A Dangerous Mix: Militant Groups in North Waziristan
A satellite view of Miram Shah, the headquarters of North Waziristan and home to the Haqqani Network (source: Google Earth Pro)
North Waziristan hosts a blend of insurgents and terrorists operating against Pakistan and Afghanistan, with some also targeting the American homeland. Enemy groups based there include the Haqqani Network, powerful tribal enablers, foreign extremists, and Pakistani Taliban who have been at war with the Pakistani state for much of the past decade. Recent press reports indicate that the Pakistani military may be poised to launch an offensive in North Waziristan of undetermined size and scope. Below is a primer on the main militant groupings in North Waziristan, their respective areas of influence, and their relationship with the Pakistani state and each other.
The Haqqani Network
The Haqqani Network is headquartered in Miram Shah, the capital of North Waziristan. The network’s senior leadership maintains influence throughout Pakistan’s tribal region and often plays a central role in mediating disputes between militant groups and the Pakistani state. The Haqqanis use Miram Shah and the surrounding villages and towns to shelter, plan, train, and equip insurgents fighting ISAF and Afghan forces in Afghanistan’s southeast. The Haqqanis are supported by elements of the Pakistani security establishment (Army and intelligence services) which rely on such “proxy” groups for influence in Afghanistan’s Pashtun-dominated south and east. Despite years of intense international pressure to cease their support for the Haqqanis and actively target the network, the support for the Haqqanis continues.
Hafiz Gul Bahadur
Perhaps the most influential tribal leader in North Waziristan, Gul Bahadur maintains influence in the territory west of Miram Shah, abutting Afghanistan’s southeastern provinces. Commanders loyal to Bahadur also hold sway as far east as Mir Ali, North Waziristan’s second most-populated town. Bahadur is a close ally of the Haqqanis and is rumored to provide resources, shelter, and facilitation for Haqqani Network operations in Afghanistan. Although Bahadur has been allied with militants against the Pakistani state, most notably, Baitullah Mehsud, he has avoided direct confrontation with the Pakistani military since Baitullah’s death.
Pakistani Taliban (Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan or TTP)
The TTP is an alliance of militant groups from Pakistan’s tribal areas that formed in 2007 under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud. The TTP was the target of several large-scale Pakistani military offensives, most notably, in South Waziristan in late 2007. Following the Pakistani Army’s offensive in South Waziristan, much of the TTP’s leadership fled north to neighboring North Waziristan and re-established itself in and around the town of Mir Ali. The TTP remains the most virulent group inside Pakistan and is responsible for most of the violence against the Pakistani state. It maintains close linkages with other militant groups including the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and Punjab-based sectarian outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. The TTP has also targeted U.S. forces in Afghanistan and has launched attacks on the U.S. homeland. It will likely be the main target of Pakistani military operations in North Waziristan.
The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union are two predominately Uzbek militant groups with a presence in North Waziristan. After basing in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the IMU fled to the Waziristans in 2002 after taking heavy casualties during the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Both the IMU and IJU relocated to Mir Ali, North Waziristan by 2009, although the IJU had reportedly been operating there since 2006. Both groups have close ties to al-Qaeda, the TTP, and the Haqqani Network. Both groups have been linked to terror plots in Europe. The planning and training for the execution of these plots are believed to have originated in Mir Ali. Both groups are believed to be enemies of the Pakistani security establishment.
Foreign fighters operating from North Waziristan include, but are not limited to Arabs, Chechens, Uighurs, and Turks affiliated with al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e Taiba, Lashkar-e Jhangvi, Sipah-e Sahaba, and Jaish-e Mohammed. The majority of these individuals operate out of Mir Ali, North Waziristan under the protective umbrella of the Haqqanis, Gul Bahadur, and other influential local militant leaders. Foreign fighters operating in Mir Ali are typically focused on attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Europe, and the United States.