NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; yellow under threat. Click map to view.
Northwest Frontier Province continues its slide toward Talibanistan as Tank is attacked by the Taliban and Faqir Mohammed is give a pass
Several events over the past week only serve to highlight the deterioration of the security situation in Pakistan’s rugged Northwest Frontier Province. In Tank, Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban has conducted direct attacks against the district administration. In Bajaur, the government has pardoned Taliban commander Faqir Mohammed, a wanted terrorist who leads a banned organization and has openly supported al Qaeda.
The district government of Tank has imposed a curfew after the Taliban and local security forces clashed on May 16. Six were killed, including 4 police officers, and another 15 wounded after the Taliban launched a coordinated rocket attack and ground assault on police stations and checkpoints in the city. The fighting in Tank began on May 15, after the Taliban attacked a police checkpoint. The local administration immediately sought to negotiate with Baitullah Mehsud. “Officials said a meeting of the peace committee was held which formed a council of ulema to hold talks with militants in South Waziristan to refrain them from penetrating into settled areas.” A resident summed up the security situation in Tank when he stated “militants… were usually seen roaming freely in the city.”
“The security has been put on high alert to cope with the situation after local administration received reports from the South Waziristan Agency that about 90 to 100 militants have entered the city to carry out terrorist activities,” District Coordination Officer Syed Mohsin Shah said. The Army has been called in to provide security. “Informed sources told Dawn that over 200 militants were also on way to the troubled district from the Jandola region, which prompted the local administration to seek assistance from the army,” noted Dawn. Over 200 additional Taliban are said to be massing to move against Tank City.
The district of Tank has been the scene of open warfare between Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban and local security forces since the spring of 2006. “The Taliban’s sphere of influence has expanded to DI Khan [Dera Ismail Khan], Tank and the Khyber Agency, where [clerics] of the area have started to join them. There has been a sharp increase in attacks on heavily-defended military targets in these areas as well,” Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said in April of 2006.
In late March of 2007, Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban attacked Tank City with over 200 fighters after local police and a school principal attempted to prevent the Taliban from recruiting at a local high school. The Taliban attacked two police stations and a paramilitary fort, and looted and burned two banks to the ground. The Pakistani military was called in to halt the fighting and the government immediately began negotiations with Baitullah, who is based in South Waziristan.
In the Bajaur tribal agency to the north, the Pakistani government has “pardoned” Faqir Mohammad, the leader of the banned Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi [TNSM – the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law]. “Maulvi Faqir Mohammad agreed not to participate ‘in any terrorist activity in the country and pledged support to the government in defending the country’s borders,’ local administration chief Shakil Qadir khan told AFP.”
“He is now a peaceful citizen of the area. He has no restriction on him,” said Khan. “We have no plans to arrest him.” Noticeably absent in Faqir’s pledge to become an upstanding Pakistani citizen is the commitment to not support terrorism in Afghanistan or against the West.
On May 6, Faqir’s TNSM sortied over 250 of its fighters into Bajaur, who subsequently established checkpoints on the roads and began to enforce sharia by confiscating tape decks, audio cassettes, CDs, videos cell phones and cameras, and harassing men for shaving their beards.
TNSM is a banned terrorist movement inside Pakistan, and has been implicated in terrorist activity inside the country, including a suicide attack on Pakistani Army training base in Dargai in the Northwest Frontier Province in October of 2006. The attack killed over 45 soldiers. Faqir Mohammad, a leader in the TNSM, has sheltered none other than Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command. An attack in Damadola in January of 2006 on Faqir’s compound was aimed at Zawahiri, but killed upwards of 5 senior al Qaeda leaders, including Abu Khabab al-Masri, al Qaeda’s chief of its weapons of mass destruction program.
Last October, an airstrike on the Chingai madrassa, which doubled as a Taliban training camp, killed up to 84 Taliban, including Liaquat Hussain, the leader of the madrassa, and Faqir’s deputy. The attack came just days before the expected signing of the Bajaur Accord in October of 2006. Days before the Chingai raid, Faqir openly praised al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Faqir referred to bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar as “heroes of the Muslim world,” and he vowed joint efforts to fight the “enemies of peace” in the Bajaur Agency. Faqir calls the United States the enemy of peace. Under the leadership of Faqir Mohammed, Bajaur has become an al Qaeda command and control center which is used to launch operations into eastern Afghanistan. Kunar, the Afghan province which borders Bajaur, is one of the most violent in Afghanistan.