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PAKISTAN: Taliban Back in Business in Border Areas

Ashfaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR, Sep 30 2006 (IPS) - President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s controversial peace deal with Pakistan-based Taliban has already resulted in a new assertiveness by the ‘Islamic Scholars’ in the Waziristan agency which borders Afghanistan.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s controversial peace deal with Pakistan-based Taliban has already resulted in a new assertiveness by the ‘Islamic Scholars’ in the Waziristan agency which borders Afghanistan.

On Thursday, an Afghan national identified as Malang Khan was shot dead by Taliban vigilantes for allegedly spying for the United States army. “Malang had been spying on the Taliban in the North and South Waziristan agencies for Americans. A satellite phone set has also been recovered from him,” said a note pinned to his body.

Khan’s bullet-riddled body was discovered in Khadi village on the road that leads to Mirali town from Miramshah, capital of North Waziristan agency. The note warned that all spies would meet the same fate.

On Monday, the Taliban reopened its office in Miramshah and distributed pamphlets in the town asking the local people for cooperation in ‘dealing with crime and criminal elements’ and also asked for contributions.

After fighting the Taliban in Pakistan’s rugged border areas as part of support for the U.S. -led ‘war-on-terror’ in Afghanistan, Musharraf signed a truce with the ‘scholars’ in June and followed it up this month with a comprehensive pact under which the Taliban would stop launching attacks across the border on U.S. and allied troops.


”The opening of the Taliban office and the continued execution of suspected spies is a clear indication that the agreement has started to fall apart,” said Afrasiab Khattak, a Peshawar-based commentator, who spent ten years in exile in Afghanistan.

Khattak said since members of the Taliban have local roots in Pashtun-dominated Waziristan, it was impossible for the government to control them without the support of local population. It was in 2004 that the Pakistan army launched a major military offensive against the Taliban and members of the al-Qaeda, but ended up with a bloody nose. In all, Pakistan is believed to have lost close to 500 of its soldiers fighting the fierce Pashtun tribesmen.

With the new peace deal, Musharraf has effectively put an end to the two-year-old military campaign to track down remnants of the Taliban which had sought shelter in Waziristan and other border areas after being ousted as the rulers of Afghanistan by the U.S. army in late 2001.

The Taliban are now showing every intention of taking over administrative control of the Pashtun-dominated semi-autonomous North and South Waziristan. One pamphlet distributed on Wednesday said: “There is complete lawlessness in the area and crimes have increased. So after the peace accord, Taliban has set up an office to serve residents of the area and restore peace.”

The office, complete with telephone facilities, has been set up within the premises of the main bus stand in Miramshah. And the local Taliban Shura (council) has constituted a committee to jointly run the office.

That the Taliban have the blessing of the Pakistan government has become clear with military authorities returning automatic rifles and other material seized from a madrassa (seminary) run by the Afghan Jehadi commander Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqani here on Wednesday morning.

Security forces had raided the seminary few months ago and seized the weapons. The return of the weapons is in keeping with the peace deal under which government forces and the militants are expected to return each other weapons and other equipment seized during clashes.

Authorities have also set free several people lodged in the Miramshah jail. Three of these were identified as Yousaf, Noor Hassan and Labir Khan, all of whom were arrested a few days ago near the Pakistan-Afghan border in the Kurram Agency.

On Monday, the bodies of five Pakistan nationals who died fighting in Afghanistan were brought to the South Waziristan agency and although there was no official comment, all five were said to belong to the Charsadda town, 30 km north of here.

Interestingly, Musharraf’s peace deal with the Taliban is known to have been endorsed by Mullah Omar, the erstwhile supreme religious leader of Afghanistan, but now known to be living in exile in Pakistan.

Omar is wanted by the U.S. army for playing host to Osama bin Laden and refusing to hand over his famous guest and other top members of the al-Qaeda through a massive bombing campaign over Afghanistan that preceded the NATO-supported U.S. invasion of the country.

However, on Monday, Pakistan officially denied that Mullah Omar had anything to do with the peace deal. “It is baseless, it is totally baseless,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said at a press briefing in Islamabad.

But Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who accuses the Pakistan government of not doing enough to contain the Taliban, has been quoted in the media as having told Musharraf in Washington that he not only had Omar’s location but also his telephone number in Pakistan.

The two leaders met U.S. President George W. Bush for dinner on Wednesday after which the White House spokesman was quoted saying at a briefing that both Musharraf and Karzai had a “very candid exchange about their concerns with regard to policies on the two countries” and that Bush was “happy because there were constructive efforts made – which I’m really not going to go into detail about -to work together to fight the war on terror.”

The extent of support that the Taliban has in Pakistan’s border areas can be gauged from the fact that the ruling political parties in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) have announced the closure of all entertainment during the holy month of Ramadan.. The ban covers cinemas and businesses dealing with audio and video cassettes and indoor games such as billiards.

It is generally accepted that the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), an alliance of religious parties including the Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamiat Ulemai Islam, came to power in the NWFP due its connections with the Taliban. Earlier, the MMA banned all hoardings displaying images of women as well as musical activities.

 
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PAKISTAN: Taliban Back in Business in Border Areas

Ashfaq Yusufzai

PESHAWAR, Sep 30 2006 (IPS) - President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s controversial peace deal with Pakistan-based Taliban has already resulted in a new assertiveness by the ‘Islamic Scholars’ in the Waziristan agency which borders Afghanistan.
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