In the aftermath of the third round of US-Pakistan strategic talks, held last week in Washington, the likelihood of North Waziristan operation has increased. The promised $2 billion worth of US military assistance for Pakistan and the reported breakdown of peace talks with Taliban have further increased the likelihood of the offensive. Meanwhile, Iran has joined the Afghan Contact Group, which met in Rome, with US acquiescence. This article looks at how Taliban are reacting to these developments in FATA.
The statements coming out of Washington indicate Pakistan Army gave assurances again about conducting a sweep in North Waziristan, however, the country has reiterated that only it will determine the timing of this operation.
In anticipation of the operation statements have emanated from both the Taliban of Pakistan and Afghan origin. If Pakistan was to act, it would raise serious problems for the Afghan Taliban strategy. Local Taliban belonging to the Mujahidin Shura of North Waziristan have stated they would relocate to Afghanistan, in case Pakistan conducts the operation, and threatened to ask Karzai for shelter. The Shura also clarified it would not violate the peace treaty it signed with Pakistan government in 2007, and all incidents would be first investigated.
At the same time, the Afghan Haqqani network, which is based in North Waziristan, is trying hard to broker peace in Kurram tribal district. This is occurring after clashes have continued for three years, between local tribes that are for and against Taliban. Kurram borders North Waziristan and is of immense strategic value, as it is located on the Afghan border and quite close to Kabul. The Haqqani network intends to relocate to a new base in Kurram tribal agency before the launch of the offensive.
However, this is not the first time Taliban have attempted to clear out Kurram for their particular use. Pakistani Taliban have for years used ruthless tactics to eradicate the area of forces that have stood in their way, which are mostly Shiites. The Shiites are deeply indignant of Taliban and Al Qaeda and their Wahabi Salafi Islamic doctrine. On their part Al Qaeda and its affiliates, also loath Shiite population, be it in Kurram or Iraq. According to the religious beliefs of Al Qaeda, Shiites are non-Muslims and traitors and liable to be killed.
Iran has been quite sensitive to the atrocities and mass murders committed by Taliban in Kurram. The Shiites of Kurram Agency, who have religious and cultural affinity with Iran, have been getting consistent flow of weapons and finances from Tehran in its fight against Taliban. This support is believed to be the main reason the anti-Taliban Shiite groups have successfully resisted Taliban taking over the area.
According to PoliTact sources, one of the other objectives of Siraj Haqqani to broker peace in Kurram, is to pacify the influence of Iran. Furthermore, to diminish the possibility and motivation for Iranians to allow the use of its Charbahar port, to supply NATO forces in Afghanistan via Nimroz province. In the aftermath of the closure of Torkham supply route, NATO authorities are trying to organize supplies through other routes, including Iran.
The attempts by the Haqqanis and Taliban to appease Iran, also has another critical reason. Iran continues to overlook the use of its territory, which the potential fighters crossover from Middle East to enter Afghanistan and tribal areas of Pakistan. Taliban want Iran to not produce any impediment in this regard. In the months ahead, this route is going to play a crucial role as US completes its troop surge in Afghanistan.
The above laid out reasons could be why US allowed Iran to join the International Afghan Contact Group meeting in Rome. The group gathers the Afghan government, NATO, the EU, U.N. and other key players to assess progress in Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan commented that it had no problem with Iran joining the group. However, the reaction of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are far from clear.