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PAKISTAN: Frontier Gov’t Blames Militancy On Intelligence Agencies

Ashfaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR, Jul 26 2008 (IPS) - Pakistan’s ruling Awami National Party (ANP) has been pushing a peace agenda for the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), but militancy in the region bordering Afghanistan shows no signs of abating.

A frustrated ANP has now accused Pakistan’s intelligence agencies of being behind the armed Islamic militia, including pro-Taliban groups, in the NWFP and neighbouring Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Afghanistan’s Taliban are believed to have fled to this lawless area after the collapse of their regime in Kabul in end-2001.

“The intelligence outfits are responsible for creating a law and order situation in the FATA. The federal government must rein them in to control the soaring militancy in the region before it’s too late,” warned the ANP’s Abdul Lateef Afridi, a lawyer who is in charge of FATA, at a news conference in Peshawar.

The ANP is part of a coalition government in the NWFP along with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who was assassinated at an election meeting last December.

“The people of the tribal areas have been bearing the brunt of the ill-directed and flawed policies of the federal government,” he said.

“We have to maintain peace, because being in government, we are responsible for the protection of lives and the properties of people,” he added.


The ANP, which swept to power in elections in February, ousting an alliance of Islamic parties, has been holding peach talks with pro-Taliban fighters. On May 21, after several rounds of negotiations, the provincial government brokered a peace deal in Swat and Malakand, NWFP, with a radical Taliban faction.

On Jul. 19, Baitullah Mahsud, leader of the outlawed Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a Pakistani Taliban group, issued an ultimatum threatening more violence unless the NWFP government steps down within five days.

This was in retaliation for the arrest of five TTP men in the province’s Hangu district following a military operation two weeks ago to flush out militia. Later the Taliban besieged the local police station and killed 17 personnel of the Frontier Constabulary.

The provincial government has refused to call off the operation in violence-torn Hangu saying that it was determined to restore law and order. Mahsud has been held responsible for the assassination of former premier Bhutto.

ANP’s Afridi blames the escalating violence on Pakistan’s decades-long political involvement in Afghanistan. “Pakistan’s continuous interference in the affairs of neighbouring Afghanistan coupled with its association with the so-called Taliban has imposed a dangerous war on the tribal population,” he told IPS in an interview.

U.S. President George W. Bush’s ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan has spilt over the porous border into Pakistan with the U.S. sending unmanned aircraft to bomb so-called Taliban hideouts in FATA. According to the U.S. military, Pakistan’s indigenous militias have sheltered Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda chiefs in the tribal belt.

On May 14, U.S. drone aircraft were reported to have fired two missiles at a house and compound in Damadola village, Bajaur Agency, 7 km from the border. This was the second U.S. assault on Damadola. On Oct. 31, 2006, U.S. drones attacked a seminary killing over 50 people.

Ruling party politicians were quick to condemn that attack. ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan then urged the government in Islamabad to prevail on the U.S. to refrain from unauthorised military action on Pakistan territory. Khan who unveiled a 4-million dollar peace plan for the NWFP, had clarified that it was a non-starter unless the U.S. stops missile attacks on Pakistan, and the Pakistan army withdrew from the FATA.

The frontier areas have been quiet only for a month this year. The lull followed the installation of the ANP-led government. That ended on Apr. 25 when a police station in Mardan was bombed, killing three people and injuring 25 others. Mahsud’s group had claimed responsibility.

In May, Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened to send troops across the border to crush the Taliban, sparking outrage in Pakistan..

“The entire world is anxiously eyeing the tribal areas just because they are being used as sanctuaries and training grounds for al Qaeda and Taliban who are being pushed into Afghanistan to fight the NATO and Afghan forces there,” said ANP’s Afridi.

The party’s provincial chief Afrasiab Khattak had told IPS last month that foreign powers had turned the region into a battlefield. The ANP has sworn to stay on the path of peace-making with the militants.

“We have signed peace deals with the militants in Swat, but the secret agencies don’t want peace,” said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, NWFPs information minister. The ruling party has set up a committee to apprise its electorate of the role of intelligence agencies and their backing of the Taliban.

“The secret agencies don’t want to let the elected government work. The prime minister (Yousuf Raza Gilani of the PPP) has little authority and the real power still rests with the military,” observed Mohammad Ali, who teaches political science at the University of Peshawar.

However, the ANP government has refused to be silenced. According to information minister Hussain, “We have come to power through the votes of people and will remain in government for five years. We are not bothered by warnings of Taliban or anybody else.”

 
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