The Taliban have defeated the primary tribal opposition organized against it in the insurgency-wracked district of Swat in Pakistan’s northwest. The leader of the tribal resistance was killed and two of his aides were beheaded last weekend after the Taliban overran the region controlled by the opposition.
Pir Samiullah, a rival tribal and religious leader opposing Mullah Fazlullah’s forces in the Matta region of Swat, and eight of his followers were killed in a Taliban assault on Dec. 16. Two of his aides were subsequently beheaded in public, while an estimated 40 of his followers have been captured. “The Taliban also torched the houses of Samiullah and 15 elders of his group,” Daily Times reported.
After Samiullah was buried, the Taliban returned, dug up his body and hanged it in public. The Taliban made an example of Samiullah and those who oppose Fazlullah’s rule.
Samiullah was the first tribal leader in Swat to raise a lashkar, or tribal army, to oppose the Taliban. He claimed to have organized more than 10,000 tribesmen to oppose the Taliban and protect 20 villages. Samiullah and his followers are members of the Gujjar community, which is a group distinct from the dominant Pashtun tribal confederations that support the Taliban.
The Taliban targeted Samiullah and his tribal lashkar in late October. Fazlullah’s forces killed seven members of Samiullah’s tribal council and took more than 60 hostage after an assault on a tribal meeting.
The Pakistani government has been courting the tribes to support the efforts to take on the Taliban in the tribal areas and in the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. Tribal lashkars have been formed in Peshawar, Swat, Dir, Buner, Bajaur, Khyber, and Arakzai. The Taliban have ruthlessly attacked tribal groups organizing resistance.
The Taliban hold an advantage over the disparate tribal groups in organization and fighters. The Taliban are organized throughout the tribal areas and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province, while tribal resistance groups operate independently. The Taliban “out-number and out-gun [resisting tribal groups] by more than 20 to 1,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal in October. And the tribes receive little support from the government and military. In many cases, they do not want government assistance.
Background on the fighting in Swat
Pakistani forces have been fighting forces aligned with Mullah Fazlullah, a radical cleric of the outlawed Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM – the Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law). Fazlullah wields considerable power in Swat.
The TNSM is known as the “Pakistani Taliban” and is the group behind the ideological inspiration for the Afghan Taliban. The TNSM sent more than 10,000 fighters into Afghanistan to fight US forces during Operation Enduring Freedom in October 2001.
Fazlullah merged with Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-e-Taliban, or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, in December 2007.
Fazlullah has successfully organized anti-polio vaccination and anti-girls’ schools campaigns throughout the region. The Swat region has been a safe haven and training ground for the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda.
The military began operations to clear the Taliban in Swat and neighboring Shangla in November 2007 after Fazlullah’s forces overran the district. The military claimed it would clear the Taliban from Swat by mid-December 2007, little more than one year ago.
After a half of a year of brutal fighting, the government negotiated a peace accord with Fazlullah in May 2008. Fighting restarted in July 2008. The government said the operation would be completed by September. In a recent briefing to Parliament, a senior Pakistani general admitted Swat and Shangla are under Taliban control.
Hundreds of Pakistani soldiers and policemen have been killed in fighting in Swat since January 2007. The military has not provided numbers of soldiers killed or captured this year. The Taliban have destroyed more 125 schools in Swat over the past year.
Swat was once Pakistan’s vacation paradise, rich with golf courses, hiking trails, a ski resort, and archeological sites. The fighting has destroyed Swat’s tourist industry. Fazlullah’s forces have burned down the ski lodge and bombed the lifts.
For more information on problems with Pakistan’s “Awakening,” see:
Nov. 21, 2007