Pakistan’s Military Urges Tribal Uprising against Militants in North Waziristan

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 34

While U.S. pressure on Pakistan for a full-scale operation against the Haqqani Network and other militant groups in the North Waziristan Agency is growing, the Pakistani military is urging the local Wazir and Dawar tribes of the North Waziristan to initiate a “Wana-like uprising” to expel foreign militants from their area and minimize the chance of the government taking military action should the situation grow worse (Daily Times [Lahore] August 18).

With the help of militants led by South Waziristan’s Maulvi Nazir, the Ahmadzai Wazir tribes of South Waziristan successfully flushed out Uzbek militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) from Wana and other Wazir-dominated areas of South Waziristan in a spring 2007 popular uprising sparked by the brutality of the Uzbeks. [1] Many of the Uzbek militants who arrived in the area when their bases in Afghanistan were closed in late 2001 relocated to North Waziristan after their eviction from South Waziristan.

Elders of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribes said that they would not allow fleeing Uzbeks and militants of the Mahsud tribe in their areas who might attempt to sneak in from North Waziristan if the military goes on the offensive against the Haqqani Network and other local militant groups (Daily Times, June 1).

Located between the Khost Province of eastern Afghanistan and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province of northwest Pakistan, North Waziristan is the second largest tribal region of Pakistan’s Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA). It is considered today to be the epicenter not only of violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan but also a major source of international terrorism. Along with its geographic isolation, difficult terrain, and relatively stable coalition of tribal militants, the region has become the most important center of militancy in FATA because of the impunity with which militants in the area have operated. [2]

The most important militant group operating in the region is the Haqqani Network, an Afghan insurgent group led by Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani. Haqqani left his native Khost province and settled in North Waziristan as an exile during the republican Afghan government of Sardar Mohammed Daoud Khan in the early 1970s. His son Sirajuddin, who became a key insurgent leader in Afghanistan in mid 1980s, manages the network’s organization from the North Waziristan and carries out attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan (see Terrorism Monitor, March 24, 2008; August 4). [3]

The second most important North Waziristan-based militant group is led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a key militant leader known for hosting foreign fighters belonging to al-Qaeda and other Arab groups as well as the Haqqani Network (see Terrorism Monitor, April 10, 2009). Bahadur was announced as Naib Amir (deputy head) under the leadership of Baitullah Mahsud upon the formation of the 2007 Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organization of various militant groups operating in FATA (The News [Islamabad], December 15, 2007). However, Bahadur later formed an anti-TTP bloc by joining hands with Maulvi Nazir’s South Waziristan-based group because of tribal rivalries with the Mahsuds and disagreements over TTP attacks against Pakistan security forces, stating that the bloc had been formed to defend the Wazir tribes in North Waziristan and South Waziristan (Daily Times, July 2, 2008). Bahadur and Nazir belong to the Utmanzai and Ahmadzai sub-clans of the Wazir, respectively. [4] The Haqqani Network and Bahadur are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistan military authorities as they don’t carry out attacks inside Pakistan and focus only on Afghanistan.

Besides the Haqqani Network and Bahadur’s group, North Waziristan also provides shelter to several local and foreign militant groups, such as the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Islamic Army of Great Britain,  Ittehad-e-Jihad Islami (IJI), the TTP, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Harkatul-Jihad-al-Islami, the Fidayeen-e-Islami, Harkat-ul Mujahideen, the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (The News [Islamabad] August 18). Mir Ali area and Shawal valley of North Waziristan have been a safe haven for successive waves of all sorts of militants fleeing U.S. or Pakistani military operations. [5]

The United States considers the role of the Haqqani Network and other militant groups in North Waziristan in the insurgency in Afghanistan to be among the most difficult challenges NATO faces. Due to intense American pressure, the Pakistani military is thinking of carrying out a limited operation in North Waziristan primarily targeting al-Qaeda, foreign militants and the TTP rather than the Haqqani Network (Dawn [Karachi] June 1). Because of the reluctance of Pakistan authorities to act in the region, U.S. drones have targeted the Mir Ali, Dattakhel and Miramshah areas of North Waziristan extensively, with five out of six drone strikes in Pakistan now being recorded in North Waziristan. [6]

North Waziristan elders say that the local population is very frustrated with the presence of foreign militant groups, especially the Central Asians, for their encroachment on Wazir lands and insensitivity to local tribal customs. The foreigners’ land ownership is a direct challenge to the tribal power structure of Waziristan. Unlike the Central Asians, the Arab militants of al-Qaeda never interfered in local tribal affairs. Lately some innocent people belonging to the Utmanzai Wazir tribe have been killed by foreign militants who accused them of spying on al-Qaeda and Taliban movements to direct CIA-operated drones. The murders have only created more hatred for the foreigners among local tribesmen. [7]

The tense relationship between local and foreign militant outfits operating in North Waziristan has been displayed several times in the past years, particularly in November 2006, when the IMU and IJU openly accused Bahadur and other Waziri militant commanders of betraying them and jumping into the government camp by demanding their eviction from North Waziristan (The News [Islamabad], November 12, 2006). Because of their interference in the local affairs of the territory, Central Asian militants are now compelled to stay in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan, where they have the support of a local militant group led by Maulvi Manzoor Dawar. North Waziristan elders report that General Mehmood told elders of the Utmanzai Wazirs and Dawars that military action will be taken if the two tribes didn’t move against the foreign militants (Daily Times, August 18).

Though members of militant groups in tribal areas have almost the same anti-U.S. and pro-al-Qaeda worldview, they are not especially disciplined when it comes to tribal matters. Pakistan’s military is trying to exploit the tribal nature of Taliban militant groups operating in North Waziristan and South Waziristan. This characteristic has become apparent many times, especially when Bahadur-led militants warned the Mahsud-led Taliban in neighboring South Waziristan not to launch attacks against the Pakistan security forces and formed an anti-TTP coalition based on tribal rivalries with the Mahsuds. [8] Pakistan military officers in the region are encouraging the tribes of North Waziristan to follow the example of the Ahemdzai Wazir tribes and have announced their support of such actions. However, the situation is quite different from South Waziristan, where local Ahmadzai tribes stood united behind Maulvi Nazir. The North Waziristan situation is complicated by a lack of tribal unity. An offer of money from al-Qaeda or other sources can obstruct such uprisings in North Waziristan. As there is no consensus yet for the launch of a united front against the foreign militants as well as the TTP’s Mahsud militants, the Pakistani military is likely to assign the mission of uniting the Utmanzai Wazir and Dawar tribes to Bahadur (Daily Times, August 18).

A tribal  uprising against foreign militants in North Waziristan at the behest of the Pakistani military will not only help in flushing out the foreign militants from the territory but will also maximize the disunity among the militants and put pressure on the Mahsud militants of the TTP.  However, the Haqqani Network and al-Qaeda will obviously try to obstruct the government’s plan to incite tribal rebellion against foreign militants.



1. Telephone interview with an elder of Ahmadzai sub-tribe, August 26, 2011; see also Terrorism Monitor, January 14, 2008.

2. Telephone interview with Ahmed Wali, a senior journalist and researcher, August 28, 2011.

3. Telephone interview with Bannu-based journalists who wished not to be named, August 26, 2011.

4. Telephone interview with an elder of the Utmanzai sub-tribe, August 26, 2011.

5. Telephone interview with Bannu-based journalists, August 26, 2011.

6. Telephone interview with Abdullah Khan, director of Conflict Monitoring Center, Islamabad, August 22, 2011.

7. Telephone interview with an elder of Utmanzai sub-tribe, August 26, 2011.

8. Telephone interview with Bannu-based journalists, August 26, 2011.