, the
Taliban have until recently maintained a major base, with
improvised explosive device factories, weapons caches and
From there they have been controlling militant activities as
far afield as the Nimroz and Farah provinces in the west,
Uruzgan in the centre of the country and parts of Kandahar
province. They also link up with groups based in the
Waziristan region of Pakistan.
In the past, the Taliban from Baramcha region have been moving
freely across the border, and often take their injured to
hospitals in the Pakistani town of Dalbandin, in Chaghai.
The Helmand Taliban have been able to capture territory and
hold it, mostly in the south, but also in some northern parts
of the province. They have constantly threatened traffic on
the highway that connects Kandahar with Herat.
But since US President Barack Obama's 2010 decision to launch
a troop surge, Western forces were able to carry out a mostly
successful sweeping operation in areas as far south as
Baramcha to destroy the militant infrastructure.
In spite of this, the Taliban's freedom to move across the
border in Baramcha and nearby areas has not been fully
curtailed. British troops have a major base in the town of
Gereshk, along the Kandahar-Herat road. Fresh American troops
have also been deployed in the area.
KANDAHAR Acoss The Border From QUETTA
Kandahar has the symbolic importance of being the spiritual
centre of the Taliban movement and also the place of its
origin. The supreme Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, made
the city his headquarters when the Taliban came to power in
1996. Top al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden,
preferred it to the country's political capital, Kabul.
As such, the control of Kandahar province is a matter of great
prestige. The first suicide attacks in Afghanistan took place
in Kandahar in 2005-06, and were linked to al-Qaeda. Kandahar
has seen some high-profile jail breaks and assassination
attempts, including one on President Karzai.
The Afghan government has prevented the Taliban from seizing
control of any significant district centre or town.
International forces have large bases in the airport area.
They also reside at the former residence of Mullah Omar in the
western suburbs of Kandahar city. Mullah Omar is thought by
some to be hiding in Kandahar or Helmand. Others suspect he is
During 2007-09, the Taliban managed to infiltrate and set up
entrenched positions in the heavily-populated agricultural
zone of central Kandahar province, from where they exerted
pressure on Kandahar city.
They also set up IED factories in this region and conducted a
relentless bombing campaign against Western forces,
frustrating their attempts to disrupt Taliban activity.
But since the 2010 troop surge, the Taliban have been
dislodged from these positions, although they continue to have
a strong presence in the countryside, and have carried out a
number of suicide attacks to assassinate high value targets in
and around Kandahar city.
Afghan and Western officials have in the past said the Taliban
have also used Quetta, the capital of the Pakistani province
of Balochistan. Using it as a major hideout as well as other
Pakistani towns along the Kandahar border.
Areas on the Pakistan side stretching north-eastwards along
the border from Quetta to the town of Zhob are inhabited by
Taliban activity in Balochistan is largely related to
operations inside Afghanistan and is of no immediate concern
to Parkistan. The so-called Quetta Shura leadership, alleged
by the US to be responcible for directing much of the
Taliban's activity in Afghanistan, is said to be based in the
city of Balochistan.
Pakistani authorities have denied the existence of such a
Taliban council in Quetta - or that the Taliban have a major
presence in Balochistan.
ZABUL Across From TOBA KAKAR
Afghanistan's Zabul province lies to the north of Kandahar,
along the Toba Kakar mountain range that separates it from the
Pakistani districts of Killa Saifullah and Killa Abdullah. The
mountains are remote, and have been largely quiet except for a
couple of occasions when Pakistani security forces scoured
them for al-Qaeda suspects.
Reports from Afghanistan say militants use the area in special
circumstances. In early 2002, Taliban militants fleeing US
forces in Paktia and Paktika provinces took a detour through
South Waziristan to re-enter Afghanistan via Zabul.
Occasionally, Taliban insurgents use the Toba Kakar passes
when infiltration through South Waziristan which is difficult
due to intensified vigilance by Pakistani and Afghan border
Zabul provides access to the Afghan provinces of Ghazni,
Uruzgan and Kandahar. In fact, it was from here that the
Taliban first started to infiltrate Kandahar in 2003.
There are few Afghan or foreign forces in the area, except on
the highway that connects Qalat, the capital of Zabul, to
Kandahar in the south-west, and Ghazni and Kabul in the north.
Taliban activity along parts of this highway has forced
government officials, aid workers and journalists to give up
travelling on this road.
KURRAM Opposite ORAKZAI, KHYBER
As the Pakistani military strategists who organised Afghan
guerrillas against the Soviets in the 1980s discovered to
their delight, Kurram is the best location along the entire
Pakistan-Afghanistan border to put pressure on the Afghan
capital, Kabul, which is just 90km (56 miles) away.
But because the region is inhabited by a Shia tribe that
opposes the Taliban for religious reasons, the Taliban have
not been able to get a foothold here.
The Taliban, with their primary interest in the war in
Afghanistan, have also steered clear of the Orakzai tribal
district because it does not share a border with Afghanistan
and is therefore of no strategic value.
The Taliban groups are motivated by sectarian strife, or those
trying to drive Pakistani forces out of the tribal region,
have set up bases both in Lower Kurram, where there are fewer
Shias, and Orakzai tribes.
This area links up with the town of Mir Ali in North
Waziristan to the south, and the Afridi tribal territory in
Darra Adamkhel and Khyber in the north.
It was overseen by Hakimullah Mehsud until the death of his
top commander, Baitullah Mehsud, in a suspected US missile
attack in August 2009. Hakimullah Mehsud has since assumed
leadership of the group and has moved to South Waziristan.
Hakimullah Mehsud was believed to command an armed force of
more than 2,000 fighters of varying ability. From their bases
in Orakzai and areas north of Mir Ali in North Waziristan,
these fighters tried to squeeze the Shias of the Upper Kurram
valley and those living in the Hangu distinct of Pakistan's
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
They have also infiltrated the Khyber region and forged ties
with the mostly criminal groups that have been operating there
under the guise of being Taliban fighters. One such group is
led by Mangal Bagh.
Apart from kidnappings-for-ransom and car-jackings, these
groups have also been involved in looting supplies being
shipped to international forces in Afghanistan via a road that
connects the Pakistani port of Karachi with the country's
north-west and passes through the Darra Adamkhel-Khyber
These groups have also carried out rocket attacks and bombings
inside Peshawar city, the capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
More recently, they are suspected of setting fire to hundreds
of trucks carrying Nato supplies at a transit terminal in
Peshawar. Meanwhile, groups based in Orakzai-Khyber region are
believed to be behind a spate of bombings in Peshawar and
other cities of central Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
PAKTIKA, KHOST And PAKTIA
Taliban sanctuaries in South Waziristan and North Waziristan
directly threaten Paktika, Khost and Paktia provinces of
The US-led forces have large bases in the Barmal region of
Paktika and in Khost, and several outposts along the border to
counter the threat of infiltration. Pakistani security forces
also man hundreds of border checkposts in the region. However,
infiltration has continued unabated with many hit-and-run
attacks on foreign troops.
Tribal identities are particularly strong in Paktika, Khost
and Paktia. During the Taliban rule of 1997-2001, these
provinces were ruled by their own tribal governors instead of
the Kandahari Taliban who held power over the rest of the
In the current phase of the fighting they co-ordinate with the
militants in Kandahar and Helmand, but they have stuck with
their own leadership that dates back to the war against the
Soviets in the 1980s.
The veteran Afghan militant Jalaluddin Haqqani, who is a
native of Khost, has long been based in North Waziristan. He
is an old man now and has stood aside to allow his son,
Sirajuddin Haqqani, to lead the anti-US offensive in the
Sirajuddin has recently said that his group is no longer based
in Waziristan and has moved inside Afghan territory. But many
analysts believe their main camps are still located in the
sanctuary of the Waziristan region.
South Waziristan, a tribal district in Pakistan's Federally
Administered Tribal Areas, is the first significant sanctuary
Islamic militants carved for themselves outside Afghanistan.
Militants driven out by US troops from the Tora Bora region of
Nangarhar province in late 2001, and later from the Shahikot
mountains of Paktia in early 2002, poured into the main town,
Wana, in their hundreds. They included Arabs, Central Asians,
Chechens, Uighur Chinese, Afghans and Pakistanis.
Some moved on to urban centres in Punjab and Sindh provinces.
Others slipped back into Afghanistan or headed west to Zhob
and Quetta and onwards to Iran. But most stayed back and are
fighting the Pakistani army.
Unofficial estimates by informed circles put the current
number of these foreign fighters at "several hundred". They
have concentrations in parts of South and North Waziristan and
Bajaur in the Fata region, and they have also fanned out to
the conflict zones in Pakistan's north-western Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa Province such as Swat, Dir and Buner.
The eastern half of South Waziristan is inhabited by the
Mehsud tribe and the main militant commander here is
Hakimullah Mehsud, who rose to this position in August 2009,
when a suspected US missile strike led to the killing of the
top Mehsud commander, Baitullah Mehsud.
Hakimullah inherited a conglomeration of affiliated militant
groups spread across most of north-western Pakistan. But some
of these groups have since dispersed or relocated, while
others have switched loyalties or simply gone quiet.
The western half of South Waziristan, along the border with
Afghanistan, is Ahmedzai Wazir territory where Maulvi Nazir
commands roughly 8,000 to 10,000 militants. Again, most of
these cannot be considered battle-hardened and whether they
would fight to the last is unclear.
The Mehsuds live only on the Pakistani side, while the Wazirs
inhabit both sides of the border. This partly explains the
direction the two commanders have taken over the last few
Maulvi Nazir's men have largely focused on the war in
Afghanistan. They have a peace deal with the Pakistani army
and there has been no significant conflict since 2005-06.
The army is not known to have intervened to check the
infiltration of militants from the Wazir areas into
Afghanistan, which is frequently reported.
The Mehsuds on the other hand have focused on Pakistan, which
they consider to be serving the interests of "infidel" powers.
In 1996, Baitullah Mehsud set up Tehrik Taliban Pakistan, an
umbrella organisation for anti-Pakistan groups operating in
Kurram, Orakzai, Khyber, Mohmand, Bajaur, Swat and Dir
The Pakistani army started an operation against the Tehrik
Taliban Pakistan's main base in South Waziristan in October
2009, sparking an exodus of tens of thousands of people from
the Mehsud tribal region. The bulk of those refugees are yet
to return to their homes.
The Tehrik Taliban Pakistan leadership itself had to relocate
to neighbouring North Waziristan. Although occasional
skirmishes continue to be reported, the army mostly controls
the main towns in the area.
North Waziristan is dominated by the Wazir tribe that also
inhabits the adjoining Afghan provinces of Paktika and Khost.
North and South Waziristan form the most lethal zone from
where militants have been successfully destabilising not only
those provinces but others such as Paktia, Ghazni, Wardak and
Groups based in the Waziristan region are known to have
carried out attacks in the Afghan capital, Kabul, as well.
Current estimates put the number of armed militants in North
Waziristan at more than 10,000.
A much smaller number are battle hardened. They are led by
Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a veteran of the 1992-96 Afghan civil war
who later joined the Taliban. Like Maulvi Nazir in South
Waziristan, he has largely focused on the fighting in
Afghanistan and has had little friction with Pakistani forces
since a 2006 peace deal.
In fact, Taliban loyal to him have confronted foreign fighters
based in the eastern North Waziristan town of Mir Ali, who
have been attacking Pakistani troops in the region. But like
Maulvi Nazir he, too, is perturbed over drone attacks in the
region and considers Pakistan responsible for them.
North Waziristan is also the home base of another veteran
Afghan militant, Jalaluddin Haqqani. His main priority has
been to organise Taliban resistance to Western forces in
Afghanistan, but he has also wielded considerable influence
over the top commanders in South and North Waziristan.
He is also reported to have maintained links with sections of
the Pakistani security establishment and is known to have
mediated peace deals between the Pakistani government and the
Wazir and Mehsud commanders in the region.
The Afghan government has a comparatively firmer grip on the
situation in Nangarhar. This is partly due to the compulsion
to keep the supply route for Western forces, which connects
the Pakistani city of Peshawar with Kabul and passes through
But there are pockets of resistance in the area. The main
Taliban commander here is Anwarul Haq Mujahid, son of a former
mujahideen commander, Mohammad Younus Khalis.
This group was responsible for offering protection to Osama
Bin Laden in the Tora Bora caves soon after 9/11. In recent
months militants from the region have been linking up with the
so-called Haqqani network in the Paktika-Khost-Paktia region.
Anwarul Haq Mujahid is also known to have been participating
in the Taliban's talks with the Karzai government in Dubai and
elsewhere, and is known to have been flying in and out of the
country via Pakistan.
BAJAUR, MOHMAND, KUNAR
Analysts had long suspected Pakistan's Bajaur tribal region to
be the hiding place of Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and
other top al-Qaeda leaders.
As such, it is where suspected US drones launched their
earliest missile strikes. One drone strike in January 2006 was
said to have narrowly missed Ayman al-Zawahiri, although it
killed at least 17 others.
Another strike nine months later killed 80 people at a
religious seminary which US and Pakistani officials said was
being used to train militants.
The dominant militant group in Bajaur, and those in the
neighbouring Mohmand tribal region, became members of the
Baitullah Mehsud-led Tehrik Taliban Pakistan, which was formed
Militants in both areas have since fought Pakistani forces
inside their respective tribal zones, and have also carried
out attacks in the cities of Peshawar, Charsadda and Mardan.
They also conducted the first attacks against security forces
in the Malakand region, where the Pakistani forces had to
fight against a full-fledged insurgency in and around the Swat
valley in the summer of 2009.
Maulvi Faqir Mohammad is the chief commander of the Taliban in
Bajaur. He was said to lead a force of nearly 10,000 armed
militants but there are indications the ranks have thinned in
the wake of the operation in the Tehrik Taliban Pakistan's
home base of South Waziristan.
A year-long military operation against the militants in Bajaur
ended early in 2009, followed by a peace agreement under which
the dominant tribe in Bajaur, the Mamunds, agreed to surrender
the entire Tehrik Taliban Pakistan leadership to the
But that has not happened. The Taliban are back in control in
most areas outside the regional capital, Khaar, and Maulvi
Faqir Mohammad continues to use his sermons, broadcast from an
FM radio station, to whip up support for the Taliban.
Bajaur shares a border with the Afghan province of Kunar.
Pakistani forces battling the Taliban in Bajaur have
complained that US and Afghan troops on the other side of the
border have not been doing enough to crack down on the Taliban
In Mohmand, about 5,000 militants led by Omar Khalid have been
resisting attempts by the security forces to clear them from
southern and south-eastern parts of the district in order to
reduce pressure on Peshawar and Charsadda.
In recent weeks, their activities have become infrequent and
their grip on most of their former strongholds has loosened.
URUZGAN, GHAZNI, WARDAK, LOGAR
Initially the Taliban were unable to maintain sustained
pressure on the country's south-central highlands.
But with sanctuaries in the border region, from the Baramcha
area of Helmand province in the south, to some parts of
Pakistani Balochistan, Waziristan and Bajaur and Mohmand to
the east, the Taliban now have the capacity to render roads in
this region unsafe.
Training camps run by al-Qaeda and Taliban groups have
multiplied over the past few years. The sanctuaries have also
afforded the militants endless opportunities to find new
The Waziristan region is known to be a haven for young suicide
bombers trained in remote camps. The Taliban also appear to
have had access to sophisticated military equipment and
professionally drawn-up battle plans.
The strategy appears to be the same as in the 1980s, "death by
a thousand cuts". Sporadic attacks on the security forces and
the police have grown more frequent over the years, and have
also crept closer to Kabul.
At the same time, the Taliban have destroyed most of the
education infrastructure in the countryside, a vital link
between the central government and the isolated agrarian
Uruzgan has mostly come under pressure from groups in Kandahar
and Helmand. These groups, as well as those based in the
Waziristan-Paktika-Khost region, have also moved up the
highway via Ghazni to infiltrate Wardak to the west and Logar
to the east.
Safe and quiet until less than three years ago, both of these
provinces are now said to be increasingly infiltrated by
Taliban fighters. But they still do not have the capacity to
confront troops in open battle, or capture and keep towns.
Swat, a former princely state in northern Pakistan, was
governed by a British-era law which a court declared
unconstitutional in the early 1990s.
That triggered a violent campaign for Islamic law to be
introduced in Swat and other areas of the Malakand region of
which it is part.
The Swat insurgency was effectively put down in 1994 but it
re-emerged after 9/11, attracting many battle-hardened
militants from Waziristan, Bajaur and the neighbouring
district of Dir.
The campaign of the Swat militants has been the most
destructive anywhere in Pakistan. They have targeted security
forces, police, secular politicians and government-run
By early April 2009, Sharia law had been imposed as part of a
deal between the authorities and the local Taliban. However,
the militants failed to disarm completely in line with the
accord and their fighters spread to neighbouring districts,
prompting international concern.
In late April 2011, Pakistani forces launched an operation in
four districts of Malakand region, causing some three million
people to flee the fighting. Most of the area has since been
brought under control and peace has returned to large parts.
Most of the refugees have also returned to their homes.
But the leaders of Swat militants and the bulk of hardened
fighters were able to slip into Afghanistan's Kunar and
Nooristan region via neighbouring Dir district.
Over the last year, these fighters have carved out sanctuaries
in areas vacated by American troops in Kunar and Nooristan
provinces of Afghanistan, and have from there been launching
raids into the border areas of Dir.
This is the first instance in which there has been a reverse
flow of militants into Pakistan. Here they will wait because
it's safe and the Taliban know that one day the US Forces will
vacate Afghanistan and it will all be theirs once more.
Suprisingly to some people, Arab Democracy is steadily
growing; Tunisia has clearly shown us that; and they have
shown us that not all Islamists are militants. Some Islamist
groups work for the people and not for an idolistic cause.
The first election to materialise from the Arab Spring took
place in Tunisia on a Sunday and more than 90% of those
registered turned out to vote; many for the first vote of
The campaign too was honest and fair. There were no spin
doctors, no rebuttal units, no focus groups, no electoral
machines to harvest votes. But, the glib and oily arts of the
more mature democracies have yet to take root here.
It was politics on the pavements, Tunisians rejoicing in the
right to disagree in public, to press a leaflet into the hands
of a neighbour in a shopping centre, to post a flyer on a
billboard. This was Arab Democracy at its best!!!
Ten months ago, Tunisians would have been jailed for doing any
one of these things. And yet more than 100 registered parties
emerged to contest the election.
The Tunisian people voted for 'Ennahda' and they did not talk
about religion. They talked about honesty in public life,
about the need for a government that would not steal from the
'Ennahda' won not because people wanted an Islamic state, but
because people thought they represented the best chance of a
clean break with the corruption and bribery of the old regime.
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