Taliban moving on Mardan
The Taliban continue their advance in northwestern Pakistan. The district of Mardan in the Northwest Frontier Province may be the next region to fall to the Taliban as the terror group has stepped up its attacks in the area.
The Taliban murdered two women in Mardan yesterday, signaling the district is marked for takeover. A female aid worker for the non-governmental organization National Rural Support Program was killed in a bombing at her office. A local Taliban commander named Habibur Rehman claimed credit for the attack. "He accused NGOs of propagating obscenity and vulgarity and threatened further attacks," Dawn reported. The Taliban also gunned down a female councilor for a local union.
The murders were the latest in a series of attacks in Mardan that signal the Taliban is setting its sights on the district.
Since early March, in Mardan the Taliban have bombed two girls' schools, dozens of CD and video shops, and an electrical tower. The Taliban have forced the closure of more than a hundred CD shops after issuing threatening night letters and ordered barbers to stop shaving men's beards. The Taliban conducts attacks like these to intimidate the local population while setting the precedent for the establishment and enforcement of its brutal version of sharia, or Islamic law.
Attacks such as these preceded the Taliban takeover of Tank, Bannu, Hangu, Lakki Marwat, Swat, Shangla, Arakzai, and Bajaur.
Mardan was also one of the districts chosen by the Swat Taliban to parade through after its near-effortless takeover of Buner, a district just 60 miles from the capital of Islamabad. Earlier this week, a Taliban convoy of 10 trucks filled with fighters brandishing heavy weapons drove from Buner, through the district center in Swabi, and through Mardan before passing into Malakand, Dawn reported.
The Taliban convoy was untouched by Pakistani security forces. "They drove through a district HQ of a district they have not yet occupied ... on the federally policed motorway; through an army cantonment - as a matter of fact right past the Punjab Regimental Centre's shopping plaza containing the usual bakery and pastry-shop run by serving soldiers - and thence through the rest of the crowded city of Mardan which is also the home of the chief minister of the province," Dawn reported.
Taliban nearing encirclement of Peshawar
The takeover of Mardan would put the Taliban one step closer to completing an encirclement of Peshawar, the provincial capital of the Northwest Frontier Province.
The Taliban have taken control of vast swaths of tribal agencies Arakzai, Khyber, and Mohmand, and maintain a strong presence in Charsadda and neighboring Mardan.
Charsadda is still contested, but the Taliban have launched some of the largest suicide strikes in this district in an effort to break the security forces. In the latest suicide attack on April 15, nine policemen were among 18 Pakistanis killed in a suicide attack on a police checkpoint.
The district of Nowshera to the east of Peshawar has been spared some of the heavier violence that has plagued the Northwest Frontier Province, but the Taliban are showing signs of advancing there as well. Over the past month, the Taliban assaulted two police checkpoints and bombed 20 CD shops.
Peshawar itself is under Taliban siege. The city has been described as a fortress as the Taliban maraud through the countryside. The Taliban have conducted dozens of assaults on trucking terminals that handle supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan. Since late 2008, the Taliban have destroyed more than 500 trucks and containers destined for Kabul in an effort to strangle NATO's primary supply route.
The military has launched multiple offensives to clear the Taliban from Peshawar, Khyber, Arakazai, Mohmand, and Charsadda. The Taliban typically lay low during the operations and return after the government calls them off and withdraws troops.
The Taliban are nearing their takeover of the Northwest Frontier Province. The Pakistani government recently ceded the northern third of the province to the Taliban after agreeing to implement sharia in a large region known as the Malakand Division. The seven western tribal agencies and most of the bordering districts are under Taliban control or under strong Taliban influence.