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Former Militants in Pakistan Hunted Down by Taliban

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jun 19 2012 (IPS) - “I joined the Taliban six years ago but deserted them last year because I felt that they were wrong. Now, the Taliban are chasing me like a shadow. They want to kill me,” said Abdul Ghafoor, 39, who surrendered to the army in northwest Pakistan in August 2011 and vowed to support the government’s peace efforts.

Dozens of men who left the Taliban have been killed or have faced severe hardship to avoid the wrath of their former fellow militants.

“Since these militants severed ties with the Taliban and sought refuge in Peshawar and elsewhere, the Taliban have been tracking them down,” said Mohammad Amir Rehman of Khyber Agency, one of the seven tribal agencies that make up the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in northwest Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.

Taliban insurgents took sanctuary across the 2,400-km border between FATA and Afghanistan when their government in Kabul was toppled by the U.S.-led coalition forces in late 2001.

“The army is employing various strategies to cope with the militancy. One is the formation of peace committees comprising elders and notables in the violence-hit areas. About 100 peace committees have been actively working for peace in FATA since 2005,” Rehman Shah, a journalist from Mohmand Agency in FATA, told IPS.

Members of the peace committees have been persuading the Taliban to give up militancy, with some success.

“About 4,500 Taliban have laid down their arms due to the efforts of the committees,” Islamzeb Khan, a political agent in Bajaur Agency in FATA, told IPS.

However, about 200 former militants have been injured or killed by their former colleagues.

On May 30, two brothers were killed in Charsadda district by the Taliban. “Both had denounced militancy in January and were living in Charsadda to escape the Taliban’s wrath,” Khan said.

“Those quitting the Taliban movement will have to face action,” Taliban leader Mullah Faqir told IPS. “The people deserting the Taliban are liable to be killed because they are colluding with infidels against the Muslims and we will not spare them,” he added.

The killing of ex-Taliban by militants is meant to send a message loud and clear that those supporting the government will face certain death, he said.

“Two of my sons were members of the Taliban in Orakzai Agency,” Sajid Gul, a cloth merchant in Peshawar, told IPS. “One year ago, they quit militancy and vowed to live peaceful lives, but their decision enraged the Taliban, and both were killed in February this year.”

Gul said he had a well-established business back home, but abandoned it for fear of the Taliban.

Jawad Ghani, a police officer, said the former Taliban had been advised to inform the police about where they were living in Peshawar, so they could receive security.

“More than 30 former Taliban have been killed in Peshawar in the past two years. The Taliban don’t spare anyone who has deserted them or who supports the government’s peace efforts,” he told IPS.

Jehanzeb Khan, a resident of South Waziristan in FATA, whose brother was killed in November 2011 by the Taliban, says they spare no effort to punish their former colleagues.

“My brother Zulfiqar Khan was associated with the Taliban since 2006, but he was killed when he ditched them. I advise all former militants to obtain tight security, to avoid being killed by the Taliban,” he said.

He said the Taliban were everywhere, and former militants were not safe anywhere.

Noorullah Khan, a political science professor at the Government Degree College in Charsadda, said former militants faced danger in Peshawar because a majority of the Taliban had left the tribal areas due to military operations, and were scattered throughout FATA.

“After losing their writ in tribal areas, the Taliban have left those areas and are now out to teach a lesson to those who have betrayed them,” he said, adding that in many cases, it is not the former militants themselves, but their family members, who have been killed.

Zaheer Shah, a petroleum dealer, was killed in Peshawar in August last year. Later, it emerged that he was killed because his elder brother had quit the Taliban.

Police officer Jawad Ghani said the body of a young man was found on Feb. 28 in Peshawar. “Later, it came to our knowledge during the investigation that Aslam Afridi, the dead man’s father, was a former member of the Lashkar Islami jihadist group in nearby Khyber Agency, but had left the group only three months earlier.

“In retaliation, the militants killed his son to settle scores with him,” Ghani said.

Ibrarullah, a local journalist in Bajaur Agency, said the growing number of Taliban who have abandoned militancy and joined the pro-government peace groups had dealt a severe blow to the Taliban.

“They are losing support because dozens of their former companions are leaving their ranks,” he said. “The former Taliban also provide good information to the army regarding their sanctuaries and activities.”

The list of targeted killings of former Taliban militants is long and painful. “The targeting of former militants clearly reveals the desperation of the Taliban to kill their former friends,” said retired Major Muhammad Akram.

Akram, who took part in operations in South Waziristan in FATA before retiring in 2010, said the former militants should not take the threats lightly, and added that only good protection could save them.

“The Taliban are very cruel. They kill their opponents mercilessly. They behead them and then hang their bodies from electricity poles to set an example for others,” he said.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told IPS that the authorities had asked former militants to inform the local police of their whereabouts in Peshawar.

“The government is committed to protecting people who have realised that the Taliban are enemies of the government,” said Hussain, whose only son was killed by the Taliban last year.

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