“North Waziristan Businessman condemns new military operation, warns of repeat devastation”

  • “Military operations are not aimed at terrorists; they are meant to steal our businesses and property.”

PESHAWAR,Pakistan, July 4 — Sanaullah, a businessman in northwestern Pakistan, opposes a new military operation that Islamabad claims is essential to counter the rising tide of terrorism in the country.

Sanaullah, who goes by only one name, leads a local traders’ organization in Miran Shah, the administrative center of North Waziristan, a mountainous district in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province bordering Afghanistan.

For Sanaullah, a previous military offensive was a personal tragedy. In June 2014, the Pakistani military launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb to target militants hiding in North Waziristan. As a result, he lost both his food store and his home.

“It was not an operation against terrorists,” Sanaullah said, “but a scheme to rob us of our businesses, houses, and belongings.”

He recalls returning to Miran Shah in August 2014, two months after the military forced him and hundreds of thousands of North Waziristan residents to relocate to the neighboring district of Bannu.

“My shop and the market it was situated in were razed to the ground,” he said. “My house, too, was destroyed.”

While the military claims fighting caused the damage, locals still don’t know if their markets and houses were destroyed in ground battles, air strikes, or simply demolished after being ransacked.

Minimal Compensation

Now, 10 years later, Sanaullah has rebuilt his business, but the journey has been challenging. The government has offered him only the equivalent of $5,000 in compensation for losses he said exceeded $100,000.

“We are not supporters of terrorists, but we fear that the planned operation will only rob us again,” he said.

Sanaullah is not alone. Most political parties, businesspeople, tribal leaders, and activists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa oppose Operation Azm-e-Istehkam, which the federal government approved on June 22.

Since 2003, more than 80,000 civilians, soldiers, and militants have been killed in terrorist attacks and military counterterrorism operations across Pakistan. Ethnic Pashtun residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa constitute the largest number of those killed and injured. Military operations have also displaced more than 6 million Pashtuns, and thousands have disappeared.

The provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, headed by the opposition Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) political party, is also against the new military operation and has worked to unite political and tribal leaders in their opposition.

Most of Pakistan’s counterterrorism operations between 2003 and 2014 were linked to the U.S.-led global war on terrorism. It pitted Washington and the Pakistani military against Al-Qaeda and various Pakistani militant groups. Islamabad broadly spared the Afghan Taliban.

Instead of supporting U.S. anti-terror goals, Pakistani politicians have said the latest operation is part of Islamabad’s efforts to protect multibillion-dollar Chinese investments. When Pakistani leaders visited China in June, Beijing reiterated its demand that Islamabad improve security for Chinese projects.

In 2014, Beijing unveiled an ambitious project to link its western Xinjiang region to Pakistan’s southern Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

But since 2018, security concerns, political unrest, and the faltering economy have stalled the more than $62 billion investment initiative, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

China is now demanding foolproof security for tens of thousands of its workers before reviving CPEC or committing to new investments in cash-strapped Pakistan.

Since 2004, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a radical Islamist group designated as a terrorist organization by Washington; Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), the Afghanistan branch of the Islamic State extremist group; and secular ethnic Baluch separatists have targeted Chinese workers, killing dozens. In May, a suicide bombing attack killed five Chinese workers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Alamzaib Khan Mehsud, a political activist in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s South Waziristan district, said residents of the province believe Islamabad’s counterterrorism operations were fundamentally geared toward profiteering rather than fighting terrorism.

Civilians flee the fighting in North Waziristan in 2014.
Civilians flee the fighting in North Waziristan in 2014.

Mehsud and other critics allege Islamabad’s counterterrorism approach was focused on ensuring the country continued to receive aid dollars in return for token counterterrorism operations, which failed to eliminate major militant organizations. Pakistan received more than $20 billion in military assistance and civilian aid from Washington between 2001 and 2021.

“Times have changed, but the government’s approach to counterterrorism remains the same,” he said. “People are afraid that the new offensive will not achieve anything against the militants but only harm civilians.”

Since 2018, the 33-year-old activist has repeatedly been arrested for protesting unlawful killings and forced disappearances amid Pakistani counterterrorism campaigns.

Mounting Criticism

Earlier this year, Alamzaib Khan Mehsud accompanied a delegation of tribal leaders from his Mehsud tribe, who traveled to the capital, Islamabad, to ask for compensation for military operation-related losses. In 2009, a large military offensive displaced an estimated 500,000 Mehsud tribespeople from South Waziristan for over six years.

“We were listened to, and senior officials promised to help, but concrete assistance has been scarce,” he said.

Mounting criticism forced Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s office to declare that the new operation will not require massive population displacements, because it will consist of small, targeted raids.

Elders in Bannu, northwest Pakistan, gathered on June 21 to demand the government restore security in the city and surrounding districts.
Elders in Bannu, northwest Pakistan, gathered on June 21 to demand the government restore security in the city and surrounding districts.

“Based on intelligence, [Operation] Azm-e Istehkam will further mobilize armed operations to eradicate violent extremism in the country decisively,” said a June 22 statement from the prime minister’s office.

On July 1, the Pakistani military said it killed nine “terrorists” in two separate operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and was “determined to wipe out the menace of terrorism from the country.”

In Islamabad, Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud, the director of news at the Khorasan Diary, a website tracking militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said opposition to the new offensive is “unprecedented.”

Mehsud, who is not related to Alamzaib Khan Mehsud, said many residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been traumatized by the previous military operations.

“There is a tremendous trust deficit between the people and the government over counterterrorism operations,” he said. “Civilians incurred extensive damages, but the militants always survived and returned.”

In Miran Shah, businessman Sanaullah said residents of North Waziristan will not allow yet another military operation in their homeland.

“They will have to kill us before imposing another operation on us,” he said.



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