At least 10 people, including five local Taliban, have been killed and dozens injured after hundreds of Taliban fighters loyal to Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Sirajuddin Haqqani clashed with local anti-Taliban tribesmen in the Shawa area of North Waziristan.
The fierce clash, which involved artillery and heavy weapons and lasted more than a day, subsided around April 20 after Pakistan deployed helicopter gunships to “disperse” the hundreds of militants, who were about to overrun the besieged villages. Tensions continue, however, as hundreds of heavily armed fighters from both sides remain dug in among the rugged hills of Shawa. The roadway linking Shawa and Thal is still cut off due to militant roadblocks, leaving dozens of wounded civilians desperately stranded.
The clash began late on April 18 after Taliban fighters laid siege against local Wazir Qabul-Miamai Khel* tribesmen loyal to Haji Shah Mahmud and Malek Karim Khan. A spate of abductions and retaliatory murders between the two sides earlier this month had prompted the explosion of violence, pitting Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s more dominant Utmanzai Wazir (Madda Khel) Taliban militia against a cadre of former Tehrik-e-Taliban members led by prominent Qabul-Miamai Khel tribal leader Haji Shah Mahmud and his extended family: Malek Karim Khan, Sayed Sattar, Rasheed Khan, and Jehanzab Khan.
Approximately two weeks ago, gunmen loyal to Sayed Sattar assassinated a local Taliban commander named Haji Qadir Khan, a reported associate of Sirajuddin Haqqani, in the nearby Thal Adda Masjid Bazaar area of Hangu district. The killing was widely viewed as retribution for the abduction and murder of two Qabul-Miamai Khel tribesmen last year; one of those abducted was the son of Malek Karim Khan.
In retaliation for the killing of Haji Qadir Khan, as many as 1,200 heavily armed militants launched a predawn assault against Almar village, targeting the home of Sayed Sattar, and the Malik Shadam Khan village, where Malek Karim Khan and his fighters were holed up with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, and heavy artillery. Three local tribesmen and a woman were killed in the initial clashes, including a local tribal elder named Gulbuddin who was trying to negotiate a ceasefire between the two sides. The fighting also injured dozens of villagers, among them women and children, The News reports.
According to local press, Pakistani military gunships “dispersed” the raiding Taliban militia, reportedly killing four, only minutes before they could have overrun the village where Karim Khan and his family were holed up. The Pakistani military intervention quelled the heaviest fighting, but Karim Khan and his followers remain encircled by hundreds of heavily armed Taliban fighters. Those participating in the siege with Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s Taliban include Haqqani Network fighters; and unconfirmed reports indicate that the Haqqani shadow governor for Afghanistan’s Paktika province, Mullah Sangeen Zadran, was leading a group of fighters against Mahmud Khan. Sangeen is wanted by the US for his links to al Qaeda and for terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.
One day after the fighting at Khan’s village, Taliban fighters dumped the dead bodies of two slain tribesmen on a roadway in Mir Ali, on the outskirts of Shawa. The two men, identified as grandsons of Haji Shah Mahmud — Malek Jehandad, son of Karim Khan, and Bashir Khan, son of Rasheed Khan — were reportedly abducted earlier in the week. The Taliban’s execution of Malek Jehandad and Bashir Khan will likely exacerbate the already volatile situation.
On Sunday, Taliban fighters loyal to Hafiz Gul Bahadur gave an ultimatum to Haji Shah Mahmud and his family: leave North Waziristan in 20 days or face death. Shortly before the April 18 clash, Hafiz Gul Bahadur issued a pamphlet, titled “Masool-o-Khuddamul Mujahideen North Waziristan,” which ordered “those hailing from South [Waziristan] should respect their own land and property,” and vowed to punish those who attempted to break up the peace agreement between Bahadur’s Taliban militia and the Pakistani military. The statement from Bahadur follows on the heels of a daring Taliban-led jail break from the Bannu Central Jail in which hundreds of dangerous criminals and Taliban fighters were freed. Officials estimate that 150 of the nearly 400 inmates who escaped are now holed up in Mir Ali, North Waziristan.
Haji Shah Mahmud remained defiant, declaring that he and his family would stay and fight in their villages, and vowed to “defend their people at all costs.”
* Alternately spelled Qabakhel, Kabul Khel, Kabul Meomi Khel, Kabulkhel, and Kabul Miamai Khel.