Pakistan's Push to Clear the Waziristans

A Majeed / AFP-Getty Images

Under intense U.S. pressure to drive deeper into the jihadist havens of North and South Waziristan, Pakistan is trying to clear the area its own way. The country's military chiefs dread the losses their troops would suffer against entrenched militants in the tribal badlands, but something has to be done, if only to stop the erosion of public support for the government. While American drone attacks have been effective in killing dozens of militants, many Pakistanis deeply resent the strikes as an affront to Pakistani sovereignty, and they despise their government for allowing them.

Priority No. 1 in South Waziristan is the bloodthirsty Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, whose guerrillas and suicide bombers use the region as a staging area for attacks on both U.S. and Pakistani targets. Two Pakistani tribal and two Afghan Taliban sources, who asked not to be named for safety's sake, say Islamabad has turned to Mullah Nazir, a powerful Waziri tribal warlord who fights U.S. troops inside Afghanistan but (unlike Mehsud) maintains a peace deal with Pakistani security forces. Recently, a council of tribal elders led by Nazir issued a firm June 12 deadline for Mehsud's men to get out, saying they endangered everyone around them by attracting U.S. drone strikes. In the past, Nazir and his fighters have been known to have killed scores of Uzbek jihadists who ignored similar warnings. As of June 18, there was no word on whether Mehsud's men had taken the hint.

North Waziristan poses a different problem. Pakistan's security chiefs have been close friends with Jalaluddin Haqqani since his days as a mujahedin leader in the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Now his son Sirajuddin runs one of Afghanistan's most effective insurgent groups from his stronghold in North Waziristan—and the Americans want him gone. (A much-publicized report from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government alleges that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate maintains a close and continued collaboration with the Haqqanis and other Taliban militants—a longstanding charge that Pakistan denies.)

Pakistan has implored Haqqani to take his men home to Afghanistan, say the two Afghan Taliban sources, and at least some have made the move—although no one is saying how many, or whether Pakistan's pleadings had anything to do with it. Three of Sirajuddin's brothers are now leading anti-U.S. operations inside Afghanistan, the sources say. "Siraj is well hidden and is directing the offensive inside Afghanistan," says a senior Afghan Taliban intelligence officer. "But it's not possible for him to move the entire network into Afghanistan, no matter what the Pakistanis say."