Taliban advance on Buner
Flush with success in forcing the Pakistani government to implement sharia, or Islamic law, in a large region in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, the Taliban now seek to coerce the tribes in a small nearby district into implementing sharia there as well.
On Sunday, a Taliban force of 100 advanced into the district of Buner from the neighboring district of Swat and demanded to speak to tribal elders about enforcing sharia. "The Taliban said they would stay in Buner until their chief had had talks with the local chapter of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed's Law]," Daily Times reported.
The TNSM is a radical pro-Taliban group that negotiated the Malakand Accord with the Pakistani government. The accord, which encompasses the districts of Swat, Shangla, Kohistan, Buner, Dir, and Chitral, allows for the enforcement of sharia and put an end to military operations in Swat and surrounding districts. Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the TNSM, is the father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah, the Swat Taliban leader.
The local tribes in Buner gathered to devise a strategy to deal with the Taliban and formed a tribal lashkar, or militia, to halt the advance. More than 1,000 civilians and policemen are said to have taken positions to oppose the Taliban advance into Buner. The tribal leaders ordered the Taliban to leave the district or be forcibly ejected.
The Taliban claimed they are on a peaceful mission. "The Taliban said they meant no harm to the people of Buner, adding that they had come to make a peace deal with the people," Daily Times reported.
But just one day after moving into Buner, the Taliban attacked the tribal militia. One tribal fighter was killed and another was wounded in the battle. The fighting escalated today after the Taliban killed three policemen and two tribal fighters in another battle. Sixteen Taliban fighters were also reported killed. The Malakand division commissioner is currently negotiating with the Taliban. The Taliban are said to be moving heavy weapons into the region in preparation for another fight.
Last summer, the Taliban ramped up pressure in Buner after members of a tribe surrounded six Taliban fighters who had been involved in attacks on policemen and killed the Taliban fighters after they attempted to flee. Two weeks after the incident, the Taliban bombed four video centers at a bazaar and sent night letters to shop owners ordering them to shutter their businesses.
In early December, the Taliban carried out two suicide attacks in Buner. The first suicide bomber's vest detonated prematurely as he attempted to attack a government building. One child was killed and four more were wounded.
At the end of December, a suicide bomber struck at a polling center where elections were being held to fill a vacant seat in Pakistan's national assembly. Thirty-five people were killed and scores were wounded. Pakistan's election commission closed down polling stations in Buner and suspended the by-election.
The Taliban have viciously responded to efforts by tribal leaders to oppose the spread of extremism. The Taliban have violently crushed tribal opposition in Peshawar, Dir, Arakzai, Khyber, and Swat. Suicide bombers have struck at tribal meetings held at mosques, schools, hotels, and homes.
The Taliban have also made examples of local leaders who have dared to resist. In Swat, the Taliban executed a local tribal leader named Pir Samiullah, then returned to the village to dig up his body and hang it in the town. The villagers were warned not to remove his body or they would face the same fate.