PESHAWAR, March 22: Sporadic fighting continued for the fourth day on Thursday between local tribesmen and Uzbek militants in South Waziristan with casualties mounting, government and security officials said.
“There have been isolated incidents of sporadic fighting,” South Waziristan administrator Hussainzada Khan told Dawn from Wana, the regional headquarters.
He said 22 Uzbek militants were killed in Thursday’s fighting in Pir Makan in Karikot near Wana. There were no casualties among the tribespeople and local militants opposed to fighters from the central Asian republic.
With the latest casualties, the death toll of Uzbek militants in the fighting that began on Monday shot up to 101.
Thirty-one local tribesmen and militants opposed to Uzbeks had been killed in the fighting, government and security officials said.
The figures could not be independently confirmed because the telecommunication system in the volatile tribal region remains disconnected since December last when militants took away equipment from the only telephone exchange, rendering it dysfunctional.
Khan said tribespeople intercepted and fired on two vehicles in Zar Meelan at around mid-day and killed four Uzbeks and their two local Wazir tribal supporters.
A security official confirmed the incident and said the two vehicles were waylaid as tribespeople and their militant supporters continue to stop and search all vehicles to look for Uzbeks.
In another incident, a pro-Uzbek local tribesman was shot and killed by tribespeople opposed to foreign militants in Azam Warsak.
The fighting began following a brief truce that allowed combatants to retrieve and bury their dead, government and security officials said.
Efforts by different sides, including a delegation led by JUI-F parliamentarian from South Waziristan Maulana Mirajuddin, to broker a ceasefire have failed to yield any results.
Surprisingly, the Taliban from across the border represented by Siraj Haqqani, son of the veteran mujahid and Taliban commander, Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, are backing Maulavi Nazir in his bid to chase out the Uzbek militants, contrary to reports that senior Taliban leaders were in the region to broker ceasefire, a knowledgeable government official said. Also, a jirga of the Zillikhel sub-tribe put another sub-clan, Yargulkhels, on notice for their support to Uzbek militants. At least four known militant commanders, all hailing from the Yargulkhel sub-clan of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe, are supporting Uzbek fighters.
Some analysts point to the hitherto unnoticed tribal dimension of the present conflict, that of the rivalry between Maulavi Mohammad Omar, the former head of pro-Taliban militants in Wana and the present head, Maulavi Nazir.
“This is playing a very significant role in the entire conflict, the rivalry between Omar and Nazir,” one official with knowledge of the happenings in the tribal region said.
Omar and his fellow Yargulkhel commanders, including Noor Islam and Sharif, continue to support Uzbeks, contrary to the widespread resentment against Uzbeks in the region.
Incidentally, Uzbeks had chosen the Yargulkhel-dominated Kaloosha as their abode after being chased across the border from Afghanistan by the attacking US forces in 2001.
Meanwhile, tribespeople, led by Maulavi Nazir, are reported to have recovered 18,00 hand-grenades, 175 rocket-propelled grenades, 188 Kalashnikovs and thousands of rounds of ammunition from a private jail run by Uzbeks in the Kaloosha area on Wednesday.