A Taliban leader in North Waziristan who is favored by the Pakistani state has banned polio vaccinations until the US stops conducting drone airstrikes in the tribal areas.
Hafiz Gul Bahadar, the senior Taliban leader in North Waziristan who is known to shelter top al Qaeda leaders, said the polio vaccination program is “used to spy for America against the mujahideen.” A statement released by Bahadar referenced Dr. Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who aided the US in finding and killing Osama bin Laden. Adridi is currently serving a 33-year prison sentence for charges of supporting the Laskar-e-Islam, an Islamist terror group based in Khyber.
“As long as drone strikes are not stopped in Waziristan there will be a ban on administering polio jabs,” a statement released by Bahadar’s group said, according to The News.
“No one will have the right to complain about damage in case of any violation …. Polio campaigns are also used to spy for America against the mujahideen (holy warriors), one example of which is Dr. Shakil Afridi,” the statement continued.
Bahadar has objected to the US drone strikes in the past. On Nov. 12, Bahadar suspended meetings with the government and threatened to attack the Pakistani state if it continued to allow the US to conduct attacks in areas under his control.
Bahadar follows in the footsteps of Mullah Fazlullah, the commander of the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s faction in Swat who has ordered a ban on polio vaccinations. Fazlullah claimed the anti-polio campaign was a Western plot to sterilize Muslims.
Background on Bahadar and his ties to terrorist groups
Bahadar and the Taliban maintain a “peace agreement” with the Pakistani military that allows him to run a state within a state in the remote tribal agency. Bahadar and his commanders have set up a parallel administration, complete with courts, recruiting centers, prisons, training camps, and the ability to levy taxes.
The peace agreement allows North Waziristan to serve as a base for the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and non-aligned Taliban groups, as well as the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Group, and a host of Pakistani terror groups such as Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the Punjabi Taliban.
Last July, a spokesman for Bahadar claimed that there were no “militants” in North Waziristan, and that Bahadar’s Taliban faction has lived up to its terms of a peace agreement with the Pakistani military. But, as documented here at The Long War Journal numerous times, Bahadar provides support and shelter for top al Qaeda leaders as well as terrorists from a number of Pakistani and Central Asian terror groups, including the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan.
The US has conducted numerous airstrikes against terrorist targets in areas under Bahadar’s control. Of the 302 drone strikes that have taken place in Pakistan’s tribal areas, 77 of the strikes, or more than 25 percent, have occurred in areas directly under the control of Bahadar. [See LWJ report, Charting the data for US airstrikes in Pakistan, 2004 – 2012, for information on US airstrikes.]
Datta Khel, an area of North Waziristan under Bahadar’s control, is a known hub of Taliban, Haqqani Network, and al Qaeda activity. While Bahadar administers the region, the Haqqani Network, al Qaeda, and allied Central Asian jihadi groups are also based in the area. The Lashkar al Zil, al Qaeda’s Shadow Army, is known to have a command center in Datta Khel.
Datta Khel serves as a command and control center for al Qaeda’s top leaders, and some of them have been targeted and killed there. A US Predator airstrike in Datta Khel on Dec. 17, 2009, targeted Sheikh Saeed al Saudi, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a member of al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or executive council. Al Saudi is thought to have survived the strike, but Abdullah Said al Libi, the commander of the Shadow Army, and Zuhaib al Zahibi, a general in the Shadow Army, were both killed in the attack.
But the most significant attack in Datta Khel took place on May 21, 2010, and resulted in the death of Mustafa Abu Yazid, a longtime al Qaeda leader and close confidant of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri.
Yazid served as the leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the wider Khorasan, a region that encompasses portions of Pakistan, Iran, and several Central Asian states. More importantly, Yazid was al Qaeda’s top financier, which put him in charge of the terror group’s purse strings. He served on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or top decision-making council. Yazid also was closely allied with the Taliban and advocated the program of embedding small al Qaeda teams with Taliban forces in Afghanistan, a practice well-established in the country now.
Despite the known presence of al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist organizations in North Waziristan, and requests by the US that action be taken against these groups, the Pakistani military has indicated that it has no plans to take on Bahadar or the Haqqani Network, the other major Taliban group based there. Bahadar and the Haqqanis are considered “good Taliban” by the Pakistani military establishment as they do not carry out attacks inside Pakistan. Yet Bahadar, the Haqqanis, and other Taliban groups openly attack both civilian and military targets in Afghanistan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.