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An ally’s blow

So Mullah Nazir is dead, killed in a US drone strike on January 2, in the region of Angoor Adda, South Waziristan.

And although the Foreign Office can’t confirm his death, one doesn’t really need confirmation by them, since the news was broadcast in all mosques in his hometown of Wana.

Mullah Nazir was a top-tier Taliban commander. However, for Pakistan and the United States, his status was very different. Nazir, along with Hafiz Gul Bahadur, was part of the ‘good’ Taliban, those terrorists who were focused on jihad against the United States in Afghanistan and were not attacking Pakistan.

Far from attacking the state, Nazir had a peace agreement with Pakistan since 2007, which allowed the execution of a large-scale military operation against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the latter part of 2009.

He was also instrumental in fighting against, and eventually expelling, the highly unpopular Uzbek militants from South Waziristan. Although these Uzbeks then went into Orakzai and Kurram and wreaked havoc there, but that’s another story.

In short, Pakistan’s peace with Nazir allowed it to put pressure on the TTP. Again, whether this pressure was sustained over a long period is debatable, at best. But the tool was there.

For the US, Nazir was as bad as bad gets. This was the third attempt on his life by the US, after 2008 and 2011. After all, he was responsible for orchestrating attacks against US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Some say he was also responsible for bringing in the Punjabi Taliban into the Afghan jihad circa 2009-2010. So the US finally managed to take him out.

For Pakistan, Nazir’s death is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, his death may allow the TTP to re-establish itself in those parts of South Waziristan which were previously dominated by Nazir and his tribe.

The operational and logistical difficulties the TTP may have faced by having Nazir and his gang in South Waziristan will also disappear, and the TTP may also be able to exert its influence on his faction and pressure them into revisiting their peace agreement with Pakistan.

Then there’s Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan. It is quite possible that he is not sleeping very well these days. Nazir’s death may well lead him to question his relationship with the state, since everyone believes that these drone strikes have Pakistan’s stamp of approval.

Nazir’s death could also become a catalyst, brining the factions headed by Hakimullah, Gul Bahadur and Nazir closer together. On the other hand, how would Pakistan have washed its hands of Nazir and his cronies after the US drawdown in 2014?

What would these militants do once the jihad was over? I find it hard to believe that they would reintegrate back into normal society and become cobblers, taxi drivers, and the like. How would the state have dealt with him then, since, in all probability, Nazir would not easily let go of his powers and accept the writ of the state? So with him being droned, Pakistan has probably been saved from a headache post-2014.

Hafiz Gul Bahadur is next. And if he goes, and I suppose eventually he will, the TTP will virtually get a free hand in his area as well. This does not bode well for Pakistan, since the TTP has one enemy and one target: Pakistan.

Of late, the TTP has also displayed new fangs, striking targets at will deep inside the state’s urban centres and military installations in highly complex operations, which are the modus operandi of Al-Qaeda.

The US killing Nazir in a drone strike makes sense for them, but not necessarily for us. His death has thrown a spanner, albeit small, in our plans, and the fallout could go either way for Pakistan.

The state must be wary of all this, and act accordingly, since these stopgap peace agreements with the likes of Nazir and Gul Bahadur were never meant to last. And with the US doing what it can to hurt the jihadists’ efforts vis-a-vis Afghanistan, they are bound to have an adverse affect on Pakistan.

The writer is the chief operating officer of an FM radio network and tweets @aasimzkhan

Aasim Zafar Khan, "An ally’s blow," The News. 2013-01-10.