The Taliban’s Turf War in South Waziristan

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 4 Issue: 9

A deadly split has opened between the native Pashtun Taliban and non-native al-Qaeda-linked Uzbek militants in South Waziristan, a tribal agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. More than 200 Uzbeks have thus far been killed since the outbreak of fighting on March 19 (Dawn, April 5). On April 6, the government claimed to have cleared the area of Uzbek militants, who were holed up in the military bunkers that government troops left behind after a peace deal with the Taliban in 2005 (Dawn, April 6). Musharraf’s regime flaunts this conflict as “the success of the peace deals” it has reached with the Taliban (Dawn, April 5). Informed sources in the region, however, reject the government’s claims. “All that is happening [in South Waziristan] has little to do with the government…that has shown remarkable ignorance of tribal history” (Dawn, April 5).

In fact, the conflict between the Taliban and Uzbek militants is a turf war that began to brew soon after the Taliban’s victory over government troops in neighboring North Waziristan, which forced Musharraf to conclude a humiliating peace deal on September 5, 2006, and withdraw his troops into their traditional forts kept there since the days of the British Raj (Terrorism Monitor, October 5, 2006). Similar peace pacts that were signed in 2004 and 2005 with the Taliban in South Waziristan have led to the withdrawal of government troops from the area. Having bagged these military victories, the Taliban went on to declare the entire region—North and South Waziristan Agencies—as the “Islamic Emirate of Waziristan” (Terrorism Monitor, October 5, 2006). They have since turned the Emirate into their strategic operational base and the key staging post to mount armed attacks into Afghanistan.

The purported key feature of the September 5 peace deal was to prevent the Taliban’s infiltration from North Waziristan into Afghanistan, yet since the signing the number of cross-border attacks has increased. Islamabad claimed that it had “established around 1,000 check-posts on the Afghan border to stop any infiltration” (The Nation, April 6). Instead, these check-posts have become the Taliban’s pit stop on their way to jihad in Afghanistan. The troops that man the “check-posts” are helping the Taliban to cross into Afghanistan as part of Musharraf’s plan to “resume aiding the reconstituted Taliban in their campaign to oust [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai” (Daily Times, April 5). This aid resumption is based on the conclusion of Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency that “NATO is losing ground to resurgent and rejuvenated Taliban” and that “the NATO consensus on Afghanistan will not long survive a U.S. defeat in Iraq and/or U.S. hostilities against Iran” (Daily Times, April 5).

The Taliban are reciprocating to Musharraf’s cooperative framework. They are preventing Islamabad-hostile forces, in their midst, from mounting attacks inside Pakistan in order to exclusively concentrate on their jihad in Afghanistan (Dawn, April 5). It is this Afghanistan-specific Taliban focus that has divided them from their Uzbek allies. Uzbeks were, however, more interested in the “jihad against hypocrites” (i.e., Musharraf’s regime) than “jihad against infidels” (i.e., NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan) (Dawn, April 5). The Taliban wanted them to reverse their priorities, which they refused.

Infuriated, the Taliban deposed its powerful South Waziristan commander, Maulvi Omar, who was hosting the Uzbeks in the area and backing their jihad against Pakistan. Omar also had his own ax to grind in fighting Pakistan. His predecessor, Commander Nek Mohammed, was his close relative, who was killed in an air strike in 2004 after signing a peace deal with Islamabad. Omar and his powerful Yargulkhel sub-clan of Ahmadzai Wazir tribe wanted to avenge Nek Mohammad’s killing. Omar’s replacement, Maulvi Nazir, who is an Ahmadzai Wazir, but belongs to its weak sub-clan of Ghulamkhel, began to assert his authority with the full backing of the Taliban from across the Durand Line. He was, however, defied by Uzbeks and their native Yargulkhel supporters. Maulvi Nazir, in a widely distributed pamphlet, discredited the Uzbek leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tahir Yuldashev, as “the agent of the CIA, KGB and Mossad,” and declared war on him and his supporters (Dawn, April 4).

The Pashtun Taliban, with the military support of Islamabad, is bound to emerge stronger than ever. This is certainly not good news for Karzai, who once again has accused Pakistan of harboring the Taliban’s founding leader Mullah Omar, or for U.S. and NATO troops that are bracing for the Taliban’s spring offensive (Gulf Times, April 4).