Pakistan's new operation against ETIM militants

By Sajjad Malik
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 18, 2014
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Pakistan has finally launched a major operation, backed by ground troops and the air force, against local and foreign militants hiding in its northwestern semi autonomous tribal area of North Waziristan. The region lying on the border with Afghanistan had earned global notoriety for being a hotbed of militants from different countries. These rebels took advantage of relaxed local customs and exploited the regional anti U.S. sentiments after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and developed an extensive network of trans-regional militancy, creating domestic and international problems for Pakistan.

According to various reports, the local and foreign militants worked in close support of al-Qaeda, which provided the ideological umbrella as well as training and occasional monetary support to these groups.

Foreigners were from different countries and regions. Most of them were from neighboring Afghanistan, and were organized as the feared Haqqani network under the leadership of Afghan jehadi leader Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of aging Jalaluddin Haqqani who fought against the Soviet forces in 1980s in Afghanistan. The Arab fighters were more distinguished and came from the Middle Eastern countries. Several of them were senior al-Qaeda leaders and a number of them were killed by U.S. drone attacks. There were also Western jehadis from Germany, the United States, U.K. and other countries. The feared Uzbeks fighters were organized as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). They had crossed into the region from Afghanistan after 2001, as they could not go back to Uzbekistan, where President Islam Karimov had taken punitive action against them for challenging his authority.

A strong group of militants settled in North Waziristan was from Chinese Muslim region of Xinjiang. They were grouped as East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). The group was set up by Uygur Muslims in western China to fight for a separate country. The exact strength of its members in the North Waziristan was not known but their presence had been confirmed by the army after the operation. Spokesman of the Pakistan army Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa said on Monday, the second day of operation, that jet aircraft precise strikes in Degan-Boya area of North Wazirastan were very successful, and killed 140 terrorists. "Many ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement) terrorists and their affiliates have also been killed in the strikes. It was a massive blow to the terrorists and one of their main communication centers has been dismantled," he said.

The army killed at least 177 militants of local and foreign origin in the first two days of fighting. It is believed that more foreigners have been killed in the attacks so far than locals. Pakistan has also asked Afghanistan to deploy troops on its side of the border to straddle the militants trying to escape into its territory by taking advantage of the porous border.

The North Waziristan operation is a major blow to the militants and global jehadi elements as it will deprive them one of the oldest sanctuary, where they lived, trained and planned attacks in Pakistan and in the neighboring countries. The elimination of ETIM militants will also ease pressure on China which is also fighting Uygur Muslim rebels in its region. In fact China had urged Pakistan to control these militants through diplomatic channels but Pakistan has some logistic and tactical issues to settle before launching such an important but difficult operation.

This is just beginning of a military offensive, which may take a few weeks, but Pakistan needs international and regional support in its fight against militants who pose a threat to the entire region. The operation was long overdue. It is a welcome sign that Pakistan is on the offensive against the rebels when in countries like Iraq and Syria, the government forces are struggling to contain the Islamist insurgencies.

The writer is a Pakistani analyst and journalist

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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