Khyber operation to break up militants in Tirah Valley

By Syed Ansar Abbas

Pakistani troops conduct an anti-militancy operation in North Waziristan in August. [Courtesy of ISPR]

Pakistani troops conduct an anti-militancy operation in North Waziristan in August. [Courtesy of ISPR]

PESHAWAR -- The on-going military operation against terrorists in the Tirah Valley, Khyber Agency, will break the backbone of the militants, security analysts say.

Pakistani security forces launched Operation Khyber 3 on August 17. It is the continuation of operations Khyber 1 and Khyber 2, which the army conducted in Bara sub-division and in the Tirah Valley in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

The Tirah Valley is strategic. It borders Afghanistan and extends into Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai agencies. Terrorists used to take shelter in the mountainous valley and formerly had freedom of movement among tribal agencies and in and out of Afghanistan.

High hopes for Khyber 3

Operation Khyber 3 will be crucial in eliminating terrorism in the area, Peshawar-based Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah, a security analyst and former security secretary for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), told Pakistan Forward.

"Khyber 1 and 2 achieved their targets and cleared Khyber Agency of militants," he said. "But Khyber 3 will stop their movement along hidden routes to and from Afghanistan."

The operation "will flush the remaining militants out of Tirah and will ensure that the crossing points on the Afghan border will be blocked", he said.

Tribes are demanding that militant sympathisers stop aiding the insurgents, Shah said, adding that the sympathisers "help militants cross the border on hidden routes and take money for their services".

Khyber 3 will finish the job of "clearing Raj Gul and Lach Kol of terrorists", he said. "Snowfall and other reasons kept [the army] from doing that in Operation Khyber 2."

Authorities at the Torkham border crossing "have stopped illegal movement by Afghan nationals", he said. "Now we have to shut down the hidden routes."

Tribal journalist Qazi Fazlullah echoed the optimism of other observers. He covers terrorism in Khyber Agency.

"Khyber 3 will push the remaining terrorists out of their safe havens in the valley," he told Pakistan Forward.

"Tirah had become the centre for militants ... who took shelter in the valley after fleeing military operations in other tribal agencies," Qazi said.

"Once the operation wraps up, the terrorists will be pushed out of the valley ... and peace will be restored," he predicted.

The dangers of a failed operation

"Blocking terrorist movements is vital," agreed Khadim Hussain, a Peshawar security analyst and author of three books on militancy. "If the network is not broken in the area, the terrorists will reappear."

Lashkar-e-Islam, Jamatul Ahrar and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants will regroup if the army does not crush them now, Hussain warned.

"Tirah is the nerve centre for terrorists," he told Pakistan Forward. "This operation will eliminate the centralisation of terrorism. Khyber 3 will root out the possibilities of a resurgence of the Taliban in Khyber, Mohmand and Orakzai agencies."

"Once the network of terrorists is completely destroyed in Tirah ... it will stop the movements of terrorists across the border [between Pakistan and Afghanistan]," Hussain said, agreeing with Shah.

"The movement of terrorists and their activities creates misunderstandings between the two countries," he said. "The operation will end that too."

Terrorism's survivors yearn for victory

Niaz Afridi, a former soldier turned social worker who lost both eyes and both legs in a terrorist attack in Balochistan few years ago, said he is very hopeful about Operation Khyber 3.

"The terrorists destroyed my house in Tirah, my native area," he told Pakistan Forward. "They forced me to leave. Now I live in the Karkhano Market area [in Peshawar] with my wife and daughter."

"Terrorism has destroyed our society and region and even affected our country," Niaz said. "I ... pray for the restoration of peace."

Younas Afridi, a Peshawar-based humanitarian worker, suffered from terrorism in the Tirah Valley too. Terrorists burned and looted his 120-year-old ancestral home after fleeing the area in 2014.

"The terrorists completely destroyed business and other activities," he told Pakistan Forward.

Operation Khyber 3 will restore peace to the area and enable internally displaced persons to come rebuild their homes, he predicted.

"Not only my family, but everyone who vacated his [or her] home in Tirah is expecting security forces to clear the area," Younas said.

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