What is known about the cleric whose death last week sparked the intense fighting in Miranshah in North Waziristan, Pakistan, over the weekend? The death of Maulana Naseeb Khan Wazir on 3rd May seems to have been the cause of the deadly and gruesome incidents in the militant-controlled city.
The first attack took place on Sunday when militants from the Pakistan Taliban (TTP) captured and killed nine Pakistani soldiers after attacking a convoy with rockets near Miranshah. The soldiers were all beheaded. The militants then withdrew, taking another five soldiers with them as prisoners.
In response, the Pakistan Army and airforce launched a ferocious attack on those they thought responsible, shelling buildings and a mosque in Miranshah and proclaiming an indefinite curfew.
The army claimed it had killed a several militants, but others escaped with their prisoners, who were also subsequently beheaded, with two heads being left strung up on fences in the Makane Bagh and Zafar Town areas of the city. The bodies were left elsewhere in Miranshah.
The following day, Monday, army helicopters attacked a large building in the Noor Din arms market in the main bazaar, causing a huge conflagration. At least two children were killed and 20 other people were injured. The army said it had killed 30 militants and destroyed dozens of shops selling rifles, ammunition and RPGs.
In statements to the media the TTP claimed the initial cause of this mayhem - which is unusual in that the Pakistan Army seldom attacks Miranshah, as it is where its allies in the Haqqani Network are based - was the reported murder Maulana Naseeb Khan Wazir on 3rd May. He was kidnapped the day before whilst travelling from his madrassah at Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak, to Peshawar 30 miles away. As his vehicle reached the Taro Jaba area of Nowshera it was stopped and he was driven away in another car. The following day his body was found within the jurisdiction of the Pishta Khara police station, near the Bara Road.
The TTP have subsequently blamed the killing on the police or intelligence services and describe their attacks on the army as revenge. Can that be true? Or is this a case of the TTP settling its own accounts?
Maulana Naseeb has been very close to the militants for many years. In 2005, for example, he told a gathering of tribesmen in Wana, south Waziristan, that anyone who sided with the government against the militants or spied for the US was liable to be killed.
He subsequently became prayer leader at the Darul Uloom Haqqania, one of the most important Deobandi madrassahs in Pakistan and famous for being the place that educated Mullah Omar - on whom it bestowed an honorary doctorate - and many other Afghan Taliban leaders. It has been dubbed the "University of Jihad" and accommodates thousands of students from around the world on its sprawling campus.
In December this year Maulana Naseeb was involved in the negotiations between the government and the TTP over a prospective ceasefire. He took part in the negotiations in his capacity of chief of Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Islam (Movement for the Enforcement of Islam, a pro-Taliban grouping) in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. At the time he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: "Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Islam is playing the role of mediator. It depends on the government [of Pakistan]. If the government accepts their conditions, the Taliban is ready [for talks].
The talks eventually broke down over the TTP's unwillingness to disarm, according to tribal custom and also because some of the TTP factions were unhappy to come to an agreement with the Army. Now, four months later, someone has decided they no longer need the services of Maulana Naseeb Khan Wazir.
Was he killed by his former jihadist colleagues, who decided he had become too close to the ISI and the military, as is now widely believed in the region? That seems to be a more likely explanation than a killing by the intelligence services, who would have been aware that the death of such a prominent religious figure would spark further violence.
Meanwhile,the army itself is clearly unsettled by the latest turn of events and the stain on its honour of once again, seeing its soldiers beheaded by TTP militants.
“Something has to be done, and it’s in the offing,” Lt. Gen. Khalid Rabbani, the army’s senior commander in the northwest, told The Associated Press in an interview on Monday in relation to the violence in Miranshah. “North Waziristan is the only place left” that hasn’t been the target of an operation, he added. “This will not shy us off establishing the writ of the government in all the areas, including North Waziristan,” said Rabbani, who is in command of 150,000 troops along the Afghan border.
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