Map of the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province. The government signed peace agreements in the red agencies/ districts (the military said Shangla was under Taliban control in October); purple districts are under de facto Taliban control; yellow regions are under Taliban influence.
The Taliban have consolidated their control of the Arakzai tribal agency over the past week as the Pakistani military is redeploying troops from the insurgency-infested northwest to the eastern border with India.
The Arakzai Taliban, under the control of Hakeemullah Mehsud, has imposed sharia or Islamic law throughout the tribal agency over the past week.
The Taliban declared sharia in Upper Arakzai on Dec. 22. Tribesmen in Upper Arakzai were instructed to bring their legal disputes to Taliban courts and were ordered the end to deforestation. On Dec. 28, the Taliban in Lower Arakzai used “loudspeakers in mosques to announce the decree and were asking the people to bring their issues to ‘Taliban Islamic courts,” Daily Times reported. The Taliban “banned women from visiting bazaars and have imposed a complete ban on TV and CDs and video centers in the agency.”
The enforcement of sharia applied to 16 of Arakzai’s 21 tribes, Daily Times reported. “The other five tribes reside in areas where the Taliban have not announced sharia enforcement as yet.”
Daily Times attempted to contact Arakzai’s political agent for comment on the Taliban’s declaration of sharia but has not received a reply. The political agent is the government’s senior representative in a tribal agency.
The Arakzai Taliban are under the control of Hakeemullah Mehsud, a senior lieutenant of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud and the cousin of Qari Hussain, the notorious Taliban commander who trains child suicide bombers in South Waziristan.
Hakeemullah is a rising star in the Pakistani Taliban. He also commands the Taliban in Kurram and Khyber tribal agencies. In Khyber, Hakeemullah has rivaled the Lashkar-e-Islam for control, and has been behind the major attacks on NATO supply columns and shipping terminals in Peshawar.
Hakeemullah made his mark in Arakzai in the beginning of 2008 after his forces battled security forces in the city of Darra Adam Khel and in neighboring Kohat. The Taliban took control of the Indus Highway and the Kohat Tunnel, the north-south artery that connects Peshawar with the southern part of the province. The military was able to reopen the tunnel and the highway after the Taliban held it for almost a month. Scores of soldiers were killed or captured, at least seventy were executed. In August, the Taliban again closed the Kohat Tunnel down for more than a month.
Hakeemullah was behind the Oct. 10 suicide attacked on a tribal meeting in Arakzai. The tribal leaders met to organize an anti-Taliban lashkar, or tribal militia. The suicide attack killed 110 tribal leaders and wounded more than 100. The nascent tribal resistance was shattered.
The attack on the tribal meeting was followed with acts of intimidation. Eight anti-Taliban tribal leaders were ambushed and murdered on Oct. 23. , Two tribal members were murdered and beheaded on Nov. 10. Seven civilians and policemen were killed in a suicide attack that targeted a Shia tribal meeting on Dec. 5.
Over the past several years the Pakistani Taliban has imposed sharia the tribal agencies of Bajaur, Mohmand, and North and South Waziristan, as well as in the settled district of Swat. The Taliban have also pushed for the government to impose sharia in Malakand and throughout much of the northwest.
The Taliban have use sharia to spread their influence in the areas under its control. In these regions, the Taliban establish administrations parallel to existing government institutions. Courts, recruiting centers, tax offices, and security forces are built up. The Taliban use these institutions to fight against Pakistani forces as well against Coalition forces in Afghanistan. Training camps and safe houses have been established throughout the northwest. Al Qaeda and a host of Pakistani and central and south Asia terror groups use the region to train and plot attacks against the West, India and other governments.
As the Taliban continue to consolidate control in the northwest and NATO supply lines to Afghanistan come under increasing threat, the Pakistani military has begun to redeploy Army forces from the region. The14th Army Division, which is based in the Bajaur-Dir region, has begun to withdraw an estimated 20,000 forces from the region and is redeploying to the eastern border with India. Pakistan is taking precautions as tensions with India rise over last month’s terror assault on Mumbai, which was launched by Lashkar-e-Taiba from within Pakistan.
The Pakistani Army may pull up to one-third of its forces from the Northwest Frontier Province, Ravi Rikhye, the editor of Orbat.com told The Long War Journal. Rikhye estimated that 14 to 15 brigades have been deployed in the province. Only nine of these brigades remain in the province, he said. Rikhye noted that not all of these troops have left the region and that a redeployment of this size will take some time.
The Taliban have welcomed the Pakistani Army’s movement of forces from the region and said it has begun negotiations with the government. Mullah Omar, the chief spokesman for Baitullah Mehsud and the Pakistani Taliban, said the group would halt attacks so the military did not need a reason to stay in the northwest.
“Omar claimed that back-channel negotiations with the government were under way in Swat, Bajaur, Darra Adam Khel [Arakzai], and Mohmand tribal region and said he was hopeful of a positive outcome,” Dawn reported.
Baitullah promised to provide hundreds of suicide bombers and thousands of fighters to back the military in event of war with India, and said the Taliban would secure the eastern border with Afghanistan.
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