Drone Kills Top Taliban Commander Maulvi Nazir

January 4, 2013

Maulvi Nazir speaks during a news conference in Wana, South Waziristan in 2007 (Reuters)

A U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s South Waziristan agency killed senior Taliban commander Maulvi Nazir on January 2, 2013. Nazir’s death is significant and represents the biggest shake up of the Pakistani Taliban’s leadership in years. His death may also negatively affect Pakistan’s war against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the principal enemy of the state.

Killed on the Third Try

According to some reports, Maulvi Nazir was driving on the night of January 2 from Birmal village in South Waziristan agency to Wana, the agency headquarters, when his vehicle developed a fault.[1] Nazir was changing vehicles in Sara Kanda when a U.S. drone struck his vehicle, killing him and between five and nine of his companions.[2] Nazir’s deputy, Rata Khan was also killed in the strike, as were two other deputies, Attaullah and Rafey Khan, according to one report.[3] Differing accounts claim Nazir was killed in a strike on a house in Angoor Adda, a town straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.[4]

News of Nazir’s death was spread over mosque megaphones in Wana, and the main Wana bazaar was shut down. Nazir was buried on January 3 in the nearby town of Azam Warsak where as many as 10,000 people reportedly attended his funeral.[5]

Nazir had previously survived two other drone strikes, one in January 2008 in which he was wounded and one in October 2011 in which his younger brother and a deputy were killed. Nazir was also wounded in a suicide bombing on November 29, 2012 in an attack believed to have been planned by Hakimullah Mehsud’s TTP.[6]

Implications for the U.S. and Pakistan

Nazir’s death is a victory for the U.S. As one of the most powerful Taliban commanders in South Waziristan, he was responsible for sending fighters and resources to combat coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan.[7] Nazir also reportedly facilitated the infiltration of a large number of “Punjabi” Taliban—Taliban of Pakistani origin—into Afghanistan in 2009-10.[8] Nazir considered himself loyal to Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and was closely allied with the Haqqani Network.[9] He also described himself publicly as a part of the al Qaeda network and expressed adherence with its ideology.[10] In a May 2011 interview, Nazir openly supported then-leader of al Qaeda Osama bin Laden and rejected accusations that he was opposed to the group. Nazir said “Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are one and the same. At an operational level we might have different strategies, but at the policy level we are one and the same.”[11] Pentagon spokesman George Little described Nazir’s death as a “major development,” saying Nazir had “a great deal of blood on his hands.”[12] One U.S. official said “Nazir and his men were directly involved in planning and executing cross-border attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan and in providing protection for Al Qaeda fighters in South Waziristan,” and that “the death of Nazir, along with some of his deputies, could push his network into disarray, degrading Al Qaeda’s access to South Waziristan as a result.”[13]

Nazir’s death is a more complicated matter for the Pakistani state, however. While Nazir was a Taliban commander and allied with elements opposed to the state, he had maintained a peace accord with the Pakistani government since 2007 and was a putative ally in the region.[14] Nazir focused his attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan rather than the Pakistani state and maintained relative peace in areas under his influence in South Waziristan. In 2007, Nazir fought a tribal war and helped the Pakistani government expel ruthless and deeply unpopular Uzbek militants from Wazir tribal areas in South Waziristan.[15] He looked the other way and allowed Pakistani military troops to travel through and operate out of areas under his control during the execution of a large scale military operation against the TTP in October 2009. Nazir continued to permit the presence of thousands of Pakistani soldiers in South Waziristan to the present.

The alliance with Nazir was a double-edged sword for the Pakistani government and, in some ways, his death may be convenient for Islamabad. As the war in Afghanistan draws to a close and coalition forces withdraw by 2014, Nazir would likely not surrender his “local jihadist fief” willingly.[16] His near-total control in Waziri South Waziristan and his links to fighters who would possibly reorient their efforts against Pakistan following the cessation of major fighting in Afghanistan would pose a long-term problem for the state. One Pakistani official said his government would not object to Nazir’s removal from the battlefield because, despite cooperating with the government, he had “aided groups who attack Pakistani troops.”[17]

That said, many in the Pakistani government and military are likely to lament Nazir’s death for the negative impact it may have on their fight against the TTP.[18] Future complications aside, Nazir was an ally who helped the army put pressure on the TTP in South Waziristan. Following a suicide bomb attack on Nazir in November 2012, Nazir ordered all TTP members to leave Wana and Wazir tribal areas in South Waziristan.[19] Nazir fought to keep non-Arab foreign militants out of the region and was also allied with Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the most powerful Pakistani Taliban leader in North Waziristan who is also friendly with the Pakistani state.[20]  Both leaders focused their attacks on Afghanistan rather than against the Pakistani state.

Stirring the Militant Pot

Nazir’s authority and stature in his organization was unquestioned, so his death is likely to cause significant upheaval amongst his Waziri Taliban faction in South Waziristan. The death of up to three of his deputies in the same strike will likely make the succession process harder. While his group was reportedly quick to nominate Bahawal Khan, a close aide of Nazir’s, as his successor, Bahawal is a relatively unknown entity and will struggle to fill Nazir’s unique position in the militant landscape.[21] A militant known as Taj Wazir was named the group’s new deputy chief to replace Rata Khan.[22] The severe upheaval of the group’s leadership may take some of the pressure off of the TTP, provide it with opportunities to strengthen itself vis-à-vis Nazir’s Taliban faction and allow it to bolster and expand its presence back into parts of South Waziristan previously dominated by Nazir.

Nazir’s death may also result in an increase in attacks on Pakistani troops stationed in South Waziristan, both from TTP militants as well as from Nazir supporters who might blame the Pakistani military for his death.[23] Taliban militants in Pakistan believe U.S. drone strikes are only able to take place with the complicity, approval and sometimes cooperation of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services. Suspicion that the strike on Nazir took place with Pakistani approval may prompt Nazir’s fighters to launch retaliatory attacks on the Pakistani state.[24]

The strike may also cause Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan, with whom the Pakistani government has a nearly identical peace deal to the one it maintained with Nazir, to question his own safety and the status of his relationship with the state. While the strike on Nazir is likely to make all factions in question more distrusting in general, it may have the unfortunate effect of bringing Bahadur’s, Nazir’s and Hakimullah Mehsud’s Taliban factions closer together in mutual opposition to the Pakistani state.


[1] “Pakistan militant Mullah Nazir ‘killed in drone attack,’” BBC, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20896755
[2] “Pakistan militant Mullah Nazir ‘killed in drone attack,’” BBC, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20896755
Zahir Shah Sherazi, “Mullah Nazir killed in South Waziristan drone strike: sources,” Dawn, January 3, 2013. Available at http://dawn.com/2013/01/03/drone-strike-kills-four-in-s-waziristan-2/
[3] Zahir Shah Sherazi, “Mullah Nazir killed in South Waziristan drone strike: sources,” Dawn, January 3, 2013. Available at http://dawn.com/2013/01/03/drone-strike-kills-four-in-s-waziristan-2/
“US drone strike kills Mullah Nazir: Sources,” Reuters, January 3, 2013. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/488353/drone-strike-kills-four-in-south-waziristan/
[4] Alex Rodriguez, “U.S. drone strike in northwest Pakistan kills top Taliban commander,” LA Times, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-us-drone-strike-in-northwest-pakistan-kills-top-taliban-commander-20130103,0,2024000.story
[5] Rasool Dawar and Ishtiaq Masood, “Pakistan: US drones kills 13, including commander,” AP, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-us-drone-strike-in-northwest-pakistan-kills-top-taliban-commander-20130103,0,2024000.story
Zahir Shah Sherazi, “Mullah Nazir killed in South Waziristan drone strike: sources,” Dawn, January 3, 2013. Available at http://dawn.com/2013/01/03/drone-strike-kills-four-in-s-waziristan-2/
[6] “Mullah Nazir was in favor of fighting in Afghanistan[translated],” BBC Urdu, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/urdu/pakistan/2013/01/130103_mullah_nazir_profile_sz.shtml
“Drone strike in Waziristan, Mullah Nazir and nine dead [translated],” BBC Urdu, January 2013. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/urdu/pakistan/2013/01/130103_mullah_nazir_drone_attack_zs.shtml
Shaiq Hussain and Haq Nawaz Khan, “Local Pakistani officials: U.S. drone strike kills at least 6, including militant commander,” Washington Post, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/pakistani-officials-say-us-missile-strikes-kill-at-least-6-including-a-top-militant-commander/2013/01/03/fa994042-5582-11e2-bf3e-76c0a789346f_story.html?wprss=rss_asia-pacific
[7] Salman Masood and Ismail Khan, “Drone Kills a Pakistani Militant Behind Attacks on U.S. Forces,” New York Times, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/world/asia/us-drone-strike-is-said-to-kill-a-top-pakistani-militant.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0
[8] “Pakistan militant Mullah Nazir ‘killed in drone attack,’” BBC, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20896755
[9] “Obituary: Mullah Nazir,” BBC, January 3, 2013. Available at “Pakistan militant Mullah Nazir ‘killed in drone attack,’” BBC, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20896839
[10] “Obituary: Mullah Nazir,” BBC, January 3, 2013. Available at “Pakistan militant Mullah Nazir ‘killed in drone attack,’” BBC, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20896839
Syed Saleem Shahzad, “Taliban and al-Qaeda: Friends in arms,” Asia Times Online, May 5, 2011. Available at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/ME05Df02.html
[11] Syed Saleem Shahzad, “Taliban and al-Qaeda: Friends in arms,” Asia Times Online, May 5, 2011. Available at http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/ME05Df02.html
[12] Rebecca Santana and Ishtiaq Ahmed, “US drones kill senior Taliban figure in Pakistan,” AP, January 3, 2013. Available at http://news.yahoo.com/us-drones-kill-senior-taliban-figure-pakistan-173941406.html
[13] Salman Masood and Ismail Khan, “Drone Kills a Pakistani Militant Behind Attacks on U.S. Forces,” New York Times, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/world/asia/us-drone-strike-is-said-to-kill-a-top-pakistani-militant.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0
[14] “Pakistan militant Mullah Nazir ‘killed in drone attack,’” BBC, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20896755
“Obituary: Mullah Nazir,” BBC, January 3, 2013. Available at “Pakistan militant Mullah Nazir ‘killed in drone attack,’” BBC, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20896839
[15] “Pakistan militant Mullah Nazir ‘killed in drone attack,’” BBC, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20896755
[16] Salman Masood and Ismail Khan, “Drone Kills a Pakistani Militant Behind Attacks on U.S. Forces,” New York Times, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/world/asia/us-drone-strike-is-said-to-kill-a-top-pakistani-militant.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0
[17] Rebecca Santana and Ishtiaq Ahmed, “US drones kill senior Taliban figure in Pakistan,” AP, January 3, 2013. Available at http://news.yahoo.com/us-drones-kill-senior-taliban-figure-pakistan-173941406.html
[18] Salman Masood and Ismail Khan, “Drone Kills a Pakistani Militant Behind Attacks on U.S. Forces,” New York Times, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/world/asia/us-drone-strike-is-said-to-kill-a-top-pakistani-militant.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0
[19] Ibid.
[20] Salman Masood and Ismail Khan, “Drone Kills a Pakistani Militant Behind Attacks on U.S. Forces,” New York Times, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/world/asia/us-drone-strike-is-said-to-kill-a-top-pakistani-militant.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0
“Pakistan militant Mullah Nazir ‘killed in drone attack,’” BBC, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20896755
[21] Zahir Shah Sherazi, “Mullah Nazir killed in South Waziristan drone strike: sources,” Dawn, January 3, 2013. Available at http://dawn.com/2013/01/03/drone-strike-kills-four-in-s-waziristan-2/
[22] Ibid.
[23] Salman Masood and Ismail Khan, “Drone Kills a Pakistani Militant Behind Attacks on U.S. Forces,” New York Times, January 3, 2013. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/04/world/asia/us-drone-strike-is-said-to-kill-a-top-pakistani-militant.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0
[24] Ibid.