Northwest Pakistan descends into chaos

Red agencies/ districts controlled by the Taliban; purple is de facto control; yellow is under threat.

The Pakistani Taliban continue military operations in the tribal agencies and the settled regions of the Northwest Frontier Province despite ongoing negotiations to sign a peace agreement with the government. Forces loyal to Baitullah Mehsud overran a town previously run by pro-government tribal forces, and beheaded 22 Pakistanis. In Peshawar, the provincial capital, police and government officials have said the Taliban is close to taking control of the city.

Baitullah Mehsud strikes in South Waziristan

As the Pakistani government continues negotiations with Baitullah Mehsud, the South Waziristan warlord and leader of the Pakistani Taliban launched an attack on rival tribal leaders in the town of Jandola. On Sunday, forces loyal to Baitullah took over the town during heavy fighting after attacking the home of the leader of a local peace committee in the region. The fighting resulted in seven members of the pro-government Bhittani tribe and two Taliban fighters killed.

The Taliban then kidnapped 30 members of the Bhittani tribe. Twenty-two were executed in a brutal fashion. “Some of the dead were shot and some had their throats slit,” a district official told AFP. “The men’s hands were tied behind their backs and the corpses left in a drain by a roadside,” AFP reported. The tribesmen have also been described as “pro-Karzai,” referring to Afghanistan’s president.

A sketch map of North and South Waziristan. Map from The Khyber Gateway. Click to view.

The Taliban claimed the men were criminals and were executed for their crimes. “The men we killed were involved in thefts and robbery and had unleashed a reign of terror on the people. They were being patronized by the government,” Mullah Omar, the spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud told AFP. Omar said the fate of the other eight hostages will be determined later. He also warned the government not to intervene, “otherwise peace talks would be seriously undermined.”

The Pakistani government claimed the Taliban have withdrawn from Jandola and a peace committee has been formed to address the recent fighting.

Jandola is a strategic town in the area that sits at the gateway to South Waziristan. The Pakistani military claimed to have cleared the Taliban from the town during heavy fighting in late January. About 4,000 Pakistani troops are based near Jandola, but did not interfere during the Taliban attacks on their erstwhile allies.

The government launched operations against Baitullah Mehsud in January after his force overran a series of military outposts and forts in South Waziristan and attacks government forces and institutions in neighboring settled districts of Tank and Dera Ismail Khan. The fighting ended after a cease-fire agreement was signed between the military and the Taliban.

Peshawar under threat

As the Taliban march in South Waziristan, Peshawar is under siege. The spread of Taliban influence was seen last weekend, when a Taliban force kidnapped 25 Christians from a home in the heart of Peshawar. Several of the kidnapped Christians were later reported released, but the fate of those still in captivity is still unknown.

Peshawar has seen an uptick in activity over the past month. Five policemen have been killed since June 9, four of them in an ambush and another in an improvised explosive device attack. Five civilians were killed in an IED attack on June 14. On June 3, the Taliban issued a warning for theater owners to shut down. On June 9, an Internet cafe was bombed. The city has been described as “a city of walls and barriers” as security forces block roads to prevent attacks.

Government officials have openly stated that the city is under threat of a Taliban takeover. The Interior Secretary for the Northwest Frontier Province said the Taliban are moving on Peshawar. Peshawar’s police chief said the Taliban will soon be in control of the entire district if steps are not taken to halt the advance.

Perhaps the most damning indictment on the Taliban’s presence in the provincial capital comes from Peshawar’s business leaders. An estimated 90 percent of the materials used to supply Peshawar’s industry have not been shipped due to the security situation, and investors are “worried about the prevailing situation,” according to a report in the Daily Times. “Businessmen have warned of shifting their enterprises to other provinces if the government did not take steps to control the law and order situation,” the paper reported.

Government leaders have said they will not allow a Taliban takeover of Peshawar, which contains a US Consulate and serves as the headquarters of Pakistan’s 11th Corps. Peshawar is also a waypoint for NATO supplies into Afghanistan. But the government also said it would press forward with negotiations in the region despite the Taliban advance.

This year, the government signed peace deals in Swat, Bajaur, Malakand, and Mohmand. Negotiations are under way in Kohat and Mardan. The Taliban have violated the terms of these agreements in every region where accords have been inked.

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

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10 Comments

  • Marlin says:

    M. K. Bhadrakumar has interesting article today about how Russia is considering increasing their cooperation to make up for NATO’s inability to contribute satisfactorily in Afghanistan. It’s an interesting development to consider as the situation continues to unravel in Pakistan.

    One thing is clear. Moscow acted with foresight in initiating the proposal at the beginning of the year that NATO could use Russian territory for the dispatch of its supplies to Afghanistan. The agreement formalized at NATO’s Bucharest summit meeting on April 2-4 served Moscow’s purpose in different ways. Moscow signaled that despite Washington’s hostile mode, it is prepared to help out in Afghanistan, which only shows that the Russian-NATO relationship can be based on mutuality of interests and concerns.
    As expected, NATO’s European members were receptive to such a signal. At the Russia-NATO council meeting on the sidelines of the Bucharest summit, for the first time perhaps, the format worked in the fashion in which it was intended to work when the Bill Clinton administration proposed it to a distraught Boris Yeltsin anxious about NATO’s expansion plans in the mid-1990s – that the format would have the alliance members participate as national entities rather than as bloc members.

    Asia Times: Russia joins the war in Afghanistan

  • KW64 says:

    “About 4,000 Pakistani troops are based near Jandola, but did not interfere during the Taliban attacks on their erstwhile allies.”
    The COIN principle of protecting the population does not seem to a tactic of the Pakistani army at the moment. Nor does recruiting local support and nurturing their self-defence efforts.
    You hear nothing about the threat to Peshawar or our supply lines on the MSM. Only the Long War Journal seems to find it significant. One has to wonder how the general Pakistani population would react to the fall of Peshawar to a group that slaughters large numbers of people. I cannot believe that it would raise the popularity of the central government if the army stood by and did nothing.

  • KW64 says:

    Pakistani Army spokesman says that the militants have all left Jandola. AFP quotes residents as saying they are still there.
    Maybe the army did not really look.

  • AMac says:

    “Government leaders have said they will not allow a Taliban takeover of Peshawar”
    “the government also said it would press forward with negotiations in the region despite the Taliban advances.”
    The Fall of South Waziristan, was ably chronicled by The Long War Journal for years before mainstream media began to notice.
    And so now we watch as that defeat morphs into The Fall of Northwest Pakistan. Parts of the Pakistani press are clearly aware. The Islamabad government? The Western press? Once again, not so much.

  • Robert G. says:

    “FISHY?” Sure smells; The Pakistan government is hiding something from U.S.A. military!, bin laden? “Terrorist?” $Billions of U.S. money? You can`t help those whom don`t help themselves! PERIOD…

  • Cordell says:

    Is the Pakistani Army really this feeble and feckless? Are they cowards? Or does the problem lie with the Pakistani government and leadership? And if Pakistan is willing to give up its control over the NWFP, why don’t they simply cede Kashmir to India while their at it? One wonders if they even would defend Islamabad from the Taliban.

  • NS says:

    “Is the Pakistani Army really this feeble and feckless? Are they cowards? Or does the problem lie with the Pakistani government and leadership? ”
    They dont want to fight with the Taliban as the Army is full of Wahhabists who covertly root for the Taliban. About 60% of the pakistani civilian population wants to “talk” to the taliban – the reason is very simple – pakistanis see the taliban as their muslim brethren and would actually not mind if the taliban is a threat to the US or to Afghanistan – in fact most pakistanis saw 9/11 as a deserving commuppence for America. They also see themselves as “victims of the war on terror” – muslim vicitimhood is a staple in the region and in pakistan.
    And if Pakistan is willing to give up its control over the NWFP, why don’t they simply cede Kashmir to India while their at it?
    Kashmir is an integral part of India – even that part of Kashmir that is occupied by Pakistan is not officially considered by the paki Govt to be a part of the country – they want to wait until they annex the entire Kashmiri region to declare it to be an official part of the country.
    “One wonders if they even would defend Islamabad from the Taliban.”
    The Taliban is not that foolish, nor does it have that much capacity. Both the pakis and the talibanis are basically waiting for NATO to lose its will and leave the region – once they do, the taliban will then try to get back afghanistan ( they have already tried to assasinate Karzai to do just that)
    If things go according to plan, the taliban regains its control of afghanistan and pakistan goes back to using it for strategic depth against India and they will try to capture Kashmir again.
    All this is very unlikely to happen – unless of course NATO loses its will. THats what both the pakis and talibanis are truly longing for.

  • anand says:

    Bill has an amazing article on his right bar:
    //www.chowk.com/articles/14202
    Masood Azhar., one of OBL’s closest friends (and who publicly declared OBL to be his “Emir”) now has a militia of 700 troops and recieves significant support from powerful parts of the Pakistani establishment. Many Pakistanis now think the US is sending the ISI and Pakistani Army money to support AQ, the Taliban, and their allies.
    In fact many in Kandahar believe the same thing.

  • Freedom Now says:

    Years of supporting terrorism in Kashmir and the long term relationship with the Taliban means that Pakistan has little will to fully fight the war on terror.
    Even those who legitimately claim to be anti-terrorist are easily manipulated by their enemies. Look at the riots targeting the Pakistani security forces following Bhutto’s assasination.
    When you dont understand your enemies’ methods, you really dont understand how to fight them.

  • John Duncan says:

    Does anybody know where this is going? I mean, do the NWFP become de facto Talibanistan, with the entire nation under control of Wahhabists? Is a nuclear Wahabbist Pakistan any better than a nuclear Iran? If anybody has insight into this, I’d appreciate the enlightenment. Thanks.

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