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Faceless Taliban rule

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    Faceless Taliban rule http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KA30Df01.html PART 1: A battle before a
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 5, 2009
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      Faceless Taliban rule

      PART 1: A battle before a battle
      In the second report in a series of articles exploring Pakistan's tribal
      areas, Syed Saleem Shahzad visits Malakand Agency to examine the
      differing natures and strategies of various Taliban groups. Malakand
      Agency is a region in North-West Frontier Province and covers one third
      of the total area of the province. The region is further divided into
      several districts - Chitral, Dir, Swat, Buner, Shangla and agencies like
      Malakand and Mohmand.

      Malakand Agency: Dear Mr Doctor ... ENT specialist

      May Allah bless you. The mercy on the people, created by God, rains
      blessings by the creator. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is the name of an
      organization which aims to establish a welfare

      society based on justice and confront all evil forces which try to
      obstruct in this great objective. May Allah heal you from all physical
      and spiritual ailments.

      We don't have any personal grudge with anybody. If we stop anybody from
      wrongdoings or motivate for righteous things, our purpose is simply to
      attain God's blessings and to express affection from its creation - the

      You are our brother. If you are hurt from our behavior, we apologize. We
      only did that for the reform of your behavior. Prophet Mohammad - Peace
      Be Upon Him - said a sweet and good talking to somebody is charity.
      Therefore, we advise you to take care of your patients. Don't charge too
      much because several people cannot afford that. May Allah reward you the
      best and may He guide us all for good deeds. Blessings ...

      Ameer-i-Taliban Pakistan (Malakand) Qari Jabbar.

      This is a translation (at right) of a letter written on the Taliban's
      letterhead and delivered through the post on January 22, 2009, to an
      ear, nose and throat specialist at a hospital in Batkaila in Malakand

      Earlier, the names of five doctors were broadcast on the Taliban's local
      FM radio station, saying that based on public complaints, the Taliban
      had made some investigations and found that the five doctors had behaved
      arrogantly towards their patients.

      The Taliban said that the doctors did not have any sympathy for their
      patients and that they just tried to make as much money as they could.
      Further, they were hand-in-glove with the pharmaceutical companies and
      prescribed very costly medicine.
      The Taliban warned the doctors that they must "reform" their behavior,
      otherwise stringent actions would be taken against them. The doctors did
      change their behavior, and then each of them received a letter of
      "clearance", as above.

      Welcome to Malakand Agency, where one can freely roam around and yet not
      see a single Taliban vigilante, even though they rule the roost.

      In Pakistan, "Taliban" is the generic name for those groups that pledge
      their allegiance to Mullah Mohammad Omar and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin
      Laden, but in different areas they have different manifestations.

      In some places they aim to enforce strict sharia law. In others, the
      Taliban want to establish bases from which to work in support of the
      resistance against foreign forces in Afghanistan.

      In yet other areas, the purpose is simply to create chaos and anarchy so
      that militants can engage the Pakistani armed forces and deter them from
      supporting the global "war on terror".

      However, the ultimate mission of the groups is steadily harmonizing,
      that is, to support the regional war and then the global war against
      Western hegemony; this is the concept driving the neo-Taliban.

      In Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and
      surrounding areas such as Muttani, Shabkadar, Darra Adam Khail and
      Khyber Agency, the Taliban have never tried to implement sharia. Their
      presence is more strategic and several groups operate independently
      under various commanders.

      Their purpose is to sever North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
      supply lines that pass through Pakistan and to eliminate the writ of the
      central government so that it will not be able to provide protection to
      the supply convoys.

      In the South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Bajaur tribal agencies,
      the Taliban aim to establish strategic bases with al-Qaeda to provide
      support to the Afghan resistance. In Malakand Agency and the Swat
      Valley, the struggle is focussed on enforcing sharia and in cleansing
      society of unscrupulous elements.

      Increasingly, though, as mentioned, these differing goals, as a result
      of Pakistan's military operations, are coming together as a broad
      struggle to defeat the Western powers in the region and their ally -

      In much of the tribal areas and the Swat Valley, the state of Pakistan
      has lost its control, but the situation in Malakand Agency is somewhat
      more complex.
      In early 2008, the Taliban flexed their muscles all around NWFP,
      especially in the the area between the Swat Valley and Peshawar, and
      Mardan became a hotbed of militancy.

      However, the Taliban realized that without local support and only with
      fighters from different regions of the province, they would never be
      able to defeat the state forces. Therefore, they resolved to establish
      their influence over the urban centers in this area, hoping eventually
      to wrest NWFP completely from Islamabad's control. Similarly,
      Balochistan province, which also borders Afghanistan, is destined to
      become "Taliban territory".

      The remaining two provinces of Pakistan, Punjab and Sindh, do not figure
      in this plan. Any attacks here would add additional pressure, but there
      is no urge for the Talibanization of these areas.

      At present, in areas such as Malakand, the Taliban use radio to expose
      government incompetence and corruption and then ask the people to submit
      their complaints to the Taliban. Only then do they act.

      Recently, after having received complaints in the form of dozens of
      letters, the Taliban announced on radio that they would investigate the
      matter of brothels in the Malakand region. The result: several brothels
      were blown up.

      As seen with the medical community, a similar approach was adopted. In
      the same vein, a local gangster, Shoaib Khan, who was said to have
      received backing from politicians and the police, was forced to flee.

      People in the area call this "creeping Talibanization" and say it is
      taking root because of corrupt and bad governance. It's not only guns
      that win over hearts and minds.

      Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
      be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@...


      A battle before a battle

      Peshawar - the High Fort - is the capital of North-West Frontier
      Province (NWFP) and the administrative center for the Federally
      Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. It was one of the main trading
      centers on the ancient Silk Road and was a major crossroads for various
      cultures between South and Central Asia and the Middle East.

      Located on the edge of the Khyber Pass near the Afghan border, Peshawar,
      with a population of several million, is the commercial, economic,
      political and cultural capital of the Pashtuns in Pakistan.

      Peshawar and its surrounds are also now the epicenter for the Taliban
      and other militants in their struggle not only in Afghanistan and
      Pakistan but also in their bid to establish a base from which to wage an
      "end-of-time battle" that would stretch all the way to the Arab
      heartlands of Damascus and Palestine.

      In a series of articles exploring the region that will examine the
      differing natures and strategies of various Taliban groups, Syed Saleem
      Shahzad begins his journey in Peshawar.

      Restive North-West Frontier Province is not the destination of choice
      these days. Those who travel there go for business or family reasons,
      and the flight I took from the southern port city of Karachi to Peshawar
      was half empty; clearly, the region is no longer on the tourist map.

      After touring the city for an afternoon and speaking to a variety of
      people, I was struck by its eerie similarity to Baghdad when I visited
      that capital soon after the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 -
      it has the distinct atmosphere of impending chaos.
      That evening I chatted with a senior al-Qaeda member who told me that
      the group considered NWFP and southwestern Balochistan province as
      already wiped off the map of Pakistani as they were now militant
      country. Although not entirely accurate, it portends a chilling turn in
      the "war on terror" in which Washington will be more concerned over the
      stability and security of Pakistan rather than that of Afghanistan.

      The indications are that a major battle will be fought in Pakistan
      before the annual spring offensive even begins in Afghanistan this year.

      Last December, the US Defense Department pushed for Pakistan to be given
      US$2.64 billion to buy better weapons and to provide more training for
      its police and Frontier Corps, which are at the vanguard of the battle
      against militants in the tribal regions.

      The new administration of US President Barack Obama has appointed
      veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy for Pakistan and
      Afghanistan, a newly created position, so that he and Hillary Clinton -
      in her role as secretary of state - can work closely to try to get Kabul
      and Islamabad to join forces in the fight against the resurgent Taliban
      and al-Qaeda militant groups, especially those located in Pakistan.

      A deceptive calm

      On the surface, life appears normal in Peshawar. Shops, public offices,
      banks and schools are all open, but they disguise disturbing events that
      are happening with increased regularity.

      Heavily armed militants have begun attacking container terminals for
      North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply trucks on their way to
      Afghanistan, destroying dozens of them, and there have been a series of
      high-profile abductions, including those of Afghan and Iranian

      Pushto stage and drama artist Alamzeb Mujahid was seized from Peshawar's
      Hayatabad area this month, while the beheaded body of a faith healer was
      found last week with a warning note attached saying that those involved
      in the business of faith-healing would meet the same fate.

      According to militant sources, five dozen people have been abducted in
      the past 30 days, including Shi'ites and ex-army men and their
      relatives. Some were released after a ransom was paid, a few were killed
      and the remainder are still being held hostage by the militants.

      Most of these incidents have involved militants claiming to be Taliban.
      However, criminal gangs have also jumped onto the bandwagon to abduct
      traders for ransom. Different traders' organizations have grouped
      together to display black banners in the city urging the government to
      stem the abduction of traders.

      In the face of this, security arrangements in Peshawar are
      extraordinarily tight. In the upscale neighborhood of University Road,
      which houses several international non-government organizations, United
      Nations offices, residences and the American Club, every nook and cranny
      is manned by either the police or by intelligence sleuths in civilian

      This has created an atmosphere of fear among people, who believe that a
      major showdown between militants and the security forces is imminent.

      The situation was a blessing in disguise for me as I easily found a very
      comfortable, well-equipped room at a 20-room guest house with high-speed
      wireless Internet at a much cheaper price than I paid on my previous
      visit last year. When I checked in, I was the only guest.

      Later, I spoke to Mehmood Afridi, the editor and owner of the English
      daily the Frontier Post. "I chose to set up my office in a bungalow
      because at least I can watch over the threat compared to any office in a
      building downtown, but still I have to spend a huge amount on armed

      It took almost one-and-a-half years for the US and NATO to realize the
      real dangers of the lawlessness in Pakistan. In 2007, Western
      decision-makers watched the instability in Pakistan with a smile.

      Militant ideologues based in the tribal areas, such as Tahir Yuldashev,
      chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and Shiekh Essa, were
      emphasizing their aim to topple the then-government of president General
      Pervez Musharraf before taking on NATO in Afghanistan.

      A tide of insurgency swept from Afghanistan into Pakistan, but Western
      leaders were not too concerned as they thought this would make it easier
      for them in Afghanistan and that the militants would be defeated in

      This did not prove to be the case in regard to both countries. The
      insurgency in Afghanistan had its most successful year in 2008, and
      militants have grown in strength in Pakistan. In February 2008, suicide
      attacks in Pakistan outnumbered Iraqi suicide attacks and strong
      enclaves of militants have been established in Pakistan where they never
      before existed.

      For instance, in the strategic Khyber Agency, through which 80% of
      NATO's supplies pass on the way to landlocked Afghanistan, militants
      have gained a foothold. In Mohmand and in Bajaur tribal agencies, which
      cover the whole of a strategic corridor into Afghanistan which goes all
      the way to the capital Kabul through Kunar, Nooristan and Kapisa
      provinces, militants have established a presence.

      An insurgency in the hitherto peaceful Swat Valley prompted Pakistan to
      carry out military operations, but this only turned the whole valley
      into hostile territory for the Pakistan army and a new nursery for the
      Afghan resistance.

      Never before had so many well-trained and battle-hardened militants
      swarmed from the Swat Valley, Bajaur and Mohmand into Afghanistan, and
      they are preparing to do so again this year. NATO has had to seek an
      alternative and much more expensive supply routes through Central Asia.

      As a result, the US, where strategic journals and think-thanks had been
      selling the idea of Pakistan's disintegration up to 2007, and promoted
      the concept of a united Pashtun land, is now completely geared to take
      all measures to protect the unity of Pakistan.

      It is now believed that if Pakistan goes down, it will take its
      neighbors with it, with ramifications all the way to Europe and America.

      Apart from a few divisive incidents, such as the Pakistan-linked terror
      attack on Mumbai in India last November, this realization is keeping all
      players, including Pakistan, the US, Britain and even India at closer
      levels of coordination. However, this has happened late in the game,
      perhaps too late.

      The rise and rise of militancy

      Following the ousting of the Taliban from Afghanistan by US-led forces
      in late 2001, militancy in the region only began to grow at a phenomenal
      pace over the past few years.

      In 2005, a major regrouping of the Taliban began, leading the next year
      to meetings in Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area and an agreement
      to fight against NATO under the command of Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani.

      In April 2006, the militants verbally agreed on a ceasefire with

      Pakistan and then signed a formal document in September the same year.
      In early 2007, they broke the ceasefire, but at the same time faced a
      serious leadership crisis.

      However, the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) operation in July 2007 in which the
      radical mosque in Islamabad was stormed by security forces helped the
      Pakistani Taliban to regroup under the umbrella of the Pakistan
      Tehrik-i-Taliban. The organization initially went through many
      difficulties due to differences over leadership, but ultimately they
      agreed on Baitullah Mehsud as head.

      In December 2007, former premier Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by
      al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden installed an amir-e-khuruj (leader for
      revolt) in Pakistan, and since then the militancy has gone from strength
      to strength.

      Against this backdrop, three significant and interlinked developments

      Pakistan lost a significant amount of territory in NWFP to militants.

      Al-Qaeda and Pakistani militants devised a scheme in late 2008 to cut
      off NATO's supply lines passing through Pakistan. The move has been
      highly successful.

      The Taliban are gaining ground in Afghanistan. According to an
      influential British think-tank, the Senlis Council - now renamed the
      International Council on Security and Development - in 2007, 54% of
      Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban. In 2008, the same
      think-tank said that 72% was controlled by the Taliban.

      In the past few months, the US has stepped up Predator drone attacks on
      specific targets inside Pakistan. While these have aided the militant
      cause in that at times civilians have been killed, several key militant
      leaders have also died.

      A meeting with al-Qaeda

      I received a call on my cell phone from a number I did not recognize,
      but the voice was familiar.

      "It is not possible to visit you at your guest house. You have to move
      away from the area," the man said, and then mentioned a famous landmark
      in the city where I had met the same person last year. I will call him

      I was delayed leaving the guest house and had to walk about 20 minutes
      to the meeting place. As I approached, Mohammad crossed the road and
      joined me. I followed him until we reached a waiting motorbike and rider
      at a crowded bus stop.

      Mohammad sat behind the driver and I squeezed on behind him. We must
      have been a sight. The front two had very long beards and robes, looking
      like prayer leaders, while I was wearing modern trousers and a coat. We
      drove for 10 minutes before reaching a big park.

      "You almost put us in serious difficulties," Mohammad chided me as soon
      as we got off the motorbike.

      "How?" I asked, surprised.

      "There is an extraordinary high alert in and around the University Road
      area. In the past month, dozens of our fellows have been arrested in the
      area. Of course, we keep an eye on our targets, which are in abundance
      in this part of Peshawar, and intelligence and police keep an eye on us.
      I was waiting for you for about 40 minutes, it is just not advisable for
      us to stay around for so long," Mohammad explained.

      "After losing ground all over, the security forces are preparing for
      decisive action against us. Everybody is at risk, we, our families ... I
      change my cell numbers on an almost daily basis, so next time you will
      not be able to trace me. I have changed my residence twice in the past
      two months and my residence is not known to anybody. At this moment, the
      security forces are calling the shots [in the city], but soon we will

      I questioned Mohammad on a reported split among militants which has
      caused Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah to remain quiet. Abdul Wali,
      alias Omar Khalid, Moulvi Faqir and others who were previously with
      Baitullah, who is ill, have now parted with him. The drone attacks have
      wiped out sizeable numbers of al-Qaeda members, although the word is the
      Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri are alive.

      "The news of a split is true, but it will never benefit the government,"
      said Mohammad. "All it has done is weaken Baitullah's command. Believe
      you me, it will further sharpen the armed opposition against the
      government. The militant groups will carry out attacks with multiple
      strategies. Abdul Wali is still fighting against the government." (Abdul
      Wali had earlier been reported killed in Mohmand Agency in a military

      "Al-Qaeda members have melted into various like-minded groups. Recently,
      Qari Ziaur Rahman led a group comprising 600, mostly Afghans and
      al-Qaeda members, to ransack a Pakistani security post in Mohmand
      Agency," Mohammad said.
      "Tomorrow, when you travel to the Swat Valley, you will find that except
      for a few towns like Mardan, Sawabi and Charsada, all the towns are now
      under the Taliban. In places like Mengora and Swat, the security forces
      are not the ones who enforce the curfew, but the Taliban. The Taliban
      move freely on the streets and the security forces hide inside their
      sanctuaries," Mohammad said.

      The Taliban's and al-Qaeda's influence is indeed multi-faceted, like
      their groupings. There are places like Swat and the tribal areas where
      the Taliban's control is a fact of life and they operate in broad
      daylight. In other places like Peshawar they are present, but this can
      only be felt, not seen.

      Malakand Agency was on my itinerary, and I had been told that here there
      is not a single Taliban on the ground, but through fear they impose
      their writ.

      Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can
      be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@...
      (Copyright 2009 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved.
      Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)



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