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Pakistan


Country within a country – Taliban in Northwest Pakistan

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Shaheen Buneri l The Media Line for eTurboNews  May 02, 2008

Swat, Pakistan (eTN) - It was November 2007. Thousands of people were desperately trying to reach a huge area along the bank of River Swat in the idyllic Swat district of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to get a glimpse of the public lashing by local Taliban of two alleged kidnappers.

Three large vehicles with Taliban members on board, brandishing their weapons, brought the two terrified young men to the stage for 25 lashes each in front of the Swati people.

The Media Line (TML) was there to interview militant leader Maulana Fazlullah and members of his Shura (council). Fazlullah, who had earlier only enjoyed the support of a few unemployed youth, has now become strong enough to openly challenge government authority and establish his own court of justice.

At that moment the district coordination officer and the district police officer, the two representatives of the Pakistani government, were sitting no more than 5 kilometers away in their office in the town of Mingora, no match for the strength of the Taliban.

The crowd shouted, “God is Great,” as the two hapless men were whipped by Fazlullah’s militants.

“The government is not taking any action against criminals; that is why crimes are on the rise. Such punishments will discourage evildoers. It will teach a lesson to those who deviate from the right path,” the hard-line cleric said in his sermon before the lashing.

But this is not Afghanistan; it is the NWFP’s most famous tourist spot, which last year was visited by thousands of tourists from different parts of the country and from abroad.

The country’s president, Pervez Musharraf, has been continually issuing statements that the government is committed to the US war on terror and that militancy will be discouraged in all its forms. But the Taliban’s strict code of Islam, which crept in from the South Waiziristan Tribal Agency and engulfed seven tribal agencies along the Pakistani-Afghan border, has now reached the settled and very peaceful district of Swat.

The story does not end here. The Taliban were able to re-organize different militant organizations under the umbrella of the Pakistan Taliban Movement (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) under the leadership of Baitullah Mehsud, a feared Taliban commander in the Waziristan Tribal Agency.

After a series of suicide attacks, bomb blasts, kidnappings of government officials and killings of security personnel, the Taliban has established its hold on seven tribal agencies and 24 districts of the NWFP. Taking its cue from its predecessors in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban has now launched a campaign to discourage “evils.”

On April 14 Dilawar Jan, a local journalist reported that, “A local court of Taliban, comprising two Qazis (judges), sentenced to death by stoning Dawlat Khan, a resident of Khyber Agency and a woman, Shanoo, from Mohmand Agency, after finding them guilty of adultery.”

One Dr. Asad, spokesman for the local Taliban, told reporters that about 150 Taliban activists stoned the couple for half an hour in an undisclosed place. Both died within that period.

“We will not follow the laws formulated by Pakistan or Afghanistan but will decide disputes in accordance with Islamic laws,” he said, openly challenging the authority of the Pakistani government.

On April 27 the local press reported that the Taliban in the Mohmand Agency had carried out a public execution of an alleged kidnapper, raising the tally of those killed in the two-day violence between the militants and the alleged outlaws to 11.

Locals believe the Taliban has established a parallel government in Pakistan tribal areas and administers its own justice to the locals.

“Rule of government has virtually ceased to exist in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA),” Brig. Mehmod Shah, former secretary of the FATA told TML. “I fear if Taliban excesses are not checked in time it will lead to a horrible and uncontrollable situation in the future.”

He explained the Taliban had established its own courts and was administering punishment to people in the Mohmand, Bajaur and Waziristan tribal regions.

“What will be the number of Taliban in Mohmand Agency? They are not more than 1,000. I wonder what the government authorities are doing to counter Taliban insurgency. It is high time to nip the evil in the bud, otherwise no one will be able to stop the Taliban from establish its authority even in settled districts of the province,” Shah said.

Shah said it was the responsibility of the Pakistani government to post efficient government officials in tribal areas to engage local people and to put an end to Taliban excesses.

While the government is busy formulating strategies to halt militancy, the Taliban is exploiting the issue of corruption in government departments and delays in justice to strengthen its support base. Locals in the Khyber Tribal Agency say the Taliban has discouraged kidnapping for ransom, drinking alcohol, theft and robbery. It is not only resolving people’s issues under its own judicial system but also providing flour to people at subsidized prices.

“Due to price hikes and shortage of food items the people were really in difficulty,” according to tribal journalist Mudasir. “Mengal Bagh Afirdi, a militant commander, ordered a few truckloads of wheat flour and directed the shopkeepers to sell flour at subsidized rates. He has also fixed flour prices in the Bara sub-division of the agency,” he said.

Though not all the people are supportive of Taliban policies, many of them, who were earlier terrorized by government authorities and Maliks (tribal elders), have breathed a sigh of relief over the Taliban war against kidnapping and other social evils.

In short, the government failed to deliver and the Taliban filled the vacuum.

Abdul Latif Afiridi, president of the Peshawar High Court Bar Association, said it was not due to the corruption of government officials or the cruelty of the tribal system that the Taliban has managed to control tribal areas.

“Corruption may be one factor, but that is not the whole truth. Personally, I think that poverty, unemployment, lack of standard health and educational facilities are the main reasons for surging militancy,” he said.

He also admitted that the Pakistani government had lost control of the tribal areas, adding however, that the government did not feel responsible.

“It is high time for the government to take serious and well-thought-out steps to counter militancy. The country’s sovereignty is at stake. It is very strange that the government ends in Peshawar (the provincial metropolis of Frontier province); beyond that point the Taliban is at the helm of affairs.

“Why is the government not able to find the root cause of terrorism? Why does it not expose those secret hands which further inflame the situation?” he asked.

The liberal political parties that form the newly elected government of Pakistan announced talks with the Taliban both in the tribal areas and in the NWFP. The country’s new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, said that militancy would be countered by redefining the war on terrorism and launching developmental projects in the conflict-ridden areas.

After a series of meetings between the authorities and the Taliban leadership, both sides ended in a deadlock over pulling out forces from Pakistan tribal areas.

The withdrawal of forces from the tribal region is a very serious issue for the Pakistan government, as it will allow the Taliban to operate with more freedom.

Experts say that Pakistan is confronted with serious challenges. On the one hand it is bound to fulfill its international commitment in the war against terror and on the other it is obligated to restore peace to the region by engaging the Taliban in negotiations –negotiations that have already failed three times.

Country within a country – Taliban in Northwest Pakistan
Image via rediff.com



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