The pace of "Talibanization" appears to accelerate in Pakistani tribal areas
|Publication Date||26 April 2007|
|Cite as||EurasiaNet, The pace of "Talibanization" appears to accelerate in Pakistani tribal areas, 26 April 2007, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/46f257de23.html [accessed 31 August 2014]|
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Abubakar Siddique 4/26/07
The pace of the "Talibanization" in Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan appears to be accelerating this spring. The trend has been obscured by recent internecine fighting, pitting mainly Pashtun militants against fighters affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
In recent years, the area along the Afghan border that comprises the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a nominally autonomous region of 27,000 square kilometers, has developed into haven for various radical Islamic groups. The in-fighting erupted in mid-March, supposedly after Pashtun insurgents blamed IMU loyalists for the death of an Arab commander who was allied with a local Pashtun militant leader. In the months prior to the clash, resentment among indigenous radicals toward the Uzbeks had been building, reportedly due to the IMU's involvement in organized criminal activity, including robberies and murders.
Some analysts believe the clash was a byproduct of US pressure on Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to expel foreign militants from Pakistani soil. Whatever the motivation, native Pashtun groups in early April succeeded in dislodging the IMU from its stronghold in and around Wana, the main center of the South Waziristan region. Hundreds of Uzbeks were reportedly killed in the fighting, although independent confirmation was impossible. Regardless, the IMU now appears to have been crippled, if not altogether neutralized as a fighting force, enabling Musharraf to show the Bush administration that his government is making tangible progress in containing Islamic militancy.
Yet the push against the IMU is distracting from a larger threat to US objectives in Afghanistan, and more broadly, throughout Central Asia. Local militants – Pakistanis who call themselves Mujahedeen, but are often referred to as Taliban in media accounts – have taken administrative control of large portions of the tribal areas, upending traditional leadership structures. They are now in the process of building a quasi-Caliphate that operates under Sharia, or Islamic law. As they consolidate their hold over the tribal areas, these militants are also striving to expand their reach into other territories, in particular neighboring North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to the East.
Recent developments in Tank, a NWFP town bordering on the tribal area of South Waziristan, highlight the dangers posed by Talibanization. On March 26, a local militant leader and a police officer were killed in a clash that erupted as authorities tried to disrupt Islamic radical efforts to recruit local schoolchildren as insurgents, and even as suicide bombers. According to local reports, Islamic radicals burst into a private school in Tank, the Oxford Public School, forcing the students to assemble and subjecting them to a propaganda harangue, urging them to join the jihad. The school's principle, identified as Farhid Mehsud, alerted local authorities. The fighting broke out when law-enforcement officers arrived at the premises.
Two days later, in retaliation for the government action to intervene, militants launched a night assault on the town, attacking the police station, the barracks of the area's paramilitary force, government offices and banks. The militants withdrew before dawn, taking Mehsud, the school principal, with them and setting fire to municipal offices and banks. Officials called in regular army units to restore order.
Over the past year, southern areas of NWFP – including Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat and Bannu – have been increasingly exposed to Talibanization, with Islamic radicals attempting to close down Internet cafes, as well as music and DVD stores. In some instances they have also taken action to stop barbers from shaving beards.
In the northern districts of NWFP – including Kohat, Charssada, Mardan, Dir, Swat, and the provincial capital, Peshawar – Talibanization is also on the rise. In February, for example, several foreign-affiliated Peshawar schools were forced to close after receiving militant threats.
Such militant actions forced the ruling Jamiat Ulema-e Islam (JUI) political party, often viewed as the patron of the Taliban, to distance itself from such unpopular actions. The JUI is one of the most influential political forces in NWFP, and is currently a major partner in the provincial government. On April 19, a JUI-sponsored conference of Islamic clerics approved a statement that described suicide bombings "un-Islamic and against Sharia." Two days later, a rocket was fired at the house of JUI leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman. It is widely assumed that militants were responsible for the attack, which caused only minor damage and caused no injuries.
JUI officials are concerned about the growing threat to its authority posed by the militants. The party announced that it would hold a mass demonstration April 27 to condemn the attack. The underlying aim, not specifically stated, was to make a show of force to the militants. JUI officials have threatened to mobilize more than 1 million people for street protests, unless the Pakistani government took fast action to bring the culprits to justice.
Editor's Note: Abubakar Siddique covers Afghanistan and Pakistan for EurasiaNet.
Posted April 26, 2007 © Eurasianet