Taliban move on Buner despite promise to withdraw

The Taliban takeover of the district of Buner in Pakistan’s insurgency-plagued Northwest Frontier Province has accelerated as forces are fanning out through the region unopposed.

Security forces and the tribal lashkars, or militias, have not resisted the Taliban advance. “They have taken control of vast areas in Buner,” a witness told Dawn “They are freely moving around while police and other law-enforcement personnel remain confined to their posts.”

Police were ordered not to fight the Taliban, an officer said. “We have been asked by our seniors not to interfere with the Taliban,” an officer said, while claiming the Taliban carried advanced weapons.

The Taliban are patrolling the main roads in the district and are just outside the main town of Daggar, according to Dawn. Taliban fighters have taken control of the homes of tribal leaders who raised the lashkars and threatened to punish them for opposing the advance.

The local tribes in Buner raised lashkars earlier this week and clashed with the Taliban as they entered the district. Sixteen Taliban fighters, three policemen, and two tribal fighters were reported to have been killed.

Taliban fighters have begun to enforce their radical brand of sharia, or Islamic law, in Buner. “Militants set on fire TV sets, pictures and paintings and audio and video cassettes before the Friday prayers,” Dawn reported. “They locked the [Pir Baba] shrine, stopping followers of Pir Baba from visiting the place.” Pir Baba was a Sufi saint. The Taliban have targeted Sufi shrines during their takeover of Northwestern Pakistan.

The push to overtake Buner comes just one day after the Taliban agreed to withdraw from Buner. Yesterday, Syed Mohammad, the Malakand Division Commissioner, said the Taliban would pull out of Buner on April 10. Instead the Taliban used the negotiations as cover to finish their push into the defenseless district.

Pakistani tribes unable to resist the Taliban onslaught

Last fall, the Pakistani government and the military encouraged tribal leaders to raise lashkars to oppose the spread of the Taliban. Since the beginning of 2008, Pakistani tribes organized lashkars in regions in Bajaur, Peshawar, Khyber, Swat, Dir, Buner, and Lakki Marwat. The tribes have had some success in driving the Taliban from local areas by conducting patrols and burning down the homes of Taliban fighters and their supporters, but ultimately failed to halt the Taliban advance.

“The Taliban is more vicious, more motivated, and more capable than the tribes,” a US military officer who closely follows the situation in northwestern Pakistan told The Long War Journal. “Time and time again, the Taliban has ruthlessly crushed any resistance. It doesn’t matter if it is the tribes, the police, the Frontier Corps, or the Army, the Taliban continues to gain ground.”

The Taliban have viciously responded to efforts by tribal leaders to oppose the spread of extremism. Tribal opposition has been violently attacked and defeated in Peshawar, Dir, Arakzai, Khyber, and Swat. Suicide bombers have struck at tribal meetings held at mosques, schools, hotels, and homes.

The Taliban have also made examples of local leaders who have dared to resist. In Swat, the Taliban executed a local tribal leader named Pir Samiullah, then returned to the village to dig up his body and hang it in the town square. The villagers were warned not to remove his body or they would face the same fate.

Samiullah’s tribe was the showcase for Pakistan’s “awakening,” the indigenous tribal uprising against the Taliban modeled after Iraq’s Sunni resistance to al Qaeda and allied jihadi groups. The Swat tribal resistance collapsed with Samiullah’s death and desecration.

Problems with manpower, training, geography, coordination between the tribes, and support from the military and government plague the tribal efforts to oppose the Taliban.

The Pakistani tribes are operating as distinct, local fighting forces with no central coordination, while the Taliban can coordinate their activities across the northwest and even from inside eastern Afghanistan. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, Baitullah Mehsud’s unified Taliban command, was established to share manpower and resources and to coordinate activities.

“The tribes are limited by geography, the TTP [Pakistani Taliban] is not,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal in September 2008 [see LWJ report: Pakistan engages the tribes in effort to fight the Taliban]. “Moreover, the Taliban out-number and out-gun them by more than 20 to 1. The tribes may achieve tactics success in some areas, but likely will fail to achieve strategic success.”

The problems are complicated by the tribes’ unwillingness to cooperate with the government and the military. “We keep the government away,” a senior tribal leader in Lakki Marwat told Geo News last fall.

The tribes fear cooperation with the government will further turn the Taliban and sympathetic tribes against them. “If we became part of the government they would become an excuse, a liability, a rallying cry against us,” the Lakki Marwat tribal leader said. Similar sentiments were expressed by Buner tribal leaders earlier this week. This attitude prevents the military from providing the needed security to oppose massed Taliban attacks.

For more information on problems with Pakistan’s “Awakening,” see:

The Pakistan Problem, and the wrong solution

Nov. 21, 2007

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



  • Minnor says:

    Tribals unable to resist because of “terrorism” like suicide bombing in civilian gatherings. While conventional warfare has advantages for localites. Let us see the Battle of Buner.

  • micah says:

    This is crazy! can’t believe this is happening. I stayed in the town of Pir Baba last summer. Somehow I knew this was inevitable. I have friends who volunteer and run a small computer center at a school in Pir Baba with some limited internet activity. I hope they are safe. I don’t know what the Talib’s take is on computers and Internet, but I would guess it would be the same stance as DVD shops and television.

  • Micah says:

    no there should be NO Battle of Buner. Buneris have made it clear they do not want the same fate as Swat. Buner has been too peaceful. Buneris hate Taliban, not mainly because of who they are and what they do, but mainly because they brought war and military into Swat (I know this first hand from talking to them). Buneris do not want military moving into their distract at all, not now not ever. I don’t know what the solution is but I don’t think war will solve the problem. Infact, from my experience in both districts (Swat and Buner), Buner may be harder to drive Taliban out via warfare than Swat. The villages are less centralized around main roads in Buner, as opposed to Swat, and while Swat is higher elevation, most of the Talib presence was in lower Swat. The mountains in lower Swat are more rocky and theres less terrain that can easily be climbed over. Buner district is much more jungle like. I think its easier to blend into the cluttered valleys of Buner, as opposed to lower Swat. Also, Buner is much less developed. Most of the villages in Swat have electricity and communication lines. Not so in Buner.

  • flyonthewall says:

    Your intimate experience among this tender culture is illuminating. However, [The Buneris] may not be interested in war, but war is interested in [them]. (Leon Trotsky). And the predictable sequel is that the “imperialists” (aka civilization) will be demonized as the root of all evil. Sadder still, self-hating, myopic Westerners will endorse the myth.

  • Pakistan Army is using Taliban to achieve its aims, even internally.
    1. The coming of Mahdi is given in different Hadiths: TRUE
    2. Majority of Pak Army officers, ISI heads, Taliban, LeT cadres, local police force are students of DEOBANDI schools or influenced by DEOBANDI school of thought: TRUE
    3. Taliban was created by ISI: True
    4. Haqqani network closest to ISI: True
    5. Nawaz Sharif did meet Osama and promised to promulgate Sharia all over Pakistan, and this was brokered by Hamid Gul: True
    6. Hamid Gul talks of Pakistan leading the world in religious renaissance. Islam and Pakistan are intertwined. And he is the Godfather of Taliban and LeT: True
    7. Taliban is encircling Pakistan and is present in all major towns. And the military is not doing anything major to flush them out. Swat fell almost too easily: True
    8. In Karachi’s Defense Housing Area, out of the 42 mosques present, 40 are controlled by the Taliban. And this is considered a posh area. And this information is: True
    9. Does Pakistan Army want Sharia in Pakistan? Answer is YES. Gen ZIA started the Islamization of forces keeping this in mind. And today where Pakistan Army ends and where Taliban or LeT starts – the lines have blurred. : TRUE
    LOGICALLY therefore: Complicity of Taliban advancement into urban centres is written large on the faces of Pakistan Army & ISI.

  • Micah says:

    Uumm, that response is a bit exaggerated and Islamaphobic. For one thing, the concept of the Mahdi is only accepted at a mainstream level amongst Shias. There are select pockets of Sunnis who believe in these concepts (though the views of WHO & WHAT the Mahdi is differentiate, and this train of thought is actually more associated with unorthodox sufi circles and is not a belief held by ultra-conservative Deobandis or Wahabis. So its an irrelevant point).
    Also, Sharif was the last entity needed to sign off on the deal to officially impliment Shariah in Swat, and he DID NOT. So… im not sure if I believe that. Sufi Mohammad pulled out partly because of this.
    Also, Shariah alone does not mean alliances with Taliban. This is a misconception. In polls, somewhere around 3/4 of Pakistan wants Shariah, and close to 90% want, at the very least, the country and government to have some forms of Islamic leanings. The disagreement is interpretation; most people don’t want Taliban’s Shariah and certainly don’t want Taliban enforcing it or running Shariah courts. Buner is a great example. Most Buneris WANT Shariah, but they hate the contemporary Taliban to a great extent. Just because there is a desire for Shariah, does not automatically mean there is respect or support for Taliban.
    Basically, a lot of what you speak of is in the past. Yes ISI propagated Taliban, but times have changed, the Taliban of yesterday is not necessary the Taliban of today, and the political gains the Taliban serve the Pakistani government yesterday, won’t necessarily benefit them today. I think your simplifying the situation and exaggerating it highly. Its a very Islamaphobic view, no offense.
    Also, I would not consider Karachi a posh area. Culturally, the Sindh are more moderate, similarly to Punjabis, but theres still close networks of extremist activity and cells in Karachi because of its location with Balochistan to the north, and the roads to and from Balochistan are a lot more volatile, less secure and isolated than the roads to and from Punjab to the east.

  • JusCruzn says:

    The Taliban and AQ were both formed and created in Pakistan. Guess it’s true you reap what you sow!

  • Neo says:

    Yes, I can believe that the supporters of Sharia in Buner want an interpretation that is distinct from what the Taliban impose. This distinction is completely lost on the leaders of the Taliban who reserve for themselves “their duty”

  • Neo says:

    Well, the Anami National Party’s attempts to peacefully accommodate the Taliban seem to have hit a snag. Couldn’t see that one coming?

  • KW64 says:

    Didn’t the Pakistani army and government leaders notice what happened to the Irnian army and government leaders when they allowed Khomeini to take over? Appeasement does not work. Do they think they can just get out of Dodge before it comes to that?

  • Raven says:

    Pakistani establishment (primarily Civilian government, Army, ISI) do not have “us-versus-them” relationship when it comes to Taliban. They have “us-versus-our own” mentality. It’s hard for us to see this but it’s a reality. The question is that will all parties making arrangements to live under Taliban or elites will bail leaving “moderate, middle class” refugees to be handled by UN.

  • Neo says:

    Yes, Iran is a fairly good example of what often happens when a widely based revolution is taken over by an extremist core. Once that revolution had overthrown the Shah, the Islamic Revolutionaries quickly consolidated their position and cleaned house of undesirable former allies. Historically this has parallels in both the Russian and French revolutions.
    The Taliban is quite a bit different though. They have successfully harnessed political resistance movements to their ends in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Chechnya, and Algeria. Once having established a position of leadership they stridently demand absolute compliance in all matters, religious, political, cultural, and personal. In addition anyone under their control risks arbitrary punishment, conscription into the cause against their will, and expropriation of their livelihood for whatever cause.
    Unlike movements before it, the Taliban hasn’t waited for the overthrow of the state before imposing its harsh strictures upon everyone under its control. Tis is because the Taliban is about the establishment of fanatical religious movement rather than a conventional state. In this case the movement itself and its ongoing jihad are both means and ends.
    For Pakistani conservatives who favor the adoption of Sharia the Talibans position may present a conundrum. While the Taliban professes adherence to Islamic law, in practice they have conscripted the law as a mechanism of control. They use it as a weapon to coerce the population into absolute subservience. Anyone who diverges in opinion is targeted as an enemy of Islam.
    As a further the abuse they believe that the ongoing jihad permits them whatever practical means they deem necessary to defeat the enemy, even if their methods fall well outside what is allowed by Islam. Apparently the ongoing slaughter of their fellow Muslims in mass bombings is justified by the end cause. I don’t think it is just my western logic that finds their line of reasoning to be warped.
    It doesn’t take an expert to see that the core logic behind the Talibans actions is not Islam. It’s the logic of ends justifying any means. Yes! The oldest moral shortcut of them all.
    If you want to find an analogous movement in western history, I suggest some of the more extreme elements involved in the reformation and counter-reformation during the thirty years war.

  • rational enquirer says:

    I don’t think you have to go back as far as the counter-reformation; how about Adolf Hitler and his Aryanism. Another case of “beliefs” used to justify any means and any ends.

  • Neo says:

    I was looking for a much closer analogy than German Nazis.

  • Marlin says:

    News reports are sketchy, but it doesn’t seem like the Taliban made a sustained push in Buner on Saturday.

    BUNER ( 2009-04-11 23:19:47 ) :Taliban on Saturday ended the possession of Pir Baba shrine and quit the area after a successful dialogue with Commissioner Malakand and local ‘Lashkar’.
    A large number of Taliban on Tuesday entered Bunir and locked the shrine of Pir Baba.
    After their successful dialogue Taliban announced that the will vacate Bunir on Friday, but they left Bunir on Saturday morning.

    Aaj TV: Taliban end possession of Pir Baba shrine, quit area

  • Micah says:

    Talking to my friend on the phone right now, who lives in the heart of Pir Baba. Taliban never made it to the town and the shrine was closed for security reasons, and Taliban are leaving now.
    Taliban only made it to Bhatai kalay, a village about 7 kilometers outside Pir Baba.
    Hhmmm, news on this region is always iffy

  • Marlin says:

    The media is now agreeing with Micah.

    The sources said Swat-based Taliban have completed their pull out from District Buner while local Taliban are still present in Gokan, Bugra, Sultan Was and Tehsil Salarzai.

    Geo TV: Taliban complete pull out from Buner

  • Micah says:

    Update from my friend. Taliban are back and are all over Buner now, occupying the shrine of Pir Baba, burning television sets, doing public preaching, driving around making their presence known. It sounds like Buner has completely fallen… At first things were going back and forth and it seemed like Taliban was leaving, but now they are EVERYWHERE.

  • Marlin says:

    The MSM now confirms what Micah’s friend is reporting.

    Taliban took the control of Buner, Nazim of Union Council Gadizai said.
    UC Nazim Afsar Khan said people started migrating after Taliban’s hold. Taliban are patrolling in the area with arms and no one is there to stop them. He said Taliban have seized the properties of locals.

    Geo TV: Taliban take control of Buner: UC Nazim Gadizai

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Marlin, isn’t this what we’ve been reporting all along?

  • Neo says:

    Local resistance collapses once again. Sounds as if the Taliban gave them an offer they couldn’t refuse. It doesn’t take much to figure out what is going to happen. This same pattern has been happening since 2004, so why would it be any different this time around? Those in denial will hope things turn out differently.
    That doesn’t say that things will stay the same once this hits the more the central plains and more populated areas. I’m not looking forward to that, but it will come just the same.


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