Districts of Bannu, Lakki Marwat and Swat are Taliban country
NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies/districts are openly controlled by the Taliban; yellow are under threat. Click map to view.
As Pakistan’s civil war continues, the Northwest Frontier Province slips further into the darkness of a Taliban ruled state. During a recent meeting between senior government political and security officials on March 6, the officials recognized the deterioration of the government’s writ not only in the tribal areas, but in the settled districts of the province. The situation in the NWFP, as reported by Dawn, is summed up as follows: “Inaction on the part of LEAs (law-enforcement agencies) — government on the retreat. Writ of the government shrinking with every passing day. Vacuum being filled by non-state actors. Respect for law and state authority gradually diminishing. Morale of the LEAs and people supportive of government on the decline. Talibanisation, lawlessness and terrorism on the rise.”
The report also notes that the districts bordering the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan, “namely Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Bannu and Lakki Marwat” are increasingly falling under the control of the Taliban, while the districts of Swat, Charsadda and Mardan, which neighbor Bajaur in the north, are also falling under the influence of the Taliban. “They were also briefed on the resurgence of the defunct Tehrik-i-Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi, particularly in Swat region where Maulana Fazlullah aka Maulana Radio was making full use of his illegally set up FM radio station to stop people from sending girls to schools and getting their children vaccinated against polio,” notes Dawn “Recently, anonymous letters were delivered to girls’ schools in Charsadda and Mardan asking them to wear veils; shops dealing in video CDs have been warned to stop their ‘un-Islamic’ business or face retaliation.”
The rapid decline of the situation in the Northwest Frontier province should come as no surprise to those who closely watch the Pakistani news. The following incidents are daily occurrences in the NWFP: assassinations of security officials, pro-government tribal leaders and ‘U.S. spies’; bombings of police stations, music and video shops; attacks on military patrols and bases; threats against barbers to stop shaving beards; Taliban recruiting drives; the threats to close schools, financial institutions and non-governmental organizations. The signs of the Talibanization of northwestern Pakistan have been visible for well over two years.
The report indicated the lack of political will and the failure to shore up the security forces has led to the deterioration of security and the rise of Talibanistan in the province. “There seems to be some sort of paralysis at the decision-making level. There is little one can do in these circumstances other than fire-fighting,” an official commented to Dawn. “These are not normal times. Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary decisions. Unfortunately, the focus at the decision-making level now is more on politics than security. It (security) is on the back-burner.”
The Northwest Frontier province is rapidly switching from Taliban influenced (yellow on the map) to outright Taliban controlled (red). The recent fighting in Tank, where the government has called in the army after the Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban openly attacked the town, highlights just how badly the government has lost control in the settled districts in the NWFP. The tribes in Tank held a jirga (or tribal meeting) where they “banned offices of militant groups in the city, and pledged to fight and expel foreign militants.” “A peace committee was set up to look into ways to guard peace in the district on a permanent basis,” Dera Ismail Khan director Zulfiqar Cheem told reporters.
The Pakistani government claims it is sending in an additional two brigades, about 8,000 ‘crack troops,’ to the tribal regions to conduct a robust offensive and restore order. Apparently the troops are being sent to South Waziristan. The government, however, still clings to the clearly failed agreements in North and South Waziristan by characterizing the internecine fighting between Taliban commander Mullah Nazir, who openly supports jihad in Afghanistan and vowed to continue to fight the West, and Uzbek al Qaeda as signs of success of the Waziristan Accord. The Pakistani government is claiming over 140 Uzbeks have been killed in the fighting, while the locals in the region have put the numbers far, far lower. The Pakistani Army is well known for inflating enemy casualties while hiding their own.
Rumors of the Pakistan Army sending troops to conduct an offensive in the tribal areas have been circulating since the beginning of 2007, yet no offensive has materialized. Past “peace deals” have amounted to little than unenforceable agreements between the Taliban and the government, which result in the Taliban openly controlling the territory. Just prior to the fighting in Tank, Baitullah Mehsud was called in bring the people of Tank a “peace message.”
We hope the Pakistani government will seriously deal with the situation in the tribal agencies. The Taliban and al Qaeda are so entrenched a counterinsurgency campaign is now required to uproot them, according to a senior U.S. military intelligence official.
We hope the tribes of Tank are serious in wanting to eject “foreigners” and opposing the presence of the Taliban. But we doubt the sincerity of the actors involved. The Pakistani government and Army have shown little inclination to deal with the Talibanization on its northwestern border, and the ‘tribes’ they negotiate with to abdicate control of the region to are very often the Taliban.