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Welcome to Taleban country

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    We don t demand any compensation or anything. They have killed innocent people, we will not spare them. We will take revenge, said an agitated Mir Shah Azam
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 5, 2007
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      "We don't demand any compensation or anything. They have killed
      innocent people, we will not spare them. We will take revenge," said
      an agitated Mir Shah Azam Khan, whose 16-year-old son was among the dead."

      Welcome to Taleban country
      By Haroon Rashid
      BBC News, Mir Ali

      A red truck comes to a screeching halt next to our vehicle.

      Its heavily-tinted windows are lowered to reveal an interior packed
      with more men than can possibly fit in a vehicle that size.

      The militants led the way in their pick-up

      All have beards and long hair. Another bunch is huddled against each
      other in the open back of the four-wheel drive.

      "Wait for us here. We will come back," the young driver issues us with
      a curt order.

      Seconds later he is gone - bewildered tribesmen in the main bazaar try
      to make sense of what is going on.

      Welcome to Mir Ali, a small town in Pakistan's restive tribal area of
      North Waziristan often frequented by local pro-Taleban militants.

      'Judge for yourself'

      Our hosts are Baitullah Mehsud's group, their leader a local
      equivalent of Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taleban.

      Locals say civilians were killed in the air raid.

      Baitullah is believed to head the pro-Taleban militants in the half of
      South Waziristan dominated by the Mehsud tribe.

      He is generally referred to as ameer (chief) sahib and his influence,
      it seems, spreads far beyond the Mehsud territory.

      The militants return after a while. "Ameer sahib sends his greetings
      too," they inform us, asking the small media group to follow them.

      Baitullah had invited a group of journalists to visit the site in
      South Waziristan bombed by the Pakistani military last week. The army
      says the place was an al-Qaeda hideout.

      Pakistan's military and the local tribesmen agree that the early
      morning operation took out eight people and injured several others.
      But they strongly disagree on who the victims were.

      The government says they were foreign terrorists, while the militants
      say they were innocent local wood-cutters.

      "Our ameer wants you to see the truth and judge for yourself," says
      Zulfiqar Mehsud, the youngish leader of the militants packed in the

      "We want you to see the injustice Pakistan is doing to us."

      'War booty'

      In this mountainous region - where the tribes people used to enjoy
      virtual autonomy - Pakistani security forces fought fierce battles
      with local militants until a peace deal in September last year.

      They were travelling with two rocket launchers, a heavy machine gun
      and an AK-47 assault rifle each with no dearth of ammunition

      Taleban's tribal stronghold

      Since the controversial deal, militants seem to have tightened their
      hold on the region. They say they can now move around freely.

      The paramilitary forces and local police are only to be seen in their
      posts. There is no visible patrolling on the streets.

      We dutifully followed the militants on a road heading south from Mir Ali.

      Our vehicle zigzagged over a bumpy road through dry plains and green
      valleys. I asked and was allowed to switch over to the militants' truck.

      They were travelling with two rocket launchers, a heavy machine gun
      and an AK-47 assault rifle each with no dearth of ammunition. Two bags
      full of ammunition and hand grenades hung from the back of the front

      One of the militants pulled out an American AK-47. "It's war booty. We
      seized it in Afghanistan," he said proudly.

      Looking around, I felt I could have been in an arms depot.

      "We've to carry all this stuff around all the time. You know the
      situation. Anything can happen any time," explained an older-looking
      militant called Malaka by his colleagues.

      Another militant, Khan Sher, sitting next to me had been shot in the
      leg in Afghanistan. He was operated upon but still had a limp. Not
      that it seemed to affect his active participation in militant activities.

      Ammunition hung from the back of the seats in the truck

      The atmosphere in the vehicle was a bit stiff and hostile in the
      beginning but we all relaxed after a brief chat in Pashto.

      On the way, they stopped to demonstrate their firing skills. We were
      also offered the chance to try our hands at a heavy machine gun.

      The next stop was for afternoon prayers on the bank of a stream.
      Everyone had to pray.

      Under a heavily overcast sky, the noise of a spy drone broke the
      silence as the prayers ended. "An American drone," Zulfiqar Mehsud
      told us.

      Back on the road, the militants put on a cassette with nothing but
      noise and screeches on it. They claimed it helped avoid detection by
      American spy planes.

      The small speaker on the vehicle's roof was deafening and we
      immediately requested that the cassette be stopped. It was replaced
      with Pashto chants eulogising jihad and cursing infidels.


      The three-vehicle convoy arrived three hours later at Kot Kalay, a
      small hamlet of high mud houses perched on a hilltop in South
      Waziristan. Journalists were taken to the main mosque to see the
      waiting relatives of the people who had died in the attack.

      Local militants show off the unexploded bomb to reporters

      All of them, in the presence of the militants, described the attack as

      "We don't demand any compensation or anything. They have killed
      innocent people, we will not spare them. We will take revenge," said
      an agitated Mir Shah Azam Khan, whose 16-year-old son was among the dead.

      After a cup of extremely sweet tea, we headed for the site of the
      raid. In the barren landscape around, the compounds that the Pakistan
      army had bombed were the only settlements.

      Three of the five houses stood on a hill surrounded by higher
      mountains on all sides - a scene typical of tribal territory.

      Local traders told us that only wood-cutters working in the
      surrounding forests used to spend nights in these high-walled compounds.

      The remains of an unexploded 500-pound missile and other bombs were
      shown to the media. Body parts of the dead were also on display.

      Some reports suggest the raid was conducted on the basis of
      information that a senior al-Qaeda leader Abu Nasser, and some other
      foreigners, were present in the village.

      He is reported to have been wounded but still managed to escape. No
      official confirmation was available.


      Taleban 'to build Afghan schools'

      The Taleban movement has earmarked $1m to set up
      schools for children in southern Afghanistan, a senior
      official of the militant group has said.

      Abdul Hai Mutmain said a Taleban panel would start
      commissioning schools in March and April, 2007.

      In much of southern Afghanistan there are no schools
      or most of them have been closed following arson and
      threats by armed militants.

      The government blames the Taleban for these incidents,
      a charge they reject.

      A Taleban statement said the schools would be run in
      accordance with a syllabus that was used in the
      mujahideen schools in 1980s.

      Qari Yousuf, a Taleban spokesman, told the BBC's Urdu
      service that the syllabus would include contemporary
      subjects such as history, geography, physics and
      chemistry, as well as Islamic subjects.

      He said the schools would be established across eight
      southern provinces.

      "The government controls the cities [in these
      provinces] but we control the entire countryside, so
      there should be no problem running these schools," Mr
      Yousuf said.

      He said they would start with schools for boys only
      and would establish girls' schools later on.

      When they were in power, the Taleban sometimes pledged
      to build girls' schools once things became more
      peaceful, but never did.

      The Taleban were overthrown by US-led forces in 2001.

      Schools burnt

      Educational infrastructure has been traditionally
      sparse in the backward southern hinterland of

      Most school buildings that did exist were wholly or
      partly damaged during 27 years of war that still

      In the more backward areas, few schools have regular
      buildings. Children either study under the trees or in

      During the last four years, these schools have been
      the target of a sustained campaign allegedly by
      Taleban militants.

      Dozens of schools have been burnt and several teachers
      killed by gunmen who regularly distribute notices
      threatening students and teachers against attending
      government schools.

      Taleban deny their role in this and say local people
      incensed over a syllabus developed under "US guidance"
      may be responsible.

      Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the parliament
      recently that 182 schools were burnt by militants in
      the south of the country in 2006 alone.

      In December, during a visit to Kandahar province,
      President Karzai admitted that almost half of over 700
      schools in the southern zone, that includes Kandahar,
      had been sealed due to insecurity.

      'Popular support'

      The situation in other provinces is worse, says Danish
      Karokhel, director of the Pajhwok news agency in

      In Zabul province, 148 out of a total of 188 schools
      remained closed during 2006, while in Ghazni province
      more than 50,000 students could not attend classes due
      to similar closures, he said, quoting education

      Mr Yousuf told the BBC the Taleban would begin
      establishing schools in areas which were most in need,
      and gradually expand to less deprived areas.

      "People want education for their children, but they do
      not want to approach the government for this," he

      "People support us, and they will send their children
      to schools established by us."

      Analysts say parents in the war-affected regions would
      be keen to send their children to schools irrespective
      of who runs them.



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