On Thursday morning, Pakistani militant Maulvi Nazir met his end in a U.S. drone attack on a car traveling in Angor Ada, South Waziristan. It was not first time the United States tried to kill him, nor was the United States the sole entity that wanted him dead.
Nazir's story displays the complexity of the militant challenge in North and South Waziristan, the mountainous, tribal areas along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. It is a place where jihadist groups opt to fight the United States, the Pakistani state, or even one another, and use the patronage of al Qaeda or the Pakistani military. And it is a place the Pakistani military will face great difficulty in stabilizing, let alone mainstreaming, if and when a political settlement with the Taliban is reached in Afghanistan. Nazir represents the Pakistani military's Catch-22. For three decades, Pakistan has used jihadists to exert influence in Afghanistan and India, consuming thousands of lives in Pakistan and strangling its economy. The military now relies on non-hostile jihadists like Nazir to counterbalance anti-state jihadists, but its proxies all-too-often morph into foes. Pakistan's premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, is unable to wean itself off of the jihadist double-edged sword.
Nazir's was a peculiar case. He was allied with both al Qaeda and the Pakistani military, focusing his fight on coalition forces in Afghanistan. But he was at times like a child caught in a messy divorce, pulled in a tug of war between al Qaeda and the Pakistani military. He reached his first truce with the Pakistan Army in April 2007, a month after his group clashed with militants from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. The IMU, based in Waziristan since 9/11, has fought against both the Pakistani and Afghan states. In 2008, Nazir paired up with Hafiz Gul Bahadur -- who, like Nazir, was a Pakistani Waziri and was inclined to restrict his fight to Afghanistan -- to form the Maqami Tehreek-e Taliban, or the Local Movement of the Taliban. This move was clearly part of a Pakistani military strategy to isolate the original TTP, which was founded seven months earlier by Baitullah Mehsud with the goal of overthrowing the Pakistani state.
Nazir's group has remained at odds with the IMU, perhaps the most radical and sociopathic of the jihadist outfits in Waziristan. The Nazir organization has also had troubled relations with the TTP, which has not only been closely tied with the IMU, but also has a leadership core from the Mehsud tribe, historic rivals of Nazir's Ahmadzai Wazir.
Notwithstanding these differences, Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur temporarily defected from the ISI's camp in February 2009, pairing up with the al Qaeda-linked TTP to form the Shura Ittihadul Mujahideen. This was an alliance of convenience made not only as both Nazir and Gul Bahadur suspected the ISI of being complicit in the rising CIA drone attacks, but also as the TTP spread deeper into settled areas in Pakistan's northwest.
At the time, Nazir not only chose the stronger horse, but the horse that perhaps more accurately reflected his long-term vision. In July 2009, he appeared in a video produced by al-Sahab, al Qaeda's media arm, declaring that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was based on kufr or disbelief. Its educational system, in his view, was an alien design, a vestige of Lord Macaulay's 19th-century reforms in British India. Nazir condemned the ISI for creating rifts between the various, and between the Wazir and Mehsud tribes. And he called upon other jihadis to "renounce their servitude to the ISI." Nazir's objective, he said, was not simply to evict the Americans from Afghanistan, but to establish sharia and make it supreme in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and beyond.
Nazir's alliance with the TTP would not last long. By the fall of 2009, after the Pakistani military ousted the TTP from Swat and ahead of its operations in South Waziristan, Nazir once again completed a non-aggression pact with the Pakistan Army. Nazir's forces were spared in Operation Rah-e Nijat (Path to Salvation), which was aimed at clearing South Waziristan of the TTP and IMU and establishing government control over the area.