Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban mass; 25 Taliban, 1 security officer killed after school principal kidnapped
NWFP/FATA map. Red agencies are openly controlled by the Taliban; yellow are under threat. Click map to view.
The Taliban continue to challenge the Pakistani government’s writ in the Northwest Frontier Province. Taliban forces, estimated at “more than 200 Taliban soldiers” by Tank District Police Officer Mumtaz Zarin, massed and attacked the city of Tank on Tuesday night. “They attacked the city to avenge the killing of their colleague who died on Monday,” officer Zarin said. Twenty-five Taliban and one paramilitary officer were killed in the fighting, which included Taliban mortar and rocket attacks. The Taliban attacked two police stations and a paramilitary fort, and looted and burned two banks to the ground. The Pakistani Army was called in to quell the violence, provide security and establish a curfew. “Reinforcements have reached Tank to increase the security level. The militants want to destabilise Tank to spread out to other areas of the province,” said Zarin.
The Pakistani military appears to have only restored a semblance of order in Tank. “Witnesses said a strong corps of militants was holding positions in Wazirabad, Muhalla Mehsudan and Barkiabad localities, while security forces patrolled the cantonment area,” notes Dawn.
On Monday, the Taliban and local police battled after the Taliban were confronted while trying to recruit students from a local boy’s high school. Later the Taliban returned and killed a policeman and kidnapped Farid Mehsud, the school principal. “[The Taliban] were questioning the principal to determine whether he had alerted police about the presence of their associates at the school,” reports the Associated Press. “We will kill him if we find him guilty,” said a ‘militant’ associated with Baitullah Mehsud.
According to the same ‘militant’ who “has regularly provided information on behalf of [Baitullah] Mehsud,” the Taliban that attacked the city of Tank were “followers of Baitullah Mehsud.” A Pakistani intelligence officer agrees. “All clues in the kidnapping point to Baitullah, because the people who were at the school (on Monday) were linked to him,” the intelligence official told Dawn.
“Tank District Nazim Riaz Kundi blamed the instability in South Waziristan for the disturbance in Tank city,” reports the Daily Times “We are on the border with South Waziristan where the security situation is not good,” Kundi told the Daily Times.
The battle in Tank occurred as Baitullah himself was bing called in to “seek his help in bringing normalcy to the district” of Tank. Baitullah was to bring a “peace message” to the people of Tank.
Baitullah is now frustrated with being implicated in the violence in the Northwest Frontier Province. “‘Baitullah Mehsud is angry at being accused of involvement in every militant attack,’ Senator Saleh Shah of the MMA told Daily Times after meeting the Taliban commander at an undisclosed location in South Waziristan.”
Senator Shah is a member of the Taliban supporting Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (or MMA), and organized the meeting with Baitullah. The MMA has been instrumental in providing the political cover for the Waziristan and Bajaur accords, which have ceded the tribal districts to the Taliban. Pakistani politicians of the MMA regularly met with Baitullah, who was directly implicated by the Pakistani police in a wave of suicide attacks this winter, and other Taliban terrorists
Elsewhere in the Northwest Frontier Province, a bombing in Peshawar, the provincial capital of the NWFP, wounded the Secretary of the secular Awami National Party on March 26. Another bombing in Peshawar targeted an International Committee of the Red Cross facility on March 28. In Bajaur, four Pakistani intelligence officers were murdered by the Taliban. ABC News’ The Blotter reports the agents were hunting Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s second in command.
The fighting in Tank, the bombings in Peshawar and the attack in Bajaur only serve to highlight the failure of the Pakistani government to establish its writ in the tribal areas, and in the greater Northwest Frontier Province. The Northwest Frontier Province is falling into the hands of the Taliban. Yet the Pakistani government still seeks to sign away districts and tribal agencies to the Taliban, under the auspices of cutting deals with the local tribes.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.