The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan and the Bajaur Tribal Region: The Strategic Threat of Terrorist Sanctuaries

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The Pakistani Tribal Region

            To ensure both clarity and proper depth, the sanctuaries that have been established in the Pakistan tribal regions – The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan and Bajaur – will be the main focus of this paper. In order to analyze the reasons for the development of al-Qaeda’s power in these territories we must deconstruct the series of political and military events that have led to their establishment.

In its initial response to the 9/11 attacks, the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda’s main camps in the country were destroyed, with many members either killed or captured. However, those that did manage to escape traveled to southern Afghanistan where they crossed the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and entered the Federally Administer Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan.[xiv]

Following 9/11, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made the strategic decision to stand aside and allow the United States to destroy the Taliban. In many cases Pakistan assisted in this effort, arresting top al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives.[xv] In the first several years after 9/11 Pakistan continued to assist the United States. However, domestic political constraints, specifically the power of Islamists within the country, severely limited the ability of Musharraf to fully comply with U.S. demands. These constraints were clearly evident as Musharraf was the target of many attempted assassinations during this period.[xvi]

During the winter of 2003-2004 Musharraf, under continued pressure from the U.S., ordered the Pakistan army to engage al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in the FATA.[xvii] In an effort to assist Pakistan, the U.S. supplied financial and military aid, including surveillance radars, night-vision goggles, and transport aircraft and helicopters.[xviii] Over the next two years a series of both hard and soft power measures were undertaken to root out al-Qaeda members inhabiting the region. This included the failed “Shakai agreement” in which a process of reconciliation was attempted whereby militants would be left alone if they agreed to put down their arms and renounce violence.[xix]

By the winter of 2005-2006 events began to turn in al-Qaeda’s favor as both Musharraf’s power and patience grew thin. Following the U.S. Predator Drone strike in Damadola, Osama bin Laden and senior al-Qaeda leadership decided that Pakistan had to be pushed out of the tribal region to ensure their security. To accomplish this, bin Laden called for the consolidation of, “various bases in the shape of small pockets”.[xx] Al-Qaeda and the Taliban proceeded to launch a military offensive against the Pakistan military throughout both North and South Waziristan. By late Spring South Waziristan had fallen. The Pakistan military withdrew and Sharia Islamic law was established.[xxi] Fighting continued in North Waziristan through the summer of 2006, with the Pakistan military taking heavy losses. On September 4, 2006 the Pakistan Government and Taliban officials agreed to the terms of the Waziristan Accord. Part of the agreement called for the complete withdrawal of Pakistani force from Waziristan. In return for agreeing to end the violence, Pakistan also released 130 captured militants, returned captured weapons, and paid “reparations” payments to the families of slain militants. Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders then declared the territory The Islamic Emirate of Waziristan.[xxii] The Accord established an autonomous zone for militants within Waziristan where the Pakistan government no longer maintains control, but which would still be considered part of the sovereign territory of Pakistan.

A similar situation has slowly been unfolding in the Bajaur region. During the winter of 2005-2006 al-Qaeda maintained their command center in the Bajaur town of Shin Kot. Pakistani intelligence sources also believe that al-Qaeda number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is hiding somewhere in the region.[xxiii] Zawahiri was the primary target in both the U.S. Predator strikes in January and October of 2006. Recent reports also indicate that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are close to signing another Accord with the Pakistan government to succeed control of Bajaur.[xxiv]

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