By Kamran Wazir
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has extended its drone strike campaign from FATA into mainland Pakistan and for the first time a drone strike is carried out in a settled district of Khyber Pakhtunkha province. On November 21, 2013, at around 5 am in the morning an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV/drone) fired three missiles at madrassah Mifta-ul-Quran in Tondoro muhalla (locality) of Thall city in Hangu district of Khyber Pakhtunkha and killed at least six people. This was for the first time that a drone strike was observed in a settled district (mainland Pakistan) outside FATA. In the past few drone strikes were in Frontier Region (Generally called FR) Bannu but that is actually part of FATA. The attack on Thursday killed Haqqani Network’s one of the most senior commanders Maulana Ahmad Jan who was shadow governor of Emarat-e-Islami Afghanistan (Taliban) Paktia province as well as their finance minister. This was another blow to Haqqani Network after assassination of Dr. Naseer-ud-Din Haqqani who was shot dead in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad. Sangeen Zadran was another senior commander of Haqqanis who was eliminated in a drone strikes earlier this year.
All those killed in Thursday attack were Ulama (religious scholars). Here is the list of those who were killed by the CIA on November 21, 2013.
1. Maulana Ahmad Jan (Afghan National, shadow governor of Paktia, Finance Minister of Emara-e-Islami Afghanistan) مولانا احمد جان
2. Maulana Hameedullah (Afghan National) مولانا حمید اللہ
3. Maulana Gul Marjan (Afghan National) مولانا گل مرجان
4. Maulana Noor Wali (Afghan National)مولانا نور ولی
5. Maulana Abdur Rehman r/o Dovaba area of Hangu district KPK, Pakistan مولانا عبدالرحمن
6. Not know to CMC sources so far.
At least eight people were also injured in the strike according to media reports.
The strike took place within 24 hours of assurance given by Pakistan’s National Security and Foreign Affairs advisor Sirtaj Aziz that U.S. will suspend drone attacks during peace talks with Pakistani Taliban. According to sources, Haqqani Network had played an important role in mediating between government of Pakistan and TTP. Senior Haqqani network commander Dr. Naseer was thought to be a bridge between government and Taliban. It is believed in Islamabad that the CIA is involved in the assassination of Jalaluddin Haqqanis son. Nexus between Afghan intelligence and TTP’s new chief Moulana Fazlullah was allegedly used for the task. Thursday’s drone attack will further hamper government’s efforts to bring Taliban to negotiation table. Targeting Haqqanis mean destroying the bridge between government and TTP.
The next phase of U.S. war in the region will be mostly based upon drone attacks and the attack in mainland Pakistan can be start of that campaign. It is yet to be seen how Pakistan reacts to the strike outside FATA. So far, the reaction was a routine statement by foreign office spokesman who condemned the attack and termed it violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty without highlighting the significance of the strike outside FATA. In principle, if a drone attack can be carried out in Hangu then who will stop CIA from repeating the same in Quetta or anywhere in Pakistan?
Consistent attacks by CIA on Haqqani Network in recent months show that apparently U.S. has dumped Doha initiative and decided to work with Kabul administration instead of bypassing it to strike a deal with Emarat-e-Islami (Afghan insurgents). First-ever drone strike in a settled district in Pakistan carried out when U.S. has finalized a post withdrawal deal with Afghanistan. This can be an indication of the impact of the deal on Pakistan.
Kamran Wazir is a field contributor and researcher with The Conflict Monitoring Center based in Peshawar