News Column

Drone Strike Kills Top Militant in Pakistan

Jan. 3, 2013

Salman Masood


A U.S. drone strike killed a top Pakistani militant commander in a northwestern tribal region, security officials said on Thursday. The death of Maulvi Nazir was seen as a serious blow to Taliban fighters who attack U.S. and allied forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

The drone strike took place Wednesday night and targeted Mr. Nazir's vehicle in the Angoor Adda area in South Waziristan. Five other people were also killed, including one of his main aides, officials said.

"He has been killed. It is confirmed," said a senior Pakistani intelligence officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The vehicle he was traveling in was hit."

Mr. Nazir was traveling from Birmal to Wana, the main town in South Waziristan, when his vehicle was struck by the drone.

In a separate drone strike in North Waziristan on Thursday morning, at least four people were killed when a vehicle was attacked. The identities of those killed were not immediately known.

Mr. Nazir, believed to be in his 30s, was based in the western part of the South Waziristan tribal region. He led the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe, and his loyalists regularly joined attacks on U.S. forces across the porous border with Afghanistan.

Unlike other Taliban factions, Mr. Nazir's fighters did not attack Pakistani military or government targets, instead focusing on the war inside Afghanistan. He was believed to have signed a peace pact with the Pakistani military.

Mr. Nazir was allied with Hafiz Gul Bahadur, a leading warlord in North Waziristan. The nonconfrontational posture of the two commanders toward the Pakistani military often led to them being labeled in Pakistan as "good Taliban."

Asad Munir, a former Pakistani Army brigadier and the intelligence chief in Peshawar, said the killing of Mr. Nazir could lead to a spurt in violence.

"A dangerous scenario for the Pakistani military would be joining of hands of Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Maulvi Nazir supporters with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan," Mr. Munir said.

Mr. Munir said that the area controlled by Mr. Nazir's forces had been "relatively peaceful" but that his death increased the chances of attacks on military targets.

Mr. Nazir had survived two earlier drone strikes. In November, he survived a suicide attack, which was blamed on Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or T.T.P., the Pakistani Taliban who conduct attacks inside Pakistan. After the suicide attack, he expelled rival Mehsud tribesmen from territory controlled by his fighters.

Mr. Nazir also opposed the presence of Uzbek fighters inside Pakistan and, with the help of the Pakistani military, pushed Uzbeks out of his region several years ago.

Some analysts said that militants like Mr. Nazir could be troublesome for the Pakistani military once the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan begins in 2014.

"Maulvi Nazir would probably have posed a problem for the Pakistan Army if and when a political settlement is reached in Afghanistan in 2014. But in the interim, the killing of Nazir and his deputies likely hurts the Pakistan Army's efforts against the T.T.P. in South Waziristan," said Arif Rafiq, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute, based in Washington.

"Nazir would probably have wanted to hold on to his local jihadist fiefdom, making him a long-term threat for the Pakistani state," Mr. Rafiq said.

The suspicion that the Pakistani military gave a nod to Mr. Nazir's killing could result in attacks on Pakistani troops in some areas in South Waziristan, analysts said.

Pakistani officials publicly denounce U.S. drone strikes but have privately acknowledged the effectiveness of the campaign.

Source: (C) 2013 International Herald Tribune. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved