Faqir Mohammed, the leader of the Taliban in Bajaur and the deputy leader of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan. Image courtesy of AfPax Insider.
The Pakistani Taliban admitted that their forces kidnapped up to 25 boys who accidentally crossed the border from Bajaur into the neighboring Afghan province of Kunar two days ago.
Ihsanullah Ihsan, a Taliban spokesman, said the boys were kidnapped to punish tribal leaders in Bajaur who sided with the government.
“We have kidnapped them as their parents and tribal elders are helping the government and are fighting against us,” Ihsan told Reuters today. Ishan said that the Taliban has been planning to conduct a mass kidnapping.
A large group of boys accidentally crossed into Afghanistan as they were celebrating the end of Ramadan. The Taliban released 20 of the boys who were under ten years old, Reuters reported.
One day after their kidnapping, Pakistani officials said that Bajaur Taliban leader Faqir Mohammad was behind the kidnapping. Ihsan confirmed this when he said that the Bajaur Taliban would decide what would be done with the kidnapped boys. Faqir operates along the Afghan-Pakistan border, and is known to broadcast for several hours a day on an illegal FM radio channel in order to spread jihadist propaganda and intimidate those who oppose Taliban rule. He is believed to broadcast his radio show from Afghanistan.
The Pakistani boys are said to be from the Mamond area of Bajaur, a traditional base of power for Faqir. The Taliban have been attacking the Salarzai tribe, which lives in a region adjoining the Mamond tribal areas, for years [see LWJ report, Taliban execute Bajaur tribal leader, from December 2009]. In late May, a suicide bomber killed two anti-Taliban militia leaders in the Salarzai’s tribal areas.
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.
Faqir’s forces have teamed up with those of Mullah Fazlullah, the Taliban leader of Swat who was forced from the Pakistani district in 2009, and Qari Zia Rahman, the dual-hatted al Qaeda and Taliban commander who operates in Bajaur and Mohmand agencies in Pakistan and Kunar and Nuristan in Afghanistan.
These commanders have been behind a string of attacks along the border. Over the past year, outposts in Chitral, Dir, and Bajaur in Pakistan, as well as in Nuristan and Kunar in Afghanistan have come under massed assaults by hundreds of Taliban fighters. In the last attack, on Aug. 25, more than 300 Taliban fighters overran two Frontier Corps outposts in Chitral and killed more than 25 Pakistani security personnel.
In one of the larger attacks in Pakistan this year, 27 policemen and 45 Taliban fighters were killed during battles in the Shaltalu area of the district of Dir in the beginning of June. At least 16 policemen were captured and then brutally executed by the Taliban. A video of the execution was released on the Internet [see LWJ report, Video of brutal Taliban execution of Pakistani policemen emerges].
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.