No evidence yet about death of leading militant figures
By Rahimullah Yusufzai
PESHAWAR: Intelligence gathered during the period when Maulana Sufi Mohammad-brokered peace deal was in force in Swat is helping security forces to target militants’ hideouts in the valley.
However, it isn’t clear due to the absence of media persons in Swat if the artillery shelling or air strikes are hitting the right targets. The military authorities have been claiming that they were right on target and were systematically destroying the militants’ positions through precision attacks by jet-fighters, gunship helicopters and artillery guns.
An officer of the country’s premier intelligence agency said he and his colleagues had travelled widely in Swat after the peace deal between Maulana Sufi Mohammad and the NWFP government in February 2009 and collected information that was proving useful. He said peacetime was best to do intelligence work.
The intelligence agencies have faced criticism from politicians, the media and members of the civil society for failing to locate and pin down the important Taliban commanders in Swat and the rest of the Malakand Division. Earlier, the spy agencies were criticised for being unable to provide timely information about the whereabouts of the Taliban and al-Qaeda figures and pinpoint their hideouts and arms depots in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). In their defence, officials of the intelligence agencies point out that most of their work has remained hidden from the public due to obvious reasons.
Taliban and independent sources have yet to confirm the death of any top Taliban commander in the military action in Swat, Buner and Lower Dir. In Buner, a claim was made by the military authorities about the death of Taliban commanders Afsar Hameed and Maulana Khalil. Taliban denied the claim and both the commanders later spoke to reporters by phone to announce that they were alive.
In Lower Dir, it was claimed that the head of the Taliban named Maulana Shahid had been killed in military action. Though Taliban have failed to produce him before the media despite promises, many people in Maidan area say that Maulana Shahid has been making speeches on his FM radio. It could be someone else faking as Maulana Shahid.
Maulana Fazlullah, the head of Swat chapter of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), his Deputy Maulana Shah Dauran, Spokesman Muslim Khan and other important aides including Sirajuddin, Mufti Bashir, Maulana Khalil, also known as Mohammad Alam alias Binoray Mulla, were stated to be alive. Not much is known about the fate of leading Taliban commanders in Swat such as Ibne Amin, Akbar Hussain, Ghazni, Said Rahman alias Fateh though the militants are insisting that none of them has been harmed in the military action.
Most Taliban leaders have reportedly shifted out of Swat. Some reports suggested they could be in Lower Dir district or Bajaur Agency. Muslim Khan is occasionally accessible to reporters and he even managed to give interviews on his new mobile phone.
Certain official sources are confident that both Ibne Amin and his brother Ibne Aqeel, hailing from Matta Tehsil, have been killed in two separate incidents. The military authorities had made a public claim about Ibne Aqeel’s death in a failed Taliban assault on the Matta police station. Taliban denied the claim. Though the death of Ibne Amin, probably the most ruthless Taliban commander in Swat, wasn’t publicly claimed by the government, sources in the intelligence agencies said he died along with his wife and children when his house in the Namal valley was hit by an air strike. There has been no independent confirmation of this piece of information. If true, Ibne Amin’s death would be a major setback for the Swat Taliban.
Another disputed claim concerned the death of a Taliban commander Abu Tariq, also in the Matta area. This was an unfamiliar name for journalists covering Swat militancy. It later turned out that Taliban Spokesman, Muslim Khan, was sometimes referred to as Abu Tariq. He himself confirmed to reporters that he was Abu Tariq and was alive.
The name of Rashid Lala, a Taliban commander for Mingora city, was also mentioned among those killed in the military operation. But sources with good information about the situation in Mingora insisted that he was alive and ready to fight should security forces enter Mingora. Two other junior Taliban commanders in Mingora named Osama and Farooq were also stated to be alive. However, the sources maintained that not more than 50 Taliban fighters were left in Mingora as the rest had escaped. They felt these Taliban would not be able to put much resistance when security forces would storm the city. There were reports that the troops had laid siege to Mingora from four sides, reaching Rahimabad from Qambar side, Naway Killay from Kanju area, the People’s Chowk from Fizzaghat side, and Mingora police station from the Saidu Sharif town. Taliban fighters were reportedly massed at the Green Chowk and certain other strategic places in the city.
Another report said the Taliban fighters were massing outside Mingora in the Kabal Tehsil in places like Shah Dherai, Akhund Dheray, etc and, in lesser numbers in Charbagh. Correct and up-to-date intelligence information would be crucial in locating and targeting the Taliban commanders and fighters in Swat. Any failure on the part of the sleuths would prolong the military operation and, in the process, extend the agony of the displaced people. NEWS 25-5-09