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By Raheel Khan
ISLAMABAD – Foreign militants who were once very active in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan are struggling to survive relentless military action.
Arabs, Germans, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmens and Azeris, among others, who carried out ruthless acts of terrorism have been paralysed by the consistent action of Pakistan’s security forces, officials and analysts say.
Foreign militants on the run
The Uzbeks, who long ago acquired a reputation for brutality, consist of the Yuldashev group and the Roshanaka group. Military pressure has limited the ability of these factions to act.
“Uzbeks are dangerous and lethal; they were ... thrown out of Wana, South Waziristan, (in 2007) by locals with the support of the government,” Brig. Saad Muhammad, a Peshawar-based defense analyst who formerly served as Pakistani military attaché in Kabul, told Central Asia Online.
“Military action has shrunk (territorial) space for the foreign militants,” he said.
A recent example from the Caucasus is Khagani Imamverdiyev, a 23-year-old Azeri studying at the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy (ASOA). He was reported killed by security forces in Pakistan December 29, his father, Sahid Imamverdiyev, told Central Asia Online.
“My son used to call me very often, but I haven’t heard from him since December 21,” Imamverdiyev said. “On January 21 we got a call from an anonymous number; the caller said our son became a shaheed (martyr) December 29.”
His son and five other students left for Pakistan in March 2010 for religious education, Imamverdiyev said.
“He didn’t tell me where exactly he was going to study, and I didn’t ask, as I trusted him,” Imamverdiyev said. “If I knew he would become a radical, a mujahideen, I would have stopped him.”
Two years ago, unconfirmed Azerbaijani media reports said a number of ASOA students fled to Pakistan to join the Taliban.
Pakistani military action in Swat has successfully rooted out foreign militants and destroyed their bases.
“Swat was an active war theatre for foreign militants; Arabs, Afghans, Uzbeks and Chechens were seen running suicide bombing and assault training camps and supervising sabotage operations,” Dr. Khadim Hussain, an Islamabad-based security and political analyst, told Central Asia Online. “In ... 2009, Pakistan’s security forces rooted (foreign militants) out.”
“The security forces completely destroyed the base camps and training hubs of foreign militants in Puchar and Khawazela of the Swat Valley,” Khadim said.
The other big success against foreign militants was their eviction from Wana in 2007.
In Wana, Khadim recalled, “The Pakistani government allied with the local Taliban led by Maulvi Nazir and drove the Uzbek militants out.”
Pursued and decimated, the militants have lost their capacity to roam nationwide and terrorise urban centres. “They can’t strike the way they used to,” Khadim said.
Challenges and problems for authorities
The job of eliminating foreign terrorists from Pakistan remains formidable.
“(They’re) mostly in North Waziristan,” Saad said. “All the bad heads have come together.”
“Pakistan needs to address the issue of foreign militants,” he stressed. “Developments in Afghanistan are moving on a fast track; I see a possible solution. Then the focus will be more on Pakistan.”
Current efforts, though, need to be expanded for them to succeed, Khadim said.
“We’ve seen successful operations, but the campaigns against foreign and local militants in Bajaur, Kurram, North Waziristan and Orakzai haven’t succeeded yet,” Khadim said.
Reconciliation and rehabilitation
In the effort to crush the militancy, officials have done relatively little to reconcile or rehabilitate the foreign militants.
“Reconciliation and negotiation are going on in the region,” Saad said. “Pakistan needs to identify these foreigners, talk to (their) governments ... and apply some pressure to have (those governments) relocate and rehabilitate them.”
The foreign militants could also become part of the efforts to bring about an Afghan peace, some suggest.
“The Afghan peace process should be inclusive of the players in the region,” Khadim said. “If the Afghan Taliban can be reconciled, then these foreign militants – Uzbeks, Tajiks, Arabs, etc. – should be also included ... for lasting peace in the region.”
Central Asia Online staff contributed to this report.