Northwest Pakistan descends into chaos
Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; purple is de facto control; yellow is under threat.
The Pakistani Taliban continue military operations in the tribal agencies and the settled regions of the Northwest Frontier Province despite ongoing negotiations to sign a peace agreement with the government. Forces loyal to Baitullah Mehsud overran a town previously run by pro-government tribal forces, and beheaded 22 Pakistanis. In Peshawar, the provincial capital, police and government officials have said the Taliban is close to taking control of the city.
Baitullah Mehsud strikes in South Waziristan
As the Pakistani government continues negotiations with Baitullah Mehsud, the South Waziristan warlord and leader of the Pakistani Taliban launched an attack on rival tribal leaders in the town of Jandola. On Sunday, forces loyal to Baitullah took over the town during heavy fighting after attacking the home of the leader of a local peace committee in the region. The fighting resulted in seven members of the pro-government Bhittani tribe and two Taliban fighters killed.
The Taliban then kidnapped 30 members of the Bhittani tribe. Twenty-two were executed in a brutal fashion. "Some of the dead were shot and some had their throats slit," a district official told AFP. "The men's hands were tied behind their backs and the corpses left in a drain by a roadside," AFP reported. The tribesmen have also been described as "pro-Karzai," referring to Afghanistan's president.
A sketch map of North and South Waziristan. Map from The Khyber Gateway. Click to view.
The Taliban claimed the men were criminals and were executed for their crimes. "The men we killed were involved in thefts and robbery and had unleashed a reign of terror on the people. They were being patronized by the government," Mullah Omar, the spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud told AFP. Omar said the fate of the other eight hostages will be determined later. He also warned the government not to intervene, "otherwise peace talks would be seriously undermined."
The Pakistani government claimed the Taliban have withdrawn from Jandola and a peace committee has been formed to address the recent fighting.
Jandola is a strategic town in the area that sits at the gateway to South Waziristan. The Pakistani military claimed to have cleared the Taliban from the town during heavy fighting in late January. About 4,000 Pakistani troops are based near Jandola, but did not interfere during the Taliban attacks on their erstwhile allies.
The government launched operations against Baitullah Mehsud in January after his force overran a series of military outposts and forts in South Waziristan and attacks government forces and institutions in neighboring settled districts of Tank and Dera Ismail Khan. The fighting ended after a cease-fire agreement was signed between the military and the Taliban.
Peshawar under threat
As the Taliban march in South Waziristan, Peshawar is under siege. The spread of Taliban influence was seen last weekend, when a Taliban force kidnapped 25 Christians from a home in the heart of Peshawar. Several of the kidnapped Christians were later reported released, but the fate of those still in captivity is still unknown.
Peshawar has seen an uptick in activity over the past month. Five policemen have been killed since June 9, four of them in an ambush and another in an improvised explosive device attack. Five civilians were killed in an IED attack on June 14. On June 3, the Taliban issued a warning for theater owners to shut down. On June 9, an Internet cafe was bombed. The city has been described as "a city of walls and barriers" as security forces block roads to prevent attacks.
Government officials have openly stated that the city is under threat of a Taliban takeover. The Interior Secretary for the Northwest Frontier Province said the Taliban are moving on Peshawar. Peshawar's police chief said the Taliban will soon be in control of the entire district if steps are not taken to halt the advance.
Perhaps the most damning indictment on the Taliban's presence in the provincial capital comes from Peshawar's business leaders. An estimated 90 percent of the materials used to supply Peshawar's industry have not been shipped due to the security situation, and investors are "worried about the prevailing situation," according to a report in the Daily Times. "Businessmen have warned of shifting their enterprises to other provinces if the government did not take steps to control the law and order situation," the paper reported.
Government leaders have said they will not allow a Taliban takeover of Peshawar, which contains a US Consulate and serves as the headquarters of Pakistan's 11th Corps. Peshawar is also a waypoint for NATO supplies into Afghanistan. But the government also said it would press forward with negotiations in the region despite the Taliban advance.
This year, the government signed peace deals in Swat, Bajaur, Malakand, and Mohmand. Negotiations are under way in Kohat and Mardan. The Taliban have violated the terms of these agreements in every region where accords have been inked.