ISLAMABAD - Based on a border-centric approach in the wake of repeated cross-border incursions allegedly from the Afghan side, the threat perception in Dir region did not recognise a greater danger from the local militants, to bring an ‘angered surprise’ to the military in the form of Upper Dir attack.
Corresponding to this development, the military has moved to attune its operational priorities in the region accordingly following the brazen Taliban attack that claimed the lives of three military men including a general.
Preparations for a targeted action against the TTP in Upper Dir are being given final touches. Reportedly, the charge of General Officer Commanding (GOC) 17 Infantry Division has been assigned to GOC 19 Infantry Division Major General Ghulam Qamar till a regular GOC is appointed at the 17 Division. Both 17 and 19 Divisions are based in Swat and Malakand Division. Qamar may lead the targeted operation in Upper Dir expected this week as the search operations preparatory to the targeted action are already being carried out.
The operation could be stretched to Lower Dir, if required, the military officials said.
The event has put the fate of ‘peace talks’ with the militants under dark clouds after the disinterest shown on part of the terrorists has manifested itself in the killings of six Pakistan Army men in four attacks since Saturday night. These attacks took place in Bannu, North Waziristan and finally in Upper Dir.
According to intelligence sources, Major General Sanaullah Khan, GOC 17 Infantry Division, who was targeted by Tehereek-e-Taliban Pakistan on his way back from Upper Dir, had visited the bordering district to check operational preparedness to counter cross-border incursions, primarily.
The slain general had reportedly visited border coordinates and military check posts at Maidan, Shaltalo, Barawal, and Usherai Darra, the four villages of Upper Dir districts that have faced maximum cross-border attacks allegedly from the Afghanistan’s Nuristan and Kunar provinces.
“The home-grown militancy did not pose a greater threat in Dir region, especially in the Upper Dir. The security situation is greatly under control there. An assault from the local militants was something less anticipated, therefore,” stated a credible source who once remained part of counter-terrorism wing at the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
“In comparison with other areas located at the borderlands (Pak-Afghan border), the security situation is much improved and conveniently manageable in Upper Dir,” the official said to term the Sunday attack an ‘angry surprise.’
“It was more of an angry surprise. One could not see it coming from the local terrorists in a region like Upper Dir. But it’s different when you talk about Kurram,” the insider referred to the ongoing targeted action in the nearby Kurram Agency against the TTP.
The security situation in Upper Dir had improved significantly since 2009 following the arrest of Maulvi Sufi Muhammad, the head of banned Tehreek Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi, (TNSM) from his native village Maidan in Upper Dir. However, repeated cross-border incursions, allegedly by the Afghan Taliban, in Chitral, Upper and Lower Dir that started in 2011 and continued till earlier this year prompted Pakistan Army to move additional troops.
In September 2011, the military troops from the 19 Div were moved to Drosh and Mirkhani in Chitral and Maidan in Upper Dir to counter the alleged cross-border attacks.
In June 2012, Pakistan Army had alleged that Afghan Taliban had attacked Upper Dir and captured 11 Pakistani soldiers, seven of whom were beheaded. Following this, the military, in addition to increasing surveillance at the borderlands, raised peace militias (lashkars) in Chitral, Upper and Lower Dir to stop these attacks
In a visit to Upper Dir and subsequent meetings with the tribal chieftains in July last year, Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had announced that military troops would stay there to keep a check on the cross-border attacks.
Moreover, in response to the TTP-waged recent deadly attacks, the COAS has reiterated that military would not budge before terrorism and it would not allow the terrorists take advantage of the peace process.