PESHAWAR - There have been many grounds for Pak Army to hit North Waziristan; however, the attack on Karachi airport by Uzbeks provided the latest reason.
To avoid civilian casualties in a military operation, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, has asked the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) to leave the tribal agency for Afghanistan, according to militants and locals.
Right after attack by Uzbek militants at Karachi International Airport on June 8 that killed 34 people, the fighter jets of the Pakistan Air force (PAF) have started targeting militant hideouts in Khyber Agency and North Waziristan. Due to the shelling and possible military operation, thousands of people have left North Waziristan for safer places.
According to well-placed sources in tribal areas, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the leadership of the Haqqani network have started convincing Usman Ghazi, the head of IMU, to take his fighters across the border into Afghanistan, as the security forces were targeting the whole area due to their presence. Prior to the Karachi incident there were no signs of a full-fledged military operation in North Waziristan. However, after the IMU claimed targeting Karachi airport, the fighter jets started pounding militant hideouts. Even after the Karachi incident, Usman Ghazi vowed to carry out such attacks in the future, too. "It is neither the first one nor the last one," he announced.
The North Waziristan-based militants are of the view that the area is under fire as foreign militants like the Uzbeks and some other 'bad Taliban' are hiding there. "Due to the Uzbek factor, the entire area is in trouble. If the IMU fighters shift across the border into Afghanistan, it will save the locals from destruction," Gul Bahadur and Haqqani network told the Uzbeks, according to sources. However, the local Taliban are convincing the Uzbeks to leave the area peacefully instead of facing forcible eviction.
The Haqqani network has pledged to adjust IMU's hideouts in the northern areas of Afghanistan where the Uzbeks could easily hide due to their ethnic proximity to Uzbekistan. "The Haqqani network has offered its services to help the Uzbek families in northern Afghanistan, where they cannot be identified," revealed Taliban sources, adding that a number of Uzbek fighters have welcomed the offer, however, no formal decision had been made so far.
According to estimates, there are around 1,000 Uzbeks in North Waziristan. Usman Ghazi is leading the Uzbek militants. Some of the Uzbeks have married into the local tribesmen who may prefer Waziristan over going across the border. There are also reports that some of the Uzbek families have already crossed the border into Afghanistan.
The IMU is an Islamic militant group, which was confounded by two Uzbek commanders, Juma Namangani and his deputy Tahir Yuldashev in 1991. The aim of the outfit was to overthrow Uzbekistan's president Islam Karimov and establish Islamic Sharia in the country. The group was mainly operating from the northern parts of Afghanistan that were in the control of Mullah Omar-led Afghan Taliban. Following the 9/11 attacks, the IMU lost its strength while fighting side by side with Afghan Taliban. Juma Namangani was killed and the rest of the fighters were scattered. The remaining Uzbek jihadists rushed to Waziristan where Tahir Yuldashev reunited them. For a long time they were based in Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan, but in March 2007 the local militants flushed them out of their areas and the Uzbeks took shelter in Baitullah Mehsud-controlled areas of the tribal agency. In August 2009 Tahir Yuldashev was killed in a US drone strike and Usman Ghazi took over as the head of IMU.
When a military operation was launched against TTP in South Waziristan in 2009, the Uzbek fighters rushed to North Waziristan; currently they are based in Mir Ali and Miranshah tehsils of the tribal agency. Due to possible military actions they have shifted to Boya.
--The writer is a freelance contributor.