NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; yellow under threat. Click map to view.
Hostage crises ended in Islamabad & North Waziristan as one begins in Bannu; anti-Taliban elements calls for help go unheeded
As the political crisis over the suspension of Pakistani Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry for alleged misconduct consumes the energy of the government of President Pervez Musharraf, the Taliban and its allies continue to push forward with the establishment of Talibanistan in Pakistan. In Islamabad, the capital, the clerics of the Lal Masjid – or Red Mosque – held police hostage and faced no repercussions. In the Northwest Frontier Province two hostage crises involving government officials went unanswered by the Pakistani government. All the while, the Northwest Frontier Province descends further into a Taliban dominated state within a state.
The hostage standoff in Islamabad began after the Lal Masjid ‘brigade’ kidnapped 4 Pakistani policemen on May 18 and accused them of ‘spying’ for the government. two days later, the government caved to the kidnappers’ demands and released 4 members of the mosque in exchange for 2 of the 4 kidnapped police. Security forces then cordoned the area around the mosque and arrested 36 members, while the “Lal Masjid brigade” began setting up fighting positions. Maulana Ghazi then threatened a wave of suicide attacks against Pakistan if an assault ensued.
The Lal Masjid showdown intensified at the end of March, when Maulana Abdul Aziz, the senior cleric at the mosque gave the government 7 days to impose sharia law, and began setting up sharia courts and sending out the burke clad, baton wielding female students as enforcement squads. Maulana Abdul Aziz, the leader of the Lal Masjid, stated the brigade can now enforce sharia and attack CD and video shops in the capital. “Our students can attack these outlets anytime because the deadline given to their owners had already passed,” Aziz said in his Friday sermon. Aziz also encouraged the Taliban “to continue their jihad against obscenity, prostitution, video shops and other social vices and expand it to every nook and corner of the NWFP,” Dawn reported.
To the west, in the lawless, Taliban dominated regions of the Northwest Frontier Province, the other hostage drama played itself out in North Waziristan. The Taliban kidnapped nine government employees, including six women, and held them for five days before releasing them on May 23. The Taliban openly run North Waziristan, and were unhappy they were not informed of an outside presence. “The militants [Taliban] complained that they were not consulted by the government on development works launched in the area,” said Zair Gul Wazir, one of the hostages. “He said that the militants had kidnapped them to protest against the policies of the NWFP governor and the agency’s political administration.”
North Waziristan has been a hotbed of activity the past week. On May 20, the Taliban beheaded a ‘US spy’ in the tribal agency. Thirteen dead Taliban were repatriated to North Waziristan after being killed in the fighting in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military purportedly struck an al Qaeda training camp in the village of Zargarkhel, where three Uzbeks were said to be among the 4 killed. Eleven of the 15 members of the North Waziristan “tribal peace committee,” which is responsible for maintaining the North Waziristan accord, resigned over the Zargarkhel strike. The reason given was they believe the Pakistani government broke the terms of the accord, despite the fact that the Taliban violates the terms of treaty on a daily basis.
Pakistani Police believe Matiur Rehman, al Qaeda commander in Pakistan, is “spending most of his time in Waziristan training and organizing al Qaeda militants.” President Pervez Musharraf admitted that al Qaeda is in Pakistan on local television. “Al -Qaeda is in our mountains, in Mir Ali [North Waziristan]. This is completely true.” Several days later, Pakistan’s Foreign Office claimed “there is no Al Qaeda base in Pakistan.”
As the hostage crises ends in Islamabad and North Waziristan, another begins in the Northwest Frontier Province district of Bannu. The Taliban kidnapped 3 government agents, including a military intelligence officer, as they were driving through the region. The officer’s driver and other official were released, but the intelligence officer is still in custody. On May 20, Bannu police found 3 suicide vests on a bus bound for Lahore. In early March, the Pakistani government assessed Bannu, along with several other districts and tribal agencies, as falling under the influence of the Taliban. The situation has gotten so bad the Bannu tribes vowed to take action against the Taliban if the government would not. The tribes request for help has fallen on deaf ears.
The situation in Charsadda has faired no better. The Taliban bombed a music shop in the settled district on May 23. A “student of a local madressah” detonated a bomb near Pakistani Interior Minister Sherpao’s home. A suicide bomber attempted to assassinate Mr. Sherpao in Charsadda in April and South Waziristan’s Abdullah Mehsud was behind the attack. And the Christian residents of Charsadda have pleaded with the government to provide protection after the Taliban threaten to kill them if they failed to convert to Islam. The government has remained silent on the issue of protecting Charsadda’s Christians.
Elsewhere in the Northwest Frontier Province, the Taliban’s power grows. Taliban fighters from Waziristan are reported to be massing in the district of Swat and are being sheltered by Faqir Mohammad’s banned Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi [TNSM – the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law]. Faqir, who is based out of the Taliban and al Qaeda sanctuary of Bajaur and is an ally of Ayman al-Zawahiri, was recently pardoned by the Pakistani government.
In Tank, where a curfew was imposed after the Taliban raided cities and towns in the settled district, the Taliban fired 7 rockets at a military outpost on May 24. In Bara, the Lashkar Islam put out a order for a journalist’s death and ordered the closure of music shops. In Torkhum, the Taliban bombed 10 fuel tankers, which were heading to Afghanistan to supply NATO forces. Pakistani truck drivers have gone on strike out of fear of being attacked.
In Mohmand Agency, a tribal jirga met to discuss the prevention of the ‘Talibanisation’ of the agency. Like the Charsadda Christians and the Bannu tribes, the Mohmand tribal leaders’ calls for help from the Pakistani government have gone unanswered.