Click map for full view. Taliban presence, in the Islamabad region. Information on Taliban presence obtained from open source and derived by The Long War Journal based on the presence of Taliban shadow governments, levels of fighting, and reports from the region. Map created by Bill Raymond for The Long War Journal. Last updated: April 24, 2009.
The Taliban blocked a military convoy from moving into the main town in Swat as rumors swirl that the military will launch an operation in the region over the next two days.
The Taliban surrounded a military convoy as it attempted to enter Mingora, the administrative seat of Swat. The Taliban surrounded the convoy “from all sides,” Dawn reported, and forced the military forces to retreat. The military “warned that if such a situation developed again, the armed forces would not hesitate to use force.”
The Taliban’s move against the military is the latest violation of the ceasefire agreement that put the Taliban in full control of Swat and consolidated their hold of the Malakand Division, an administrative region that encompasses more than one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province and includes the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, Chitral, and Kohistan.
The peace agreement, known as the Malakand Accord, was implemented in the Malakand Division in mid-February. The agreement calls for the withdrawal of the Pakistani Army from Swat, the release all Taliban prisoners, the withdrawal of any criminal cases against Taliban leaders and fighters, and the imposition of sharia. President Asif Ali Zardari signed the sharia regulation into law even though the Taliban killed and kidnapped security personnel and government employees and continue to bear arms and patrol the region.
The agreement was signed with Sufi Mohammed, the leader of a Taliban front group that was banned in Pakistan after more than 10,000 of its members fought US forces in Afghanistan. Sufi was jailed for his actions and released in 2007 after the government was desperate to negotiate a peace agreement in Swat. Sufi is the father-in-law of Mullah Fazlullah, the radical leader of the Swat Taliban.
The Pakistan government’s peace agreement with the Swat Taliban and the subsequent approval of the sharia regulation have bolstered Islamist terrorists in northwestern Pakistan and created a new safe haven for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The Swat Taliban invited senior al Qaeda leaders to shelter in the region, and terrorists are opening training camps there.
The Taliban also advanced on the neighboring district of Buner and are threatening to conduct military takeovers of the districts of Mansehra, Haripur, Swabi, Mardan, and Malakand. The Taliban maintain a moderate or strong presence in these districts.
The Taliban moves are placing the capital of Islamabad and two vital nuclear facilities at risk. The Islamabad district government has taken the threat seriously and has deployed the paramilitary Rangers into the hills just north of the city.
Military operation considered
The latest Swat incident comes as the Pakistani military is signaling it plans on launching a new operation against the Taliban. Military officials told Dawn that an operation will be launched against the Swat Taliban in the next two days. The paramilitary Frontier Corps and even some regular Army units are said to be mobilizing for an operation, US intelligence officials toldThe Long War Journal.
Since the summer of 2007, the Pakistani military has been defeated in its three offensives designed to oust the Taliban, led by Fazlullah. These defeats prompted the government to promise the implementation of sharia and an end to military operations in exchange for peace.
The military mobilization takes place as the Pakistani military and government have come under intense criticism from US officials. The Pakistani Army is accused of idly standing by as the Taliban advances far from the distant tribal areas into the heart of Punjab province.
The Pakistani government and military is working to deflect this criticism. Yesterday, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, said the Army “never has and never will hesitate to sacrifice, whatever it may take, to ensure safety and well-being of the people and country’s territorial integrity.”
“Victory against terror and militancy will be achieved at all costs,” Kiyani said, according to Dawn. He described the Malakand Accord as an “operational pause” designed to allow “reconciliatory forces” to restore peace in Swat.
There are other signs the government may move against the Taliban. Military forces are reported to have deployed to the village of Kalpani, Sufi Mohammed’s home town in the district of Dir.
“Security forces have started consolidating their positions and military gunships continued flying over the Tehsil [subdivision],” Geo News reported. “The area has been declared sensitive by the government due to increasing cases of kidnapping for ransom and other crimes.”
Also, the government removed Malakand division commissioner Syed Mohammad Javed from his post. Javed is a known Taliban sympathizer and is the architect of the Malakand Accord as well as the Taliban advance into Buner.
Javed ordered police forces and the tribal militias to stand down as the Taliban moved into Buner. His actions have demoralized government officials attempting to oppose the Taliban expansion in the insurgency-plagued Northwest Frontier Province.
Taliban ‘withdrawal’ from Buner in question
As reports of a pending military operation in Swat are released, the Taliban are said to be withdrawing their forces from Buner. Some reports indicated the Taliban conducted a full pullout from Buner.
“They [the Taliban] all have gone back [to Swat],” Javed told The Associated Press. “No one is left in Buner.” Javed also claimed the poorly armed and trained paramilitary Frontier Constabulary deployed more than 250 officers into Buner. Before the Taliban takeover of Buner earlier this month, Javed claimed the Taliban were withdrawing from the district. But the next day the Taliban flooded into Buner and took full control with no resistance.
Muslim Khan, the spokesman for Fazlullah, said Taliban fighters from Swat have withdrawn from Buner. “I do not know the exact number of my men who left the area but they all boarded in 15 vehicles to return to Swat,” Khan told AP. Khan claimed 100 Taliban form Swat left Buner. But more than 500 Taliban fighters are said to have entered Buner from Swat.
Khan also said the Taliban forces native to Buner are still in the region. This was confirmed by Buner’s police chief, who said they are still patrolling and manning checkpoints.
“They have gone, but left their germs here,” Abdul Rasheed Khan told Reuters. “Now we have about 200 local Taliban who can be seen on roadsides.”
US officials are skeptical that the Taliban are pulling out of Buner, and suspect any redeployment is merely a tactical move to counter any move by the Pakistani military.
“The Taliban movement in Buner is likely a redeployment to reinforce the Swat forces given that the government is making noise about an operation there,” a US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “If the Army is serious about conducting an operation in Swat, the Taliban will meet them with everything they have.”
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