Pakistan: Shangla district falls to the Taliban

Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; purple is defacto control; yellow is under threat

The Taliban continue to take territory in the Northwest Frontier Province. After fighting the Pakistani military to a standstill in North Waziristan and forcibly taking over much of Swat, the Taliban have marched eastward into the settled district of Shangla.

Over 500 Taliban fighters under the command of Maulana Muhammad Alam poured into Shangla and took control of the district office and police station in Alpuri “without facing any resistance from the government,” the Daily Times reported. “All government functionaries, including the DPO [District Police Officer] and DCO [District Coordination Officer], left the area the moment they heard of the fall of Shangla Top police station, located at the border between Swat and Shangla.” The district courts are also under Taliban control, Dawn reported.

Maulana Alam, an ally of Swat’s firebrand cleric Maulana Fazlullah, claimed the Taliban only sought to impose sharia law in Shangla. “We only struggle for the enforcement of Shariah,” Alam was reported to have said.

Shangla is home to Amir Muqam, the federal Minister for Political Affairs. Muqam was the target of a suicide bomber at his residence in Peshawar on November 9. Four were killed during the assassination attempt in the provincial capital.

The fall of Shangla comes as the Pakistani army took control of security operations in neighboring Swat, where Fazlullah has essentially taken control of the district. Martial law was imposed after hundreds of police and paramilitary soldiers surrendered weapons and themselves to Fazlullah’s Taliban.

The Pakistani government has cut peace deals with the Taliban in North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, Mohmand, and Swat over the past year, only to see the Taliban expand their influence. Much of the Northwest Frontier Province is either under open control of the Taliban or is heavily influenced by the terror groups.

President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan on November 3 under the guise of dealing with the terrorists, but has yet to make a move against the Taliban’s expansion beyond the tribal areas. The Taliban’s move into Shangla pushes the extremists even closer to Islamabad.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • RP says:

    Deadly religious true believers are marching, coming to those who wear police and military uniforms supposedly loyal to Musharraf, while smart lawyers wander about shouting how democracy is the only path Pakistanis should really follow.
    If Socrates were alive, who do you think he would bet on as the eventual winner in this struggle?
    My bet is on the Taliban, for they are most certainly ready to die for their beliefs. Lawyers never die, they just keep appealing.

  • Luke Willen says:

    The question is what happens if the Taliban win and if they get thir hands on nuclear weapons. Of course, this would amount to national suicide for Pakistan if they used them against either US or Indian targets. The other possibility is that a victorious Pakistani Taliban give/sell the warheas to terrorist groups

  • Marlin says:

    I really hate to see the ‘glass half empty’, but I’m afraid there is still a lot of truth in this century old observation.

    Lord Curzon, Britain’s viceroy of India and foreign secretary during the initial decades of the 20th century, once declared:

    No patchwork scheme—and all our present recent schemes…are mere patchwork—will settle the Waziristan problem. Not until the military steam-roller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace. But I do not want to be the person to start that machine.

    The Claremont Institute: Tribes of Terror

  • anand says:

    Lisa, how in the world COULD we find out where all the nukes are. The Pakistanis don’t share that type of information.
    Intelligence is an imperfect business. I suspect that we have a good guess where most are. But never trust an intelligence officer who claims they know where ALL of them are. That smacks of hubris.
    Bill, terrible news. When does the Pakistani army as an institution start to feel that its honor has been impinged, and feels to need to strike hard? When does the Taliban/AQ/Pakistani resistance cross the line and provoke a backlash among most Pakistanis as well as the rank and file of the Pakistani Army? The Pakistani Army’s heart is not in this fight. Too many still see the Taliban/AQ/Pakistani resistance as a son who has gone AWOL and needs to be reasoned with.

  • alan says:

    im sure that the the nukes are targets for the airforce if anything goes wrong.

  • templar knight says:

    I’m not surprised the Shangla district fell, I’m just surprised at the rapidity of the advance of the Taliban, with the Pakistani army seeming to be in collusion with them, or indifferent. Either way, this offensive by the Taliban may have them take Peshewar before bad weather causes them to go into winter defensive positions.
    I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that Islamabad itself will be threatened in the spring, and perhaps either fall to the Taliban, or allow by agreement a Taliban state with Peshewar as its capital. We may even see a coup by Islamist officers, with the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands.
    Truly, Pakistan is the major problem the World faces, and many more nations need to get involved with cleaning this mess up. The US can’t do everything.

  • Ammo Guy says:

    What I’ve wondered all along is how much money, if any, did Pakistan spend on PAL devices during their headlong drive to acquire these nasty weapons. If it’s anything like our Manhattan Project, it will be an afterthought. I can still remember GIs wrestling with mechanical dial locks stuck on the fuze end of 155mm and 8 inch AFAPs…and this was in the 1980s – 40 years after we built the Fat Man. A decent internal PAL device coupled with a command disablement system and perhaps something a bit more sophisticated would go a long way to making any stolen weapons more difficult for the bad guys to set off high order…but I’m not particularly confident that’s the case. May God save us all.

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    “Onward moslem soldiers?” Musharraff is almost finished. I know there is a contingency for p-stan’s nukes…better take a look at that plan and prepare for it…Bhutto is key…

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the – Web Reconnaissance for 11/140/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…

  • Marlin says:

    This report indicates the Pakistani Army is attacking terrorists in Swat today. How meaningful are these cease fires?
    Pakistani troops backed by helicopter gunships killed up to 10 militants on Wednesday in a northwestern tourist region (Swat valley) where pro-Taliban rebels have been infiltrating and expanding their influence.
    The army attacked militant positions in a village with helicopters and artillery, killing up to five militants, the military said in a statement.
    In a separate attack, security forces killed up to five militants in another area, which intelligence officials and police said had been largely captured by the militants.
    Residents of the area said heavy fighting had broken out near the town of Alpuri which police official Danishwar Khan said the militants had occupied.
    Reuters: Pakistani army attacks militants; up to 10 dead

  • AMac says:

    The Baltimore Sun had a front-pager on 9 November with some background on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. It includes an interview with a recently-retired Pakistani general who states that all their nukes are equipped with PALs.

    Crisis raises alarm over arsenal: Amid Pakistani turmoil, renewed concerns over nuclear weapons

  • Neo says:

    This whole situation in Pakistan brings up an important question for the future. In the case of a conservative Islamic Pakistani government or even if they were able to put together some sort of compromise government over the next year, that government is likely to be little inclined to cooperate with the US if not outright antagonistic toward us.
    That brings up the question of over-flight rights. We run the risk of getting boxed out of Afghanistan by the neighboring countries. Even if some of the Central Asian countries are willing to give access we could find ourselves locked out or holding onto a tenuous corridor into Afghanistan.
    If Pakistan, Iran, China, and Russia decide to lock us out than we are down to a very small corridor to access Afghanistan. That would leave a possible over-flight route that passes through Georgia, Azerbaijan and either Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan. Those countries would love getting the nice size aid packages involved (If they aren’t getting them already). The problem is if Russia and/or Iran decide to put the squeeze on those countries they may also be forced to refuse over-flight. If we can’t get the necessary over-flight rights we might have to withdraw regardless of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
    I can’t see having an air war with Pakistan to maintain an over-flight route to Afghanistan. While we can easily overwhelm Pakistan’s air defenses, try maintaining any sort of domestic or international support for such action.
    Worst case scenario, would be if the neighboring countries colluded to create a crisis cutting of our troops in Afghanistan from resupply. Assuming Pakistan and Iran already deny access. If Russia really wanted to play hardball it could cut off access through central Asia and demand an unreasonable timetable for withdrawal that would force us to destroy all equipment and supplies within Afghanistan. There are several reasons I don’t see that happening though. The main one is that the operation is officially a NATO operation and Russia is at least a marginal member of NATO. Russia has it’s own set of problems to the south and could well find future NATO participation very useful. Russia would very much like to see us cut down to size but I doubt it wishes to isolate itself in the process. I can very much see them telling us to wrap it up within a year or so though. You’ve overstayed your welcome, now leave.
    Oddly enough, my assessments of the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to be the opposite of most of the main stream thinking. I find our chances in Iraq are at least fair depending on whether we have the political will to stick with it. Afghanistan on the other hand, may in the end be a strategically untenable situation. It’s not that I don’t support the war in Afghanistan it’s that I see a lot of problems looming on the horizon. Few of those problems actually come from within Afghanistan, they are all problems with neighbors.
    Of course many people seem to think that it is reasonable that we win in Afghanistan because we a justified in being there, and unreasonable to win in Iraq because we lack sufficient justification there. Americans seem to have this idea reason and justification have a lot to do with which side wins a war. It can have something to do with it, but often as not doesn’t.

  • templar knight says:

    Obviously, you are more attuned to the strategic problems of fighting a war in Afghanistan than I am, and I had not given much thought to the results of a radical takeover in Islamabad other than to the nuclear arsenal, which I would consider to be more important in the short term than the war in Afghanistan.
    I had completely forgotten that Afghanistan is landlocked, and thus our supply problems are dependant on an air corridor being open.
    As for the two wars, I have always thought Iraq was the one most winnable, mainly because the brand of Islam most people practice in Iraq has historically been more moderate.

  • Ammo Guy says:

    Thanks AMac, I hadn’t seen that article. Of course, it raises as many questions as it answers: “Pakistan has not accepted U.S. technical advice on PALs or any other aspect of its nuclear program. “We have developed our own systems,” he said. “The problem is that people won’t grant that we can produce PALs even if we can produce our own nuclear weapons.” That statement makes me wonder how sophisticated their PAL devices can be. Our first PAL devices were retrofits on existing warheads and crude mechanical locks at best – the dial lock on the W31 warhead for the Nike Herc was embarrassing to behold and only prevented a cable hookup. At the time, it was the best we could do to prevent some 2LT in an air defense artillery unit in West Germany from starting WW III on his own :o). The next generation of PAL devices were electro-mechanical in nature and were designed during the warhead development phase so they were built-in vice attached afterward. The PAL for the Pershing IA was a quantum leap over previous iterations and the Pershing II’s electronic PAL was out of this world by comparison with other special “bells and whistles” thrown in for good measure. I betcha the Pakistani’s are primitive at best…but I’m a pessimist when it comes to nukes because they frighten me so.

  • Marlin says:

    Keeping up with Bill
    The Corner: Offensive in Waziristan?
    The Corner: More on Waziristan

  • anand says:

    Neo, Talban/AQ/Pakistani resistance hates Russia at least as much as they hate anybody else. AQ linked terrorism threatens the Russian homeland arguably more than it does the American homeland. B Raman, former head of RAW-India’s CIA, has said that the risk of a WMD attack on Russia is comparable to the risk of such an attack on the West.
    Russia is closely allied with Pres Karzai and the former Northern Alliance (Tajiks, Uzbechs, Hazaras, allied Pashtu tribes.)
    In the three way meeting between Pres Musharraf, Pres Bush, and Pres Karzai; Karzai threatened Musharraf with forming a closer and more formal alliance with Russia and India to fight the Taliban/AQ.
    Russia may try to free-ride somewhat, but they will simultaneously try to encourage NATO to resist the Taliban/AQ/Pakistani resistance-which are Russia’s mortal enemies.
    Russia, however, views NATA/US bases North of Afghanistan far more negatively. I suspect that they might be willing to let NATO temporarily use “Russian”

  • Neo says:

    It’s very hard to say what Russia will eventually do. Russia’s interests are a bit conflicted. On the one hand our current battles with Islamic extremists has taken a lot of pressure off of Russia in the Caucasus and Central Asia. The extremists have been too busy with us to maintain their wars in Chechnya and the Central Asian Republics. The antagonism right now is that Russia would like to gather it’s various republics back into the fold. The United States is seen as an impediment to this and Russia resents ongoing relationships we have going with the various former Soviet Republics. Toward both concerns Russia is torn between a desire for stability, with which the US can potentially help in or the desire to see all sides either lose or greatly weaken themselves in any US/Pakistani/Afghani struggle.
    Does Russia wish to weaken the US? I’m not sure the answer to that is straight forward. Al Qaeda is every bit as much Russia’s enemy as the United States enemy. While siding with the US against Al Qaeda would seem to be mutually beneficial, the United States isn’t exactly resolute in defeating Islamic extremists. Russia does not want to be a mutual antagonist against militant Islam with the US efforts in the region weakening. Russia doesn’t want to place itself at the center of the next regional conflict.
    A long static conflict in Afghanistan where the US wears down the hot headed local extremist but gains no real strategic advantage is probably just fine with Russia. A hot conflict in the region with Pakistan becoming unstable and militant creates a lot of headaches for Russia. Russia may decide in such a case that the US no longer serves a useful purpose in the area. A weak US presence in the area serves as little more than to antagonize the local religious conservatives. Russia may at that point want to cut whatever deal with the extremists it can get or at least deflect attention away from itself. Their best hope in that case might be to turn the attention of the Islamic extremists elsewhere. I’m not sure how much luck they would have with the Islamists but that may depend on whether the Islamists still want to be constant enemies of everyone or if they wish to switch to more limited and conventional tactics.

  • Turner says:

    One positive aspect of recent events, however, is the fact that they are pulling things out of the grey zone. Pakistan’s army will never have the will to clean out the tribal regions, but until now, the idea of calling in outside help has been abhorent.
    The current situation is changing that. The bombing of Bhutto, leave the populace believing the taliban are out of control. The encroaching cancer of a great, unwashed army opposed to civilization, puts professionals and others invested in civilization in a position where they want and need help now. Musharaf’s actions only serve to prove that an outsider is more trust-worthy with security than local forces.
    All of this may well lead to a point where the local populace will accept and support assistance from American air power or NATO forces. Bhutto is now seeking some foothold, some place however small, to stand on and execute power. The US will start looking attractive as her surrogate army. An answer to Musharaf’s inability to be effective. Musharaf has likely considered this, given Bhutto’s hints about accepting US help, and this keeps him on a pretty short leash. If, through marshall law, he further compresses the country, the people will be ready for outside help, particularly if Bhutto calls them in as an extension of her will and power.
    If he continues his path of staying in limbo with the Taliban, it’s another reason for Bhutto to call in her outside army and “Git’r done.” If he does go after the tribal areas, he has to contend with weak loyalty in his troops and inneffectiveness. Another opportunity for Bhutto.
    Meanwhile the Taliban is pushing citizens away from their cause as fast as they can.
    Interesting times.

  • The Fall of Pakistan, one in a series

    Courtesy of The Long War Journal, here’s a map showing areas totally under Taliban/A-Qaeda control (red), those substantially so (blue), and those currently in danger of falling under their control (yellow): (Click to see a full-size version) As Roggio…

  • anand says:

    “Their best hope in that case might be to turn the attention of the Islamic extremists elsewhere. I’m not sure how much luck they would have with the Islamists but that may depend on whether the Islamists still want to be constant enemies of everyone or if they wish to switch to more limited and conventional tactics.”
    Russians are too smart to believe that they could succeed at something like this. The Taliban/AQ are likely to use Afghanistan/Pakistan as a base to go after Russia like they did until 2001; and the Russians know it.
    If the Russians thought the Taliban/AQ/Pakistani resistance seriously threatened the Afghan government they would intervene more forcefully to assist the Afghan government. The objective would be to maintain an indefinite stalemate between the Afghan government (which would continue ruling most of Afghanistan), and the Taliban (that would have influence over significant portions of Afghanistan.)
    The Russians would try to work collaboratively with NATO, India and Iran to the degree they are able.
    For Russia the only good Taliban is a dead Taliban. Their idea of a “moderate Taliban” is terrorists that fly “half full” planes into “half full” buildings.
    All this said, Russia remains very unhappy with NATO and American encroachment in the Southern and Western former Soviet Union and Soviet block. They want NATO and America to focus exclusively on Afghanistan and leave the rest of the Caucuses to mother Russia.

  • Raj Kumar says:

    What people also have to remember is that this problem was created by the smart people in the Washington DC beltway.
    US govermnet agencies aided, eithier by active commission or ommission, the Government of Pakistan when they were trying to build the WMD’s. Their are enough open source information so people can google for it if they wish.
    The problem now is that the whole world is faced with 2 islamic zealots who have or are trying to get WMD’s and all of us are running around like headless chickens!!!

  • templar knight says:

    To lay all the blame on what has happened in Pakistan on Washington, as you say, is a little too simplistic for my tastes. Could the US have prevented Pakistan from obtaining WMD? Doubtful, given that other countries in Europe and Asia were helping Pakistan as much or more that the US did. Most of the time the US is given too much credit for all the bad things that happen in the World. The US can’t do, or undo, everything in the World.

  • templar knight says:

    That would be Raj, not Raf, my apologies.

  • Raj Kumar says:

    I am not blaming the US. Even I accept that their are limits to US power. However what I am saying is that the agencies of the US government and by extension the people of the US who provided the funds to the Government of Pakistan which enabled them to get hold of the WMD’s.
    I would be happy to say that it was a pre 911 event and won’t happen post 911 but guess what we see it happening again. US provides $11bn to the GoP of which $1bn gets spent on Development and the rest goes into upgrading the conventional fire power of the Pakistan Army (PA).
    BTW all this upgradation of the PA counts for zilch in FATA as the taliban have already proven.
    I could have told you 5 years ago that the green beards are already in Islamabad. Now we are faced with the situation of wondering if the same green beards are going to get their hands on the WMD’s and what they are going to do with those WMD’s.
    US has shovelled $ towards the government of a country were the principal enemy of the US is in hiding and that government can’t find him. US government is supporting the GoP while GoP is busy locking up ‘pro democracy’ supporter and letting Taliban supporters go Free, amazing poilcy don’t you think.

  • templar knight says:

    “…amazing policy don’t you think.”
    Why, yes, I do, and I did not mean to absolve blame from those entities in the US who helped these people obtain WMD. I just wanted to clarify the situation, and spotlight the problem the entire World now faces given the situation in the NWFP and the FATA.

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    Lisa, wat are the options? Bhutto has said she would grant the US access to the border areas. This is where the t-ban/AQ lay thier heads at nite. If those camps continue to operate, thier will be no stable a-stan. the lesser of 2 evils i would say is Bhutto. We have given Musharraff BILLIONS and have gotten nothing. He frees known t-ban members, knows where the camps are…does nothing. I bet a couple days of airstrikes would take some steam out thier engine. Since Mush. ceded those provinces to our enemies, legally we may have the right. These places are no longer part of p-stan. We need “permission”. Well, we are damned if we do or don’t. P-stan’s army is inept, thier hearts are not in this fight. Its only a matter of time till Mush. falls.

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  • Chaudhry Wakas says:

    There is a grave concern among people of Pakistan for such so-called Taliban groups trying to challenge the writ of the government and government on the other hand is leaving no stone unturned to eleminate such elements, which are trying to become a threat to the peaceful citizens.
    One can see, upon the return of the Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, that Pakistanis believe in democratic Pakistan, and they prefer electoral process to elect thier leaders and respective parties. People of Pakistan believe in parliamentary system and is obvious from the enthusiasm shown by them towards upcoming elections.
    So I am hopeful that, once after elections, new elected government would solve issues with deliberation, and none would be there in uniform.


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