Pakistan Army artillery pieces in use during Operation Rah-e-Nijat (Photo available at

February 22, 2010

The FATA Conflict after South Waziristan: Pakistan's War against Militants Continues in Orakzai, Kurram, Bajaur, and North Waziristan


The Pakistani military launched its much-anticipated operation against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the Mehsud tribal areas of South Waziristan agency on October 17, 2009. The initial phase of the operation, codenamed Rah-e-Nijat (Path to Deliverance), reached completion ahead of schedule. Since the end of November, violence in the area once heralded as the epicenter of terror in Pakistan has been sporadic and limited. Military activity elsewhere in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), however, has significantly increased.

Even as TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud was dying from wounds sustained in a January drone strike, Pakistani forces were conducting military operations in Orakzai, Kurram, and Bajaur agencies of the FATA. They have also been unusually active in North Waziristan, the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda stronghold. All four of these areas lie close to Afghanistan in Pakistan’s northwest.

The key to understanding the military’s actions in the northwestern tribal areas throughout 2009 and into 2010 is that the Pakistani government and military leadership have exhibited a revolution in their strength of purpose to defeat the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan, which they have come to see as a genuine mortal threat to the state. Militancy in Pakistan suffered a public relations disaster during the TTP’s reign in the wider Swat region. The resulting sea change in public opinion toward the Pakistani Taliban gave the Pakistani military the opportunity it needed to conduct a comprehensive campaign against the militants in Swat and win. The military’s morale was further buoyed after this success in Swat and by the killing of Beitullah Mehsud in a drone attack in August 2009. Such momentum bolstered support for another broad operation into South Waziristan, the TTP’s home territory.

Several objectives are driving Pakistani military involvement in the FATA areas beyond South Waziristan:

  • The military, through a protracted learning-by-doing process, has settled on a model of counterinsurgency it believes effective. It is applying the model to parts of the northwest beset by militant activity, such as Bajaur, which is experiencing a TTP resurgence; Kurram, which has been ridden by sectarian conflict for years; and Orakzai, which seems to be becoming the new center of gravity for the TTP’s leadership. These operations aim to bring peace to the FATA and end the TTP insurgency once and for all.

  • Despite overrunning TTP strongholds and successfully occupying South Waziristan, the military failed to capture or kill any significant portion of the organization or its leadership, which dispersed to North Waziristan, Kurram, and Orakzai agencies. Operations in these areas endeavor to decapitate TTP leadership and end the possibility of TTP resurgence elsewhere.

  • Following the appointment of Hakimullah Mehsud as head of the TTP, militants launched (and continue to launch) a plethora of spectacular and extremely brutal attacks all across the country. According to information received by the Pakistani government, Taliban factions based in Orakzai were responsible for 90 percent of the attacks. The military also learned of the high degree of cooperation between FATA-based Taliban and other sectarian and anti-state terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Muhammad, which are responsible for many of the most high-profile attacks conducted outside the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). Operations underway aim to stem the tide of terrorist attacks against government and civilian targets by disrupting and destroying the groups responsible and by denying those groups the space and infrastructure necessary to plan and train for future attacks.

  • In several of the FATA agencies, local tribes have chosen to form tribal militias (lashkars) and rise up against Taliban militants in their areas. The Taliban often target these tribes for supporting the government. The military hopes to encourage such uprisings against the Taliban among other tribes by providing assistance to those tribes that have demonstrated concrete support for the government.

The following report summarizes and examines the conduct of recent and ongoing Pakistani military operations in Orakzai, Kurram, Bajaur, and North Waziristan agencies and highlights the strategic importance of each in the larger war against militancy in Pakistan’s northwest.

Key Points
  • The Pakistani government and military leadership have come to see the Taliban insurgency in Pakistan as a mortal threat to the state.

  • In recent months, the military has built upon the momentum it achieved from its success in Swat and South Waziristan and the increasing unpopularity of the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) in Pakistan by expanding its fight against militants to other parts of the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas).

  • The military has settled on a preferred counterinsurgency model of “clear, hold, build, and transfer” and is implementing this strategy in various stages across the FATA.

  • Military operations across the FATA aim to:

    • Target and disrupt the leadership of the TTP

    • Interdict the TTP’s ability to plan, prepare and launch terrorist attacks against the state

    • Facilitate local tribal uprisings against the TTP

    • End the TTP insurgency in the FATA and in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP)

  • The key factor determining long-term success against the TTP will be whether the Pakistani military sustains the post-conflict phase of operations in a focused manner and whether or not the military incentivizes and empowers locals to resist renewed Taliban encroachment.

See full report here.