Pro-Govt Fighters, Under Attack by Taliban, ‘Betrayed’ by Kabul

PESHAWAR – The past two months has seen an upsurge in violence unleashed by Pakistani Taliban in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the adjacent tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

The most recent was the brazen series of attacks on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply containers, the most recent in Peshawar on Dec. 7, in which some 50 containers, some of these Humvee armored vehicles, were destroyed.

The containers were parked for onward transportation to Kabul through the Torkham border.

On Nov. 22, a convoy of trailers carrying NATO supplies was hit by a roadside bomb near Jamrud in Khyber Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). On Nov. 10, militants hijacked 13 vehicles from Jamrud bazaar, which led to the suspension of all supplies to NATO forces along the Peshawar-Torkham road.

Taliban raids on NATO supplies have coincided with the rise in unmanned US drone attacks on so-called Taliban hideouts in FATA and the NWFP.

The Taliban, which started attacking NATO supplies for the first time this year, are trying to sever supply lines to landlocked Afghanistan. Some 70 to 80 percent of NATO’s supplies pass through Peshawar, with the remainder entering through Pakistan’s Balochistan province to Kandahar across the border.

The Islamic fighters have also been targeting "lashkars" – armed pro-government counterinsurgents – and members of the Awami National Party (ANP), the ruling party in the NWFP.

On Nov. 21, lashkar leader and head of the Mamond tribe, Malik Rahmatullah, was killed in a suicide attack inside a mosque in violence-wracked Bajaur Agency. The Taliban had killed Salrazai lashkar chief, Malik Fazli Karim and Oryazai lashkar chief, Malik Fazli Mabud, in similar fashion on Nov. 6.

In a separate incident the same day, 16 unarmed civilians were gunned down by the Taliban to avenge an attempt by the lashkar force to evict militants from Bajaur Agency on the border with Afghanistan.

Less than two weeks later, ANP district Bannu president Attaur Rehman was killed by militants. On Aug. 31, Rehman had successfully led 6,000 volunteers on a mission to demolish houses belonging to the Taliban and secure the release of eight abducted people.

The violence has spiraled since the Aug. 5 announcement by the Taliban of retaliatory attacks unless the government stops the crackdown against them. In an in-camera session of Parliament in October, the government decided to launch a "full-blown" operation against Taliban militants in Pakistan.

Malik Akbar, head of the Lashkar, told IPS in an interview that they had been betrayed by the government. "We were banking on the government’s support to fight the Taliban. The government has deceived us. Now, the Taliban are chasing the lashkar like wounded lions," he said in Bajaur, the smallest of the tribal agencies in the FATA.

In Kohat, NWFP, the Taliban attacked Feroze Khel tribesmen who had evicted them from the district and formed a 250-men lashkar defence force. "In November, Taliban killed eight tribesmen and kidnapped six others," Kohat-based lashkar, Gulzeb, told IPS.

Gulzeb who also accused the government of failing to protect the lives and property of tribesmen, said the Taliban in neighboring Darra Adamkhel were involved in the attacks.

That the situation is dire is confirmed by Ashraf Ali, a researcher at Peshawar University who is considered an authority on the Pakistani Taliban. "The lashkar have no ammunition and arms to face the Taliban who are well equipped and also have a very strong intelligence network. The administration has been urging civilians to form defense teams but does not equip them," he pointed out.

On Nov. 20, armed militants attacked a passenger bus in Orakzai Agency, FATA, and killed Malik Bismallah Khan who had been very effective in forming lashkars against Taliban. "We will continue such attacks until the tribesmen withdraw their support to the government," the Taliban were quoted saying by the media.

Militants killed Farooq Khan, the brother of ANP’s provincial chief Wajid Ali Khan on Nov. 23. Also, Raees Khan, the elder brother of a member of the provincial assembly, Waqar Ahmed Khan, and two of his nephews were gunned down on Nov. 3 in their native Swat district. Similarly, ANP’s district president Mohammad Ameen was assassinated on Oct. 2.

However, the ANP-led provincial government has refused to buckle under pressure to the Taliban. "We will rule this province for five years because we have been elected by the people," Mian Iftikhar Hussain, provincial information minister, said in an interview.

Hussain who narrowly survived a suicide attack near Peshawar along with two cabinet colleagues, promised: "First the militants have to lay down their arms. Then we will begin a process of dialogue." The ANP had wrested power from a coalition of pro-Taliban parties in early 2008 on the promise of negotiating peace in the NWFP.

The Pakistani militants have been spawned by remnants of the Taliban from Afghanistan who fled across the border after their government was toppled by US-led forces in late 2001. From the FATA, they spilled over to the adjacent NWFP, where they commanded immense respect till one year ago.