Friday, April 24, 2009
Taliban's cake walk to Dir, Swat, Malakand, Buner and Shangla !
Mardan, Swabi and Haripur Districts are under intense pressure from the Taliban and they are slowly infiltrating.
NEW YORK: After the Taliban take over Dir, Swat, Buner,Shangla and roll into Mardan, it will be the end of the game, a senior Pakistani law enforcement official in NWFP told The New York Times On Wednesday.
The report claimed that when the Taliban entered Buner, the Pakistan army did not put up a defence, apparently abiding by the agreement signed by the Zardari government in Swat.
A local politician, Jamsher Khan, told NYT that people were initially determined to resist the Taliban in Buner, but that they were discouraged by the deal the government struck with the Taliban in Swat.
‘We felt stronger as long we thought the government was with us,’ he said by telephone, ‘but when the government showed weakness, we too stopped offering resistance to the Taliban.’
The newspaper said the takeover of Buner was particularly significant because the people there have tried last year to stand up to the Taliban by establishing small private armies to fight the militants. Last year when the militants encroached into Buner, killing policemen, the local people fought back and forced the militants out.
Buner, home to about one million people, is a gateway to Mardan, the second largest in NWFP, after Peshawar.
Similarly, the Wall Street Journal reported that ‘militants have been moving into Buner since the Swat peace deal was signed with the government in February. But starting Tuesday night they seized control of the entire district, which has a population of more than one million people. Heavily armed militants streaming in from Swat, occupied government offices and set up their own check posts. Terrified residents fled their homes.’
Dozens of hooded fighters carrying rocket launchers and machine guns ransacked the offices of international aid and development agencies working in the district and took away their vehicles. Some employees of the agencies were also briefly taken hostage. The militants set up their headquarters in the town of Buner after driving out government officials, the WSJ report said.
American officials led by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton sounded ominous alarm bells Wednesday. Mrs Clinton said she was concerned that Pakistan’s government was making too many concessions to the Taliban, emboldening the militants and allowing them to spread by giving in to their demands.
A senior American official said Mrs. Clinton’s remarks were prompted in part by news of the Taliban takeover in Buner.
The officials said that the further erosion of government authority in an area so close to the capital ought to stir concern not only in Pakistan but also among influential Pakistanis abroad.
The NYT reported that staff members of local nongovernmental organisations have been ordered to leave, and their offices have been looted. Pakistani television news channels showed Taliban fighters triumphantly carrying office equipment out of the offices of the organisations.
The Taliban advance had been building for weeks, with the assistance of sympathisers and even a local government official who was appointed on the recommendation of the Taliban, the report said.
The US media noted that the Taliban incursion comes after the government of President Asif Ali Zardari agreed to the imposition of religious laws in Swat, as part of a deal with the Taliban.
But with a beachhead in neighboring Swat, and a number of training camps for fresh recruits, the Taliban were able to carry out what amounted to an invasion of Buner, the media reported.
The Taliban expansion into Buner has begun to raise alarm among the senior ranks of the Pakistani Army, said a Western official who was familiar with the Pakistani military.
On Wednesday, one of the highest-ranking army officers traveled from Islamabad to Peshawar and met the officers of the 11th Corps, the army division based in Peshawar, to discuss the ‘overall situation in Buner’, the media reported.
One of the major concerns is that from the hills of Buner the Taliban have access to the flatlands of the district of Swabi, which lead directly to the four-lane motorway that runs from Islamabad to Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province.
The Pakistani military does not have a presence in Buner, Pakistani and Western officials told Times. The main government authority in Buner is the police, who have become demoralised by their low pay and lack of equipment in the face of the Taliban, Pakistani police officials say.
The Taliban have set up checkpoints in a number of villages in Buner, intimidating policemen and forcing them into their police stations, residents told reporters.
The militants were patrolling the bazaar in Daggar, residents said. Women, who used to move freely around the bazaars, were scarcely to be seen, they said. Those who did venture out were totally covered.
The militants were helped by the actions of the commissioner of Malakand, Javed Mohammad, who is also the senior official in Swat and who was appointed on the recommendation of the Taliban, the US media reported said.
Buner taken over and now Shangla :
Eight Frontier Constabulary platoons rushed to Buner on Thursday to protect vital state installations in the northwestern town now virtually under Taliban control, while the Taliban entered the adjacent Shangla district in another brazen move.
Local residents and police in Poran tehsil of Shangla said around 30 armed Taliban arrived in the town on Thursday morning. “They entered the tehsil in cars and are still in the area,” a police official said.
Governing Buner: The march on Shangla came after the district administration recognised Taliban’s control over Buner district by holding a jirga with a local commander to lay down procedures to govern the district.
“We will not display weapons in public, and we will stay away from undue interference in the district administration,” Taliban commanders Mufti Bashir and Ustad Yasir told the jirga which local administration officials and jirga elders attended.
Attack on FC convoy: But moments after the Taliban pledged to stay peaceful, a convoy of Frontier Constabulary was attacked in the Totalai area. Two escorting police officers were killed and another was wounded.
No group has claimed responsibility so far, but the Taliban are being suspected.
In a second attack, armedmen robbed a truck carrying supplies for the security forces in Baboo area in Khawazakhela tehsil and abducted three soldiers, local residents said.
However, there was no official confirmation.
At the jirga earlier on Thursday, the Taliban agreed to pardon some of those who had taken up arms against them, but kept others on their hit list.
Army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas insisted the situation in Buner was not as dire as some have portrayed – telling the Associated Press that Taliban were in control of less than 25 percent of the district, mostly its north.
“We are fully aware of the situation,” Abbas said. “The other side has been informed to move these people out of this area.”
The NWFP government convened a meeting of provincial heads of political parties to discuss the situation after the approval of Nizam-e-Adal Regulation and the concerns following reports that the Taliban are running a parallel administration, abductions for ransom continue and the writ of the state is far from returning to the area.
“It was decided to convene a joint meeting of all political parties to brief them on the situation in the region,” a communiqué from the Chief Minister’s Secretariat in Peshawar read.
NWFP Senior Minister Bashir Bilour said the government “reserves the right” to use force if peace accord violations continued. “But first we want to let peace come,” he told reporters in Peshawar.