Map of the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. Hangu is the latest district to fall under Taliban control. The government signed peace agreements in the red agencies/ districts; purple districts are under de facto Taliban control; yellow regions are under Taliban influence.
The Taliban attacked a mosque filled with Ramadan worshippers in northwestern Pakistan, killing 25 and wounding more than 50. The attack came just one month after local tribes began to organize against the extremist group.
The attack occurred right on the Afghan border in the village of Banai in the district of Dir in the Northwest Frontier Province. The attackers threw three hand grenades into a mosque packed with worshippers for Ramadan. Immediately after the explosions, Taliban fighters raked the survivors with gunfire. The majority of those killed and wounded are children, Daily Times reported. The death toll is expected to rise as many of those wounded are in critical condition.
The Taliban have struck inside mosques in Pakistan in the past. The most prominent attack occurred in the district of Charsadda in December 2007, when a suicide bomber detonated in a mosque in an attempt to kill former Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao as he conducted Eid prayers. More than 50 were killed and scores were wounded.
The Taliban have not officially taken credit for the attack, but it was likely launched in an attempt to cower the local population. The Dir attack occurred less than one month after local tribesmen gathered to oppose the presence of the Taliban in the region.
On Aug. 15, a tribal jirga, or council, requested the Taliban and “more than 150 foreign fighters” vacate the same region where today’s attack occurred. The tribes threatened to raise a lashkar, or tribal army, to eject the Taliban if they refused.
Some tribes in the districts of Buner and Swat and the tribal agency of Bajaur have made similar demands of the Taliban. In Buner and Swat, tribes have raised the militias and fought the Taliban, with moderate success.
But the Taliban have reacted violently to such efforts in the past. The Taliban ruthlessly crushed local opposition in Khyber, Aurakzai, and Mohmand this year. Tribal leaders and their families are executed or tortured once the tribal armies disband, leaving a leadership vacuum.
The Pakistani government and security forces have provided little or no support to individual tribes that challenge the rise of the Taliban. And in some cases, the local tribes do not want the military’s help. Last month’s jirga in Dir also insisted the Army stay out of the region, as the tribes said they could defend their own territory.
The Taliban have expanded outwards from the tribal areas into the greater Northwest Frontier Province. The Musharraf government cut multiple peace deals with the Taliban starting in 2006. These agreements gave the Taliban and al Qaeda the time and spaced needed to consolidate power in the tribal areas and prey upon the settled districts. The government of Prime Minister Gilani continued to strike deals with the Taliban after taking power in 2008.