The Taliban claimed credit for a suicide attack that killed two leaders of an anti-Taliban militia and six others in Pakistan’s northwest.
The suicide bomber detonated his vest at a market in the Pasht bazaar in the Salarzai area of the Bajaur tribal agency. Malik Tehsil Khan and Malik Mayn Jan, two senior tribal leaders in the Salarzai tribe who led an anti-Taliban militia, were among the eight people killed in the attack.
The Taliban confirmed that Khan and Jan were targeted because they supported the anti-Taliban lashkar, or tribal militia, in the area.
“We carried out the bombing against the peace committee because they had joined the government and were maligning Taliban,” Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan told AFP after the deadly attack. “We had warned them before and warn them again that they should disband this anti-Taliban peace committee otherwise we will continue to attack them till they are totally eliminated.”
Also today, the Taliban stormed the home of the Swat district president of the Awami National Party in the Matta area of Swat. Muzaffar Ali Khan and two associates were killed, Dawn reported. The Awami National Party has opposed the spread of the Taliban in the northwest and leads the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The Taliban have carried out three other high-profile suicide attacks in the past week. On May 26, a suicide bomber killed more than 24 people in an attack on a police station in Hangu. On May 25, a suicide bomber killed five policemen and a soldier in an attack on a hotel in a secured area of Peshawar. And on May 22, a suicide assault team killed 10 military personnel and destroyed two P-3C Orion aircraft in an attack on a naval base in Karachi.
Today’s attack is the second against the Salarzai militia in six weeks. On April 23, a suicide bomber killed the head of a Salarzai militia and four security personnel in an attack on his convoy in Bajaur.
The Taliban have been attacking the Salarzai tribe for years [see LWJ report, Taliban execute Bajaur tribal leader, from December 2009]. The Salarzai tribe, which lives in a region adjoining the Mamond tribal areas, has clashed with the Taliban, which have been based in the Mamond area of Bajaur. Salarzai tribal leaders have accused Pakistan’s military and intelligence service of aiding the Taliban against tribes that dare to raise lashkars, or militias, against them, and of even shelling Salarzai tribal areas. A senior Salarzai tribal leader later denied such reports, however, and said the tribe was working hand in hand with the government.
Although the military has conducted several operations in Bajaur, it has failed to eject the Taliban. Since 2008, the Pakistani military has twice claimed victory over the Taliban in Bajaur. During the same time period, the military has launched several major operations in an effort to clear the Taliban from the tribal agency. The campaign has been described as brutal, as the military used scorched earth tactics in an effort to eject the terrorist group.
But the military has failed to kill or capture the top Taliban leaders in Bajaur. The leadership cadre and most of the fighters escaped to neighboring tribal agencies or slipped across the border into the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan.
The Mamond region in Bajaur is a notorious stronghold for the Taliban and Faqir Mohammed, the chief of the Bajaur Taliban. And al Qaeda is also known to shelter in Mamond. In January 2006, the US targeted a meeting of senior al Qaeda leaders in the town of Damadola in Mamond. Ayman al Zawahiri, Abu Khabab al Masri, and several other senior al Qaeda leaders were thought to be meeting there.
The Mamond region in Bajaur has also served as a safe haven for the Swat chapter of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. In December 2009, Shah Doran, the deputy to notorious Swat Taliban commander Mullah Fazlullah, died of complications from cancer in the Mamond region. The Pakistani military had previously claimed Doran was killed in June of that year during the military operation in Swat.
Qari Zai Rahman the dual-hatted Taliban and al Qaeda leader, also operates in Pakistan’s tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand, as well as in Kunar and neighboring Nuristan province in Afghanistan. ISAF and Afghan forces have been hunting Rahman for more than a year.
Background on Taliban attacks against lashkars in Pakistan’s northwest
Throughout the northwest, local Pakistani tribal leaders have raised lashkars to oppose the spread of the Taliban. But the terror group has countered by ruthlessly attacking tribal meetings and killing senior leaders. The largest such attack against tribal leaders took place in December 2010, when a suicide bomber killed 50 people and wounded more than 100 in an attack on a government official’s office in Ghalalnai, the administrative seat of the tribal agency of Mohmand, which borders Bajaur to the south. In January 2011, a suicide bomber killed 37 people attending the funeral of a relative of Hakeem Khan, a Pashtun tribal leader who has raised a local militia against the Taliban in the Matni area in Peshawar.
Over the past several years, the Taliban have mounted a savage campaign against tribal leaders in the greater northwest who oppose them. 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. [See LWJ report, Anti-Taliban tribal militia leader assassinated in Pakistan’s northwest, for more information on the difficulties of raising tribal lashkars in Pakistan’s northwest.]