The Pakistani military has captured a Taliban commander who is one of the 21 most-wanted leaders in the district of Swat, dealing another setback to the terror group.
Security forces captured Sher Muhammad Qasab during an operation in the Charbagh region in Swat after his compound was surrounded. Qasab was wounded during the operations and later surrendered, Geo News reported.
Qasab commanded Taliban forces in the Charbagh region of Swat. Charbagh has served as a Taliban stronghold; the group maintained training camps in the region and put up tough resistance in the area during the Pakistani Army’s military offensive during the spring and summer of this year.
Qasab is the fifth member of the Swat Taliban leadership killed or captured who are on the Pakistani government’s list of the 21 most-wanted. Qasab had a 10 million rupee ($123,000) bounty on his head.
Last week, Pakistani security forces detained Haji Muslim Khan, the Swat Taliban spokesman and a military commander; Mahmood Khan, a senior military commander; and Mufti Bashir Ahmad; along with two members of the Swat Taliban shura, or executive council. The men were arrested during negotiations with the Pakistani military, according to a report in The News. The Pakistani military denied it was in negotiations with the Taliban.
In June, Shah Doran, Swat Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah’s deputy and a senior military commander, was killed during a raid. Muslim Khan and Doran were among the four most-wanted Swat Taliban leaders.
In July, the military arrested Sufi Mohammed, the leader of the banned pro-Taliban Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammed [TNSM or the Movement for the Enforcement of Mohammed’s Law]. Sufi and the TNSM provided the political cover for the Taliban to overtake Swat. Sufi will reportedly be charged with treason.
The capture of Muslim Khan, Mahmood Khan, and Ahmad sparked a rumor in the British press that Fazlullah was captured and the Swat Taliban had surrendered. This was reported in the Telegraph on Sept. 13 [see Threat Matrix report, Swat’s Mullah Fazlullah captured?].
But the Pakistani military did not confirm the report and said the military believes it is zeroing in on Fazlullah’s location. In the past, the military and government officials have claimed Fazlullah was killed, captured, or gravely wounded, but the reports were later shown to be inaccurate.
The Swat Taliban have suffered a major setback in Swat as hundreds of their fighters have turned themselves in to the military or to local tribal lashkars. The military has indicated that Taliban fighters will by tried in qazi, or Islamic, courts. It is unclear if the senior commanders will be tried by the Pakistani state or in local courts.
The military has claimed that more than 2,000 Taliban fighters have been killed and thousands more have been captured in Swat and the neighboring districts of Dir and Buner, while losing only some 330 Pakistani soldiers. US military and intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that the Pakistani estimates of the Taliban killed and captured are high, and that civilians are being lumped in with these numbers, but the Taliban have encountered significant casualties. The Swat Taliban have an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 fighters under arms.
Background on the Malakand Accord and fighting in Swat
The fighting in Swat, Dir, Buner, and Shangla broke out earlier this year after a peace agreement with the Taliban fell apart. The agreement, known as the Malakand Accord, placed the Malakand Division and the district of Kohistan under the control of the Taliban. The Malakand Division comprises the districts of Malakand, Swat, Shangla, Buner, Dir, and Chitral. Together with the neighboring Kohistan district, the Malakand Division encompasses nearly one-third of the Northwest Frontier Province.
The government signed the Malakand Accord with Sufi Mohammed, the father-in-law of Swat Taliban leader Mullah Qair Fazlullah, on Feb. 16, after two years of fighting that had put the Taliban in control of the district. During those two years, the military was defeated three separate times while attempting to wrest control from the Taliban. Each defeat further consolidated the Taliban’s dominance over the district.
The peace agreement called for the end of military operations in Swat, the end of Taliban operations, and the imposition of sharia, or Islamic law, in the Malakand Division.
But the Taliban violated the agreement immediately after signing it, and proceeded to attack security forces and conduct armed patrols. The military remained silent while the government approved the Taliban’s demand for sharia throughout Malakand.
The government ordered a military offensive in Dir and Buner after enormous pressure from the US and other Western governments to stem the Taliban tide pushing toward central Pakistan. The Taliban advanced from Swat into Buner in early April and took over the district in eight days. The move into Buner put the Taliban within 60 miles of Islamabad and close to several nuclear facilities and the vital Tarbela Dam. The Taliban also have moved into Mansehra and established bases and a training camp in the region.
Pakistani government and military officials had dismissed the Taliban threat to Islamabad and the country’s nuclear facilities, but at the end of April, the local Islamabad government ordered troops to deploy in the Margala hills just north of the city to block a Taliban advance, while the Haripur government beefed up security at the Tarbela Dam.
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