Pakistani security forces detained three of the top Swat Taliban leaders on the government’s most-wanted wanted list, along with two other members of the group’s shura, during peace negotiations in the northwestern district.
Haji Muslim Khan, Mahmood Khan, and Mufti Bashir Ahmad were among five Taliban leaders taken into custody in the district, which was previously under the control of the Taliban.
Haji Muslim Khan, Mahmood Khan, and Mufti Bashir Ahmad (who is also known as Fazal Ghafar) were detained along with Swat Taliban shura members Sartaj, and Abdul Rehman, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported. The men were captured with nearly $200,000 in cash.
The five men reportedly were apprehended days ago while conducting negotiations with the military, according to a report in The News. The military has previously denied conducting peace negotiations with the Taliban and said it would fight until the Taliban is defeated and driven from the Swat Valley.
Haji Muslim Khan. Photo from Geo News.
Muslim Khan is a top spokesman for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. He also serves as a senior military commander in the main town of Mingora. Muslim Khan has taken credit for numerous Taliban attacks, including suicide bombings, ambushes of military and police convoys, bombings of schools, and the flogging of a young women. He has vowed that the Taliban will attack the US and retake the Swat Valley this winter.
Last month, Muslim Khan was also temporarily appointed as the overall spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban when Faqir Mohammed briefly took control of the movement after the death of Baitullah Mehsud.
Mahmood Khan is another senior Taliban commander in the Swat district. Detained in the same raid along with Mahmood Khan and Muslim Khan were Ahmad, Sartaj, and Abdul Rehman, three clerics who sit on the Swat Taliban shura. Mahmood Khan, Ahmad, and Muslim Khan appeared on the list of the Pakistani government’s 21 wanted Taliban leaders in Swat. Muslim Khan had a 15 million rupee ($185,000) bounty out for information leading to his capture, while Mahmood Khan and Ahmad had 10 million rupee ($123,000) bounties on their heads.
The detention of Muslim Khan means the Pakistani military has detained or killed two of the top four most-wanted Taliban leaders in Swat. The other man, Shah Doran, was killed during a raid in June. Doran was Fazlullah’s deputy and was notorious for preaching radical, anti-government sermons on the Taliban’s radio programs. He also served as the senior military commander in Swat. Since the Pakistani government issued its list in June of this year, five of the top 21 wanted Swat Taliban leaders have been detained or killed.
Mullah Fazlullah, the overall commander of the Swat Taliban, and military commander Ibn Amin are still on the loose. Ibn Amin is the leader of the Tora Bora Brigade, one of the six known brigades in al Qaeda’s paramilitary Shadow Army. The Tora Bora Brigade has an estimated 1,500 fighters and participated in the invasion of neighboring Buner [see LWJ report, Terrorists rally in Swat, march through region].
The arrest of the two senior Taliban leaders comes as the military is claiming victory in Swat, while acknowledging that further clearing operations are required.
The military has claimed that more than 2,000 Taliban fighters have been killed and thousands more have been captured in Swat and the neighboring districts of Dir and Buner, while losing only some 330 Pakistani soldiers. US military and intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that the estimates of the Taliban killed and captured are high, and that civilians are being lumped in with these numbers. The Swat Taliban has an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 fighters under arms.
The military has estimated it has cleared more than 90 percent of the Swat Valley, and has begun to establish tribal lashkars, or militias, to battle the Taliban.
There are an estimated 8,000 tribal fighters under arms, and that number is expected to double by the end of the year, Dawn reported. The lashkars have been clashing with the Taliban.
Previous attempts at establishing tribal lashkars in Swat and throughout the northwest have failed as the government failed to back the groups, and in many cases, the lashkars denied the backing of the government. In the past, the Taliban have capitalized on their military organization and firepower to destroy these lashkars piecemeal.
Background on the Malakand Accord and fighting in Swat
The fighting in Swat, Dir, Buner, and Shangla broke out earlier this year after a peace agreement with the Taliban fell apart. The agreement, known as the Malakand Accord, placed the Malakand Division and the district of Kohistan under the control of the Taliban. The Malakand Division comprises the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, and Chitral. Together with the neighboring Kohistan district, the Malakand Division encompasses nearly one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province.
The government signed the Malakand Accord with Sufi Mohammed, the father-in-law of Swat Taliban leader Mullah Qair Fazlullah, on Feb. 16, after two years of fighting that had put the Taliban in control of the district. During those two years, the military was defeated three separate times while attempting to wrest control from the Taliban. Each defeat further consolidated the Taliban’s dominance over the district.
The peace agreement called for the end of military operations in Swat, the end of Taliban operations, and the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in the Malakand Division.
But the Taliban violated the agreement immediately after signing it, and proceeded to attack security forces and conduct armed patrols. The military remained silent while the government approved the Taliban’s demand for sharia throughout Malakand.
The government ordered a military offensive in Dir and Buner after enormous pressure from the US and other Western governments to stem the Taliban tide pushing toward central Pakistan. The Taliban advanced from Swat into Buner in early April and took over the district in eight days. The move into Buner has put the Taliban within 60 miles of Islamabad and close to several nuclear facilities and the vital Tarbela Dam. The Taliban also have moved into Mansehra and established bases and a training camp in the region.
Pakistani government and military officials had dismissed the Taliban threat to Islamabad and the country’s nuclear facilities, but at the end of April, the local Islamabad government ordered troops to deploy in the Margala hills just north of the city to block a Taliban advance, while the Haripur government beefed up security at the Tarbela Dam.