ISLAMABAD – More details are emerging on the nature of strikes Pakistan Army did inside the Afghan territory – after the terrorist attack against the Sufi Shrine, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in city of Sehwan Sharif, in Sindh- in which almost 100 people died.
Initial reports poured in to international news agencies through Afghan police sources who reported intense shelling from across the border. Now it appears that four camps of Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, an offshoot of TTP (Pakistani Taliban, now operating from Afghan territory) were targeted in the strikes across the border of Pakistan’s Khyber and Mohmand tribal agencies. And several members of the Al Ahrar group, including its deputy chief, Adil Bacha, have died in these attacks.
Border Raids, Not Surgical Strikes
Pakistan’s new Army Chief was quick and decisive with his response. Before the Pakistan army raids across Afghan border, Pakistan’s COAS, Gen. Bajwa spoke at length with Gen. Nicholson, top US Commander of the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan.
Pakistani army sources clarify these attacks were not surgical strikes but intense, intelligence lead, targeted shelling on the camps that were visible from across the Pakistan border in Khyber and Mohmand tribal agencies. Pakistani forces used heavy weapons and mortar shells to hit several training centres of Omar Khalid Khorasani, the head of the Jamaat-ul Ahrar group. Pakistani authorities had protested to their Afghan counterparts several times on the open defiant presence of these camps, over the past several months. But Afghan authorities had failed to react.
Pakistani Restraint has exhausted: Gen. Bajwa tells Gen. Nicholson
After the terror attack at Sufi Shrine, in Sehwan Sharif, Pakistan’s new Army Chief was quick and decisive with his response. Before the Pakistan army raids across Afghan border, Pakistan’s COAS, Gen. Bajwa spoke at length with Gen. Nicholson, top US Commander of the Resolute Support Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan.
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) February 17, 2017
Apparently Gen. Bajwa made it clear that Pakistan’s patience and its policy of “restraint” has exhausted with the open presence of camps and clandestine activities of Al-Ahrar, a faction of TTP, at the Pak-Afghan border in clear visibility for all sides to see. Army action followed within few hours of this telephonic conversation, adding credibility to the impression that Gen. Nicholson understood Pakistani position.
Gen. Bajwa made it clear that Pakistan’s patience and its policy of “restraint” has exhausted with the open presence of camps and clandestine activities of Al-Ahrar, a faction of TTP, at the Pak-Afghan border in clear visibility for all sides to see.
While Pakistani attacks on the Al-Ahrar came after the suicide terrorism at the Sufi Shrine, in Sindh, but nuclear armed country of 200 million was subjected to series of bomb blasts and suicide attacks over the past one week. These included attack at the several hundred protesting chemists in Lahore, an attack on a judge in Peshawar, attacks on law enforcement agencies in Quetta and Awaran, Baluchistan and in tribal areas. Most of these were claimed by Al-Ahrar or ISIS; both groups operating from sanctuaries inside Afghanistan.
Afghan Govt lacks control on its territory
Army understands that bombings will not finish off the activities of these groups, but pushing them away from border became necessary since they were easily coordinating their activities from there.
Afghan government lacks effective control on most of its territory. Peripheral areas are literally on their own. Pakistani army sources insist that Pakistan could have always retaliated and targeted terror groups operating from inside the Afghan territory. It was never an issue of capacity, however as Gen. Bajwa, reiterated with Gen. Nicholson, Pakistan strictly followed a policy of restraint.
Pakistani army sources claim that TTP groups, working under different names – like Al-Ahrar – have been openly operating from Afghan territory since Operation Zarb-e-Azb launched in early part of 2014 forced these groups out of Pakistani tribal areas (FATA). Army understands that bombings will not finish off the activities of these groups, but pushing them away from border became necessary since they were easily coordinating their activities from there. Once these groups move deeply inside Afghan territory, there can be other limitations and restraints on their activities.
Many Pakistani defense analysts have been arguing on Pakistani TV channels, that instead of border raids into Afghanistan, Pakistan needs to learn machiavellian strategies from India and should employ its own proxy groups against TTP for effective results and plausible deniability. It is however not clear if Pakistani agencies have that kind of influence inside Afghanistan any more.
Army hands over List of 76 to Afghanistan
Earlier Pakistan Army High command called Afghan diplomats to Garrison Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, and handed over a list of 76 TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) leaders that it considers responsible for terrorist attacks inside Pakistan.
Afg Embassy officials called in GHQ. Given list of 76 Ts hiding in Afg. Asked to take immediate action / be handed over to Pakistan.
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) February 17, 2017
These names have not been publicly divulged inside Pakistan but gradually sources within Afghanistan reveal that these include: Khalid Khorasani, Mullah Faizullah and Khalid Sajna among others. Mullah Fazlullah had openly claimed responsibility, in a boastful video, for the worst terrorist attack in Pakistan’s history on Dec 16, 2014 when almost 150 young school children and teachers were killed by the terrorists inside Army Public School Peshawar.
NDS & RAW Nexus behind the TTP/ISIS Groups
Pakistani authorities have repeatedly asserted that such TTP groups enjoy support of elements within Afghan intelligence, NDS (National Directorate of Security). NDS has close links with Indian external agency, RAW. And Indian investments into Afghanistan, since 9/11, have bought Indian agencies deep penetration and influence within the Kabul government. Pakistan thus finds itself sandwiched in a two-front situation; something it had always struggled to avoid.
Combine Operations: 100 suspected terrorists dead
Meanwhile, Pakistan army has also launched “intelligence-based operations” across the country. Media, quoting sources in army, claimed that almost 100 terrorists have died in these operations. This lead to all kinds of speculations regarding the identity of these described as “terrorists”. However a source close to the army explains that the combing operations, were a natural follow up after the tragic terror attack at Sufi Shrine. These intelligence lead operations involved use of “Geo Fencing”, cordon and searches. Initial tips, through Geo-fencing, lead to widening of the searches and challenges. And most deaths have happened in shoot outs, when suspects, under challenge, tried running and escaping from the scene.
Terror Resurgence after Operation Zarb-e-Azb: Difficult and Complex Challenge for Pakistan Army.
Nawaz government is eager to claim credit for Army’s success – as it is doing after the terrorism in Sehwan Sharif and Army’s raid into Afghanistan – yet its ready to shift all blame toward the army on difficult decision making; for instance on India.
Islamabad based defense analysts and retired senior officers argue that this new series of terror attacks represent a very difficult challenge for Pakistan Army and its High Command – which is also responsible for the successful defense of CPEC. Perhaps more difficult than what army high command can afford to admit. Government and media assume that military is automatically responsible for providing protection against all kinds of threats. However government of PM Nawaz Sharif’s attitude towards Army’s needs and professional judgments is influenced by its own narrow political considerations. Nawaz government is eager to claim credit for Army’s success – as it is doing after the terrorism in Sehwan Sharif and Army’s raid into Afghanistan – yet its ready to shift all blame toward the army on difficult decision making; for instance on India.
Nawaz government never allowed Pakistan Army to conduct a clearing operation in Punjab where an intricate nexus exists between criminal elements, Jihadis and political elite in constituency politics. Nawaz Govt failed to capitalize on the arrest of Indian agency’s high profile saboteur, Kulbhashan Yadav, caught from Baluchistan. Recently Dawn Leaks, orchestrated by politicians close to the PM, appeared to be a deliberate attempt to humiliate Pakistan Army and please India.
RAW officer, during his debriefings, apparently admitted to his role of coordination in terrorist attacks across Pakistan, including Shia-Sunni sectarian attacks in Rawalpindi. Giving high international publicity to that case could have exposed Indian designs on Pakistan and would have provided a negotiation plank with Indian government. But Nawaz Sharif regime is seen soft on India, eager to court Indian PM, Narendra Modi in an apparent bid to obtain US and UK backing for its foreign policy of engagement with India. But if Indian agencies stand behind the terror networks operating from Afghanistan – as is becoming increasingly clear and as every institution in Pakistan believes – then without taking a strong public position towards India such terrorism, across Pakistan, will not be defeated.
Moeed Pirzada is a prominent TV Anchor and columnist. He studied International Relations at Columbia Univ, New York and was Brittania Chevening Scholar at London School of Economics & Political Science. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.