Monday, July 13, 2009







Claiming 'victory' too early

Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Rahimullah Yusufzai

A day after the ruling Awami National Party (ANP) declared "victory" in Malakand Division and its provincial president Afrasiyab Khattak congratulated his party leaders on what in his view was a successful military campaign in Swat, Buner and Dir, three ANP workers, and cousins – Shamsher Ali Khan, Gohar Ali Khan and Usman Ali Khan – were killed by Taliban militants in Malikpur village near the shrine of the famous saint Pir Baba in Buner district. Gohar Ali Khan's brother, Jamil Ali Khan, had been kidnapped a month ago and the militants are demanding Rs10 million as ransom for his release.

This was surely embarrassing for the NWFP government. But by then there was one more embarrassing news circulating in Peshawar and the rest of the province. Rather, the news had spread to the whole country and beyond, and was also being discussed on the Facebook. The houses of two senior journalists from Buner had been torched and their families rendered shelterless in their ancestral villages. On the night of July 8-9, the spacious nine-room house of Geo TV correspondent Behroz Khan was put on fire in Balo Khan village near Pir Baba town after having been looted by the militants. The same night, in the nearby Polan village, the newly-built house of Rahman Bunairee, associated with the Pashto-language Deewa Radio of the Voice of America and the AVT Khyber television channel, was demolished with explosives.

Houses are built with love and lots of money. Often, life savings are spent on building a house. One loses so much if deprived of one's home. Imagine the house of your dreams being burned to ashes or dynamited and turned into rubble. One was relieved to know that Rahman Bunairee's family wasn't harmed by the 60-or-so armed men who introduced themselves as Taliban and, rather intriguingly, told them in polite words to vacate the house before it was blown up with expertly planted explosives. The shocked family members have now joined Rahman Bunairee in Karachi, where he is based. In Behroz Khan's case, he had wisely shifted his family to Peshawar sometime back. The militants subsequently occupied his home and used it as a base before looting everything that could be carted away and breaking the goods that were immoveable. His family suffered another huge loss when its privately-owned forest was burnt down by the security forces fearing the forest could be used by the militants as a hideout. The forest was the family's labour of love because every tree had been tended.

While on the subject of forests, it would take a while to calculate the losses inflicted upon the environment as a result of the militancy and military operations in Buner, Swat, Dir, Shangla and the rest of Malakand Division. Stretches of forests caught fire and turned into ashes when the artillery shelled or bombed landed there. The fires thus started have raged uncontrollably in the forests in summers. Villagers in the Salarzai area in Buner and in the bordering villages in Mardan district narrate how the thick forest in Namser on the Buner side and in Sangahu towards Mardan was burned this summer following a military action against the militants. Mountain communities in Malakand Division and the tribal areas, dependant to some extent on forests for their means of livelihood, are certainly heading for a life of more poverty, timber prices will rise due to supply shortages and the wildlife is getting deprived of habitat. Afghanistan, particularly its forested southern and eastern provinces such as Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Kunar, Nuristan, Laghman and Nangarhar, lost its forests due to decades of war and lawlessness and Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, which area-wise had the largest forests in the country, is now facing the same fate.

Behroz Khan and Rahman Bunairee are the latest in the long list of journalists who have suffered human and material losses as a result of the conflict in the NWFP. Those who have paid with their lives include Amir Nawab Wazir and Allah Noor Wazir in South Waziristan, Hayatullah in North Waziristan, Noor Hakim and Ibrahim Jan in Bajaur, Naseer Afridi in Darra Adamkhel and Sirajuddin, Qari Shoaib, Abdul Aziz and Musa Khankhel in Swat. Others lost a family member or were shot and injured and many were forced to move from their place of work to safer places. Some had no choice but to give up the profession or agree to work on the terms dictated by the militants and the government.

Pursuing honest and truthful journalism has become the most risky job in the Frontier, more so in the tribal borderland where there is rule of the gun.

Behroz Khan fearlessly spoke for his journalist colleagues when he remarked that that the destruction of his house wasn't going to break his resolve and deter him from performing his professional obligations. In his words, the enemy was faceless but journalists were required to speak the truth under any circumstances. Rahman Bunairee, who like many residents of Buner took pride in identifying himself as a Buneri, Bunerwal or Bunairee, was also unaware about the identity of those who targeted him and destroyed his house. He remembered having criticised both the militants and the government, the former for inflicting suffering on the people of Buner, Swat and elsewhere, and the latter for its failure to protect the life and honour of the population and look after the needs of the displaced persons.

However, it is obvious that those in the habit of harming journalists are sending a strong message that the journalists must fall in line or face the consequences. The militants have openly threatened members of the media, and their anger against journalists is boiling over in view of their falling support among the masses and lesser coverage compared to the past in newspapers and on radio and television. For obvious reasons, the journalists are also scared of the intelligence agencies and critical of the government and the security forces for imposing a media blackout in the conflict areas. They find themselves helpless in doing a proper job while reporting the conflict. Unafraid to risk their lives and willing to travel to the frontlines of the ongoing war, they could do a far better job despite lacking in resources, training and support from the media organisations.

In fact, greater media access to the conflict zones would provide a credible portrayal of the situation and help remove the cloud of doubts regarding the military operations and the claims about the army's battleground achievements.

Instead of declaring premature victory, the ANP leadership should admit that the war is not over yet and that it is going to be long and bitter. There is no harm in conceding that the situation is still precarious, that the Taliban leadership in Swat and the rest of Malakand region has largely survived the military action. The incapacity and inefficiency of the provincial and federal governments in coping with the issue of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) should also be conceded. Instead of downplaying the challenge, it will be better to highlight the enormous task of repatriating and rehabilitating the IDPs and providing them the much-needed security in their villages and towns.

More than 150 ANP workers were reportedly killed in Swat alone during the past two years of violence and now they are also being targeted in Buner. Earlier, many ANP members had publicly dissociated themselves from the party in Swat, Malakand Agency and other places in the area to escape harm at the hands of the militants. The insecurity felt by the ruling party workers would scare away common people from supporting the government and the security forces. And the much-publicised attacks against members of the media would send home the message that anyone critical of the militants could expect the same fate. This is just a glimpse of the uncertain situation prevailing in the conflict areas. Those pronouncing the start of the repatriation process of the IDPs as a signal of victory would be well-advised to keep their celebrations on hold, as it isn't over yet.NEWS 14-7-09

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email:

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Swat offensive seen slow, but on track


The offensive against the Taliban in Swat is taking longer than expected, but that is unlikely to deflect the military from its plans, nor – for now – undercut public support for the action. The army went on the attack in Swat at the end of April after Taliban gains raised international worry about Pakistan’s stability. Later, the government and the military have set their sights on Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan near the Afghan border. The military says Mehsud is responsible for 90 percent of terrorist attacks in the country. While the military has not put a timeframe on the Swat offensive, there has been speculation the army would want to secure the valley before launching a push on Mehsud, and clashes in Swat could delay that. “It has definitely taken a longer time, but it’s explainable in terms of the terrain, the mountains,” said defence analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi. “They have entrenched themselves more than people generally thought, that’s why the military is having problems in completing the whole process,” he said. The failure to capture or kill leaders of the Taliban in Swat spelt trouble, another analyst said. “Unless you eliminate the leadership, however much damage you do, the command structure will manage to grow back,” said security analyst Ikram Sehgal. “As long as that leadership exists, low-intensity guerrilla warfare will keep going on.” But analysts said while Swat fighting might drag on, that would not deflect the military from going after Baitullah. “I don't think there is a necessary relationship between the two in terms of getting done with one and then going to the next one,” said Kamran Bokhari, Middle East director for global intelligence company Stratfor. “They’re not waiting to get done with Swat before focusing on South Waziristan,” he said. “They know Swat is not over yet. Are they going to wait? It could take months. Would you want to allow Baitullah Mehsud the opportunity to do what he can?” The military is setting up choke points to surround Mehsud’s mountain stronghold and working with ethnic Pashtun tribes in the area to lock in their support. “That’s going to determine when they’re going to go in,” said Bokhari. For now, the fear that Taliban expansion spread through the country was ensuring public support for the offensive. The political opposition – including Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which will be the main government challenger in the next election due by 2113 – is supportive. “His party has come to the conclusion that as long as these Taliban are not really taken care of, governance will be a hell of a problem,” said Rizvi. “They’re not going to create problems for the government on this issue.” But questions will arise before too long if Taliban violence persists and internally displaced persons languish in misery, he said. “It might become a political problem if Swat is not returned to a normal situation, maybe, by the end of August,” said Rizvi. “Then there will be real questions.” As well as the possible problem of the suffering of the displaced undermining wider government support, anger among the displaced people can be exploited by the Taliban. “It’s not that public support for the offensive will go down, but it could create a separate unrest that you will have to deal with. These people are susceptible to Taliban propaganda,” said Bokhari. Sehgal said pro-Taliban clerics were operating in some tent camps on the lowland where the displaced are being looked after. “This is very dangerous. As soon as they dismantle the camps the better,” he said. reuters DAILY TIMES 8-7-09

Monday, June 29, 2009


"Daily Times" Editorial:

The long wait in Kurram

As Kurram Agency on the border with Afghanistan waits for the return of the writ of the Pakistani state for the past three years, the Taliban depredations in the guise of sectarianism continue around the headquarters of the Parachinar agency. At least 33 people were killed and 65 others injured in “sectarian clashes” in various parts of Kurram Agency on Friday night and Saturday. In the last 12 days, the casualty list includes 89 people dead and 175 injured.

The local population has virtually given up on Pakistan during the two years that have seen all roads going to Pakistan cut off and the federal government ditching them after promising to come to their help “within a fortnight”. The local administration, if it can be called that, “cooperates” with the Taliban in the interim and exposes the besieged Shia majority population of Parachinar. According to a local tribesman quoted in the press: “We have had over 700 young people martyred but have not allowed these militants to secure a toehold in upper Kurram. Now the influx of Taliban from Swat, Dir and other areas is worsening the situation”.

Because Pakistan has virtually said goodbye to Kurram, it is no longer possible for the people of the agency to get food and medicine from Pakistan. The Sunni Taliban and their cohorts accuse the Shia of getting help from Afghanistan; the Shia accuse the Sunni groups of getting ever-increasing fighting manpower from Waziristan and Hangu.

Kurram faces Tora Bora on the other side of the border. This is the route that Al Qaeda and its Taliban supporters took to escape from Afghanistan in 2001. The local Parachinar population, being Shia, did not cooperate because of the age-old rivalry between them and the surrounding Sunni tribes. After the establishment of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) things have got much worse since the Sunni militias that hunt the local Shia are commanded by warlords owing allegiance to Baitullah Mehsud.

The sectarian scourge is also strengthened by the schism in the nearby Orakzai Agency where Baitullah’s commander Hakimullah has nearly 8,000 fighters under him and is busy warring with the opponent Shia militia of Hussain Ali Shah with 7,000 fighters at his disposal. As this war spilled into Kurram, another commander of Baitullah Mehsud, Qari Hussain, the expert in preparing suicide-bombers in a matter of hours, has been operating against the Shia in Kurram. Qari Hussain was reported killed recently during military operation, but his partners are carrying on the sectarian massacre after him.

If and when Pakistan decides to tackle the crisis in Kurram it will find that after years of neglect, the killing machine of the Taliban has bound Kurram to Orakzai, Khyber and Darra Adamkhel through the activities of commander Hakimullah. Other NWFP cities like Hangu and Kohat have caught the virus because of the presence of the Taliban at their outskirts with local administration increasingly in the subordinate mode with them. The Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathisers in Kohat are the actual rulers in this region and have their outreach into Islamabad through the Lal Masjid clergy.

After the death of Qari Hussain, it is the warlord of Darra Adamkhel, Commander Tariq, who is carrying on the war against the Kurram population with the help of other TTP allies. Long years of neglect have tilted the Shia population in favour of some help that they get from the Hazaras of Afghanistan. Also, after the area was cut off from the rest of Pakistan, the Kurram Shias were said to be receiving some assistance from Iran. This has actually exacerbated the situation with a more intensified polarisation between the Shia and those fighting a covert war against Iran.

The people of Kurram have waited a long time for the state of Pakistan to rescue them. Now as the state asserts itself for sovereignty in South Waziristan and the TTP and Al Qaeda terrorists are on the run, the time may have come for the Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, to fulfil his pledge that Pakistan would come to the rescue of Kurram “within a fortnight”. That was said many months ago. Daily Times 29-6-09


By Rahimullah Yusufzai

Baitullah Mehsud has become the only Pakistani with a head-money separately announced by both the Pakistan government and the US.
However, the head money placed on him by the US is far larger than that announced by Pakistan. It is offering $5 million, or Rs410 million, for his capture. In comparison, the Pakistan government offer of Rs50 million, or $600,000, for credible information that could lead to his capture is peanuts.

As someone remarked, bounty-hunters would inform the US authorities to claim the head money instead of telling the Pakistan government due to the much bigger amount of dollars being offered by the Americans. Requesting anonymity, he said the two governments should pool their efforts not only in terms of the head money they are offering for Baitullah Mehsud, or BM as he is called by officials of the intelligence agencies, but also getting him killed or captured through a coordinated strategy.
The belated announcement of head-money by the Pakistan government for Baitullah Mehsud and 10 other Pakistani Taliban commanders was made through an advertisement carried by newspapers on Sunday. All 11 of them are affiliated to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and belong to Fata.

In terms of the head-money, Baitullah Mehsud is followed by his deputy Maulana Faqir Muhammad, who is the Taliban commander for Bajaur. Head money for him is Rs15 million or $182,000.

The head money for five other TTP commanders — Abdul Wali alias Omar Khalid and Qari Shakeel from Mohmand Agency, Tariq Afridi from Darra Adamkhel and Hakimullah Mahsud and Qari Hussain from South Waziristan — is Rs10 million each or $122,000.

Qari Hussain’s name in the list of wanted militants with head-money should be enough to deny recent reports in sections of the media that he was killed in the June 23 US drone attack on a funeral gathering in South Waziristan. Known as the ìUstad-e-Fidayeen,î or trainer of suicide bombers, Qari Hussain personally phoned some reporters in Peshawar and Dera Ismail Khan to refute media reports that he had been killed.
For the remaining four TTP commanders, the head-money is Rs5 million or $61,000. They are Qari Ziaur Rahman, who in fact is an Afghan national living in Bajaur, Fazal Saeed Otayzai from Kurram Agency, Mufti Ilyas from Darra Adamkhel, and Waliur Rahman alias Aliur Rahman from Bajaur.

The newspaper advertisement announcing head-money for the 11 TTP commanders didnít carry their pictures. Government officials handling the matter said they didnít have any pictures of the 11 wanted men. This was strange and shows the lack of intelligence on the TTP leadership that is presently available with the government.

The newspaper advertisement, however, provided the name of the fathers of the 11 men, their tribe and address. Bounty-hunters were promised secrecy in case they came forward with credible information for nabbing the wanted men, alive or dead.

Four phone numbers were also listed for informers having information about the whereabouts of Baitullah Mahsud and the 10 other men. However, efforts to reach those phone numbers turned out to be tough exercise. There was no response from the toll-free number 0800-15015 even after a long wait and effort. The phone rang on the other side when the number 091-9210210 was contacted but nobody answered. The phone number 091-9210457 remained busy whenever it was called. Only the fourth number, 091-9212158, could be reached after some effort. The operator who answered said about 20 people made calls on the phone number from places like Peshawar, Malakand and Karak but nobody provided any information about the whereabouts of the wanted Taliban commanders. ìThey were just curious. They wanted to know more about the head-money and the wanted militants,î he said while hastening to request anonymity.

The US announcement of $5 million head-money for Baitullah Mahsud a few months ago catapulted him to the rank of a senior al-Qaeda leader. Such a huge amount hasnít been offered for the capture of most of al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders who until now have been killed or captured. Though he is a Pakistani Taliban commander loyal to the Afghan Taliban leader Mulla Muhammad Omar, the US government accused him of being an al-Qaeda facilitator. Baitullah Mahsud was also accused of sending fighters to Afghanistan to attack the US-led coalition forces.

It may be added that Osama bin Laden and his deputy Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri carry head-money of $25 million each. The head-money for Afghan Taliban leader Mulla Muhammad Omar is $10 million. Despite such huge amounts, the three men are still at large. In fact, there have been no sightings of bin Laden, Zawahiri and Mulla Omar since the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in December 2001 and all reports regarding their whereabouts are based on speculations.
Earlier on May 28, the ANP-PPP coalition government in NWFP had announced head-money for the 21 Taliban leaders and commanders from Swat. It included the Swat Taliban head Maulana Fazlullah with a head-money of Rs50 million, an amount equal to that offered by the Pakistan government for Baitullah Mahsudís capture. The offer of reward to informers didnít have any impact, at least until now, as none of the 21 wanted Taliban commanders from Swat has been killed or captured. NEWS 29-6-09

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Endgame closing in on Baitullah ( EDITORIAL IN THE DAILY TIMES OF JUNE 25,2009)

Baitullah Mehsud has had his opponent Qari Zainuddin murdered in Dera Ismail Khan for disclosing facts about him that he had denied. If this is a measure of how Baitullah will react to his diminishing hold over his objectors, then he is sure to kill another local rival Turkistan Bitani who had made public his criminal activities last week. Does this mean that Baitullah is gaining the upper hand in the region where the Pakistan Army is now challenging him with an operation? The fact to keep in mind is that Zainuddin and Bitani were encouraged to speak out because of the hope revived in them by the military operation. That Baitullah has had to kill Zainuddin instead of ignoring him as in the past points to his growing insecurity.Pakistan has been opposed to the American drone attacks on its territory, but not without some evidence that the local population living under the heel of Baitullah Mehsud did not mind them. There was a time when the drones did not target Baitullah simply because he was not attacking American troops across the Durand Line. This was a tactic of keeping down the number of people operating in Afghanistan through the “incentive” of “non-strikes”. Now that pattern is changing and the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is feeling the heat of missiles coming from the drones. On Tuesday, these missiles killed at least 51 Taliban in South Waziristan, where the army is poised for an attack on Baitullah’s stronghold.South Waziristan under attack is going to expose a whole lot of people hiding there and operating in neighbouring countries. The estimates about the strength of the people Baitullah has under arms keep changing; so do the estimates about the funds he has at his disposal. He is now said to have approximately 20,000 militants. There was a time when people thought he could mobilise 50,000. Only the “foreigners” he was protecting were supposed to be 5,000. To the number of Uzbeks, Arabs, Chechens and Uighurs have been added a number of Tajiks who are fighting against the Uzbek-dominated regime of Tajikistan. Uzbekistan has suffered a number of attacks guided from South Waziristan by Qari Tahir Yuldashev of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). Baitullah has also allegedly used IMU men to kill the innocent people of Swat.Before the decision to mount a military operation against him, Baitullah enjoyed the kind of grudging recognition that tyrants enjoy when they are unchallenged. The mere fact that the army has decided to go for him has changed that point of view. The greatest weakness suffered by him is the loss of support from the people of Pakistan who now consider him a threat to the state and to Islam itself. Not only have his opponents come out of their hiding to speak out against him, his suicide-bombers are being caught “before the fact” in all the vulnerable cities of Pakistan because of the slackening of the will to die for someone who is no longer a model for them.Perhaps it was a wrong strategy to mop up his lieutenants on the margins and leave him alone at the centre to gradually suffer a waning of his power. Fazlullah in Swat and other commanders in Bajaur and Orakzai were engaged simply because they were more manageable as targets in territories considered easy terrain. That strategy has partly paid off because the commanders have tended to run away to South Waziristan after being defeated in their regions. But the decision to go for South Waziristan is without a doubt more effective in lowering the prestige and outreach of TTP in the whole of Pakistan. TTP minions who cut a man’s both hands in Hangu on Tuesday for theft will be sorted out after Baitullah has got his comeuppance from the army.


Zainuddin’s assassination exposes Taliban rifts ( FROM DAILY TIMES OF JUNE 25,2009)

* South Waziristan residents adopting a wait-and-see approach

* Neither Taliban commander ready to send fighters to Mehsud’s aid for fear of drone strikes

PESHAWAR: The assassination of Qari Zainuddin, the leader of the renegade Taliban faction, by one of his own men underscores a growing rift in the ranks of the Taliban as they brace for an impending army assault.

Zainuddin’s killing on Tuesday sets back government hopes of exploiting these internal divisions in South Waziristan, where the army has been pounding strongholds of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in apparent preparation for a major offensive.

Although Zainuddin was never seen as a serious challenger to Mehsud, the government had clearly hoped his outspoken criticism of the Taliban leader would foster others to defect and help the army with tips on where to find him.

Mahmood Shah, a former top security official, said the slaying sends a message to the government that only a major operation would have a chance of defeating Mehsud.

“Baitullah Mehsud has overcome all tribal dynamics. He has resources, funding and a fighting force to strike anywhere in Pakistan,” Shah said, calling him a front man for Al Qaeda and his home base of South Waziristan the “epicentre in the war on terror”.

The strength of the mutineers - led by Zainuddin, Turkestan Baitni and Commander Amir Thesil - is dwarfed by Mehsud’s army, said a tribal leader from South Waziristan who asked not to be identified because he feared either Mehsud or Mehsud’s enemies would kill him. He estimated Mehsud’s strength at upwards of 12,000 fighters, including Pakistanis, Afghans, Arabs, Uzbeks, Burmese, Chinese and even some Americans and Australians.

“They have control of the whole Mehsud area,” the tribal leader said, referring to a 4,000-kilometre swath of land in the remote, mountainous tribal zone. “He will be difficult to eliminate. The Pakistani forces will face a tough fight.”

“Any further defections from Baitullah’s group might not take place,” Shah said, adding that Zainuddin’s value to the government was that of a potential informant who “could tell where the hideouts would have been.”
Army spokesman Gen Athar Abbas said that the military has not helped any of the anti-Mehsud Taliban forces, which he said have not demonstrated an ability to protect themselves.

“The government may be engaging with them and may be doing whatever at a political level,” said Abbas, but the military isn’t ready to partner with any insurgents who “might end up being a future problem for us”.
Zainuddin, who broke with Mehsud in 2007, was estimated to have about 3,000 armed followers in the towns of Dera Ismail Khan and nearby Tank.

Although Zainuddin too had a ruthless past, he denounced Mehsud this month for recent attacks on mosques that killed clerics and civilians, bombings apparently in retaliation for the army offensive in the Swat valley.

Residents of South Waziristan are adopting a wait-and-see approach to the Pakistani military operation, reluctant to show outright support for an army they worry will not complete the job.

“You have to know that among the tribes we will follow whoever is the strongest,” said the tribal leader. A shura, or council of elders, for the Mehsud tribe was held on June 16, but the tribal leaders, who had previously endorsed Mehsud, broke up without any decision except to meet again.

In an agreement four months ago, Baitullah had closed ranks with powerful Taliban leaders - Maulvi Naseer in South Waziristan and Gul Bahadar in North Waziristan. Both men have battle-hardened troops, in contrast to the weaker mutineers, and could prove a more difficult opponent for the Pakistan Army.

While the agreement is holding, there are reports that neither Naseer nor Bahadar is ready to send his fighters to Mehsud’s aid for fear that they might be hit by US drones patrolling the tribal regions. ap daily times 25-6-09