Pakistan's Decline: Curfew in Tank; Faqir pardoned


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.



Advertisement:


READER COMMENTS: "Pakistan's Decline: Curfew in Tank; Faqir pardoned"

Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 at May 18, 2007 11:26 AM ET:

The Taliban piss a lot of Pashtuns/Pukhtuns/Pathans off. Most of the Taliban's victims are Pashtuns. These armed bands of miscreants are trespassing through a lot of khan's territories. There are a lot of Pashtun with grievances against the Taliban. The Good Guys should be making it easier for disgruntled Pashtuns to get their badal.

Posted by Thanos at May 18, 2007 2:39 PM ET:

I also noticed that the government once again stopped clearing some Afghan refugee camps, where some of these bad actors hide. The moves both ways over the past couple of weeks have me dumbfounded. It's very hard at this time to read the intent or see what the strategy is shaping to. Some of this has to be from the loss of influence of Musharaaf's regime due to all the mis-handled problems recently.

Posted by RJ at May 18, 2007 6:32 PM ET:

I mentioned some weeks ago that Pakistan is just one big breeding ground for this rapidly growing mass movement of barbarians...is there a better word? I also stated that our Rules Of Engagement needed to be overhauled, rather now not later. You can count the petals on their opium flowers while they line up a clear shot just over your nose! Here they come! Ready or not?

Posted by Afghanistanica at May 18, 2007 9:58 PM ET:

The pardoning is just another example of the Pakistani government's delusional hope that, if it lifts the pressure on the numerous militants, those militants will focus their efforts on Afghanistan. But those militants have been/are/will continue to find it easier to mount attacks at home rather than making the increasingly dangerous trip into ANA and NATO territory.

Of course, some will go to Afghanistan but I believe most will choose to stay and fight for the cause at home. And the not-so-brilliant strategists at the ISI will wonder why their "plausible deniablity" attack dogs are not enthusiastically going to Kashmir and Afghanistan. The Pakistani government is just further increasing the risk of being mauled by its own dogs.

Posted by Thanos at May 19, 2007 2:14 AM ET:

Afghanistanica - I think you have some of that right. The crows have come home to roost, and from all that happens across Pakistan every Friday after prayers, I can't help but wonder if AQ's strategy hasn't changed. Perhaps they've realized all is lost Iraq & Afghanistan and now they are focusing on Pak?

Posted by Cannoneer No. 4 at May 19, 2007 3:19 AM ET:

Afghan soldiers mass on border, ready and willing to take on old foe

On to the Indus!

Posted by Marlin at May 19, 2007 11:42 PM ET:

In this article posted yesterday I was surprised to see that Pakistan would actually admit that a senior Al Qaeda operative was operating in their country.

------------------------------

For the first time since last summer, there is new information in the hunt for Pakistan's most wanted man, Matiur Rehman, a senior al Qaeda leader who is considered by both U.S. and Pakistani intelligence to be one of al Qaeda's most ruthless and sophisticated operatives.

New information gathered by Pakistani law enforcement indicates that Rehman is spending most of his time in Waziristan training and organizing al Qaeda militants. Rehman is also reported to be training al Qaeda operatives for missions abroad.

According to law enforcement sources in Pakistan, Rehman leads an al Qaeda-affiliated terror group that is considered by the Pakistani intelligence community as capable of operations "far more spectacular and sophisticated than 9/11."

The Blotter: New Information in the Hunt for One of Pakistan's Most Wanted

Posted by grognard at May 20, 2007 11:22 AM ET:

Unfortunately it looks like it is time for a Pakistani order of battle, but the question on the Pakistani military would be on the reliability and loyalty of the troops in what could be a tribal war.

Posted by David at May 20, 2007 10:47 PM ET:

I don't think it is so much wishful thinking regarding Faqir's release and other acts to mollify the Taliban.
I think they are playing both ends against the middle, so to speak. The devil close at hand is more dangerous than the devil in Karachi or Islamabad. So until the central government takes a firm stand against the Taliban, AQ, etc. (and they won't in my opinion, until it is too late), the locals will back and fill and hope to save their necks (literally) by abasing themselves to these guys.
Civil war is brewing in Pakistan, and there is precious little we can do to stop it. And when it pops, our troops in Afganistan are going to be in terrible logistics position.
I hope someone in the Pentagon has realized this and is stockpiling supplies in Afganistan.