Inside Khyber Agency - V: Lashkar-e-Islam promised justice, delivered violence

Published: March 28, 2012

Exploitation of the jirga system, political incompetence and smuggling have led to conflict in the area . DESIGN: FAIZAN DAWOOD


At first, locals in the Khyber region thought Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI) would deliver a fairer and more orderly system of governance in the region. They are now wiser, as LeI has unleashed a reign of terror for four years.

Members of the banned outfit are unapologetic and uncompromising in their outlook. “We believe in terrorism and instilling fear in the hearts of the unbelievers and those Muslims who do not follow the true Islamic way of life,” says Omar, an LeI spokesperson, from an undisclosed location in Khyber Agency.

The rise of this armed militia did not happen overnight. A mixture of sectarian violence, control over key smuggling routes and an unfair system of justice gave the initial impetus to LeI.

Omar boasts that they have support beyond the tribal belt: from Peshawar through to Punjab. He says he just came back from the troubled area of Tirah. Mangal Bagh, the group’s leader, was reportedly killed in a suicide attack there earlier this month. According to Omar, the news is false. “Our opponents are spreading rumours about our leadership but I can assure you that he is alive,” he says.

Locals say the first sign of trouble started in 2004, when Mufti Munir Shakir, a cleric from Kurram Agency, came to settle in Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency after being thrown out of his hometown for inciting sectarian hatred. His arrival in Khyber Agency went unnoticed at first.

He then launched a local radio station and again started gathering supporters under his hard-line interpretation of Islam. This time his target was a Barelvi religious scholar, Pir Saifur Rehman, who had migrated from Afghanistan in the 1980s and now lived in Khyber Agency, running a seminary. After a series of violent clashes between the two groups, in 2006 a Jirga was convened which decided to expel both clerics. While Pir Saifur Rehman abided by the decision, Mufti Munir Shakir at first resisted the expulsion but was forced to leave by locals. He made Mangal Bagh, then a local transporter, his successor in the armed militia which came to be known as Lashkar-e-Islam.

With Mangal Bagh in power, many residents of Khyber Agency thought life would change for the better. “At first we supported Mangal Bagh because he was a local and was helping ensure justice for common people,” says Shah Jahan, a resident of Bara, a former LeI stronghold. “But then he started killing those who opposed their version of Islam, including some of my family members,” he alleges.

Many like Shah Jahan fled the area in fear. When asked, the LeI spokesperson said that, except for those who follow their strict interpretation of Islam, all others are not proper Muslims and should not be spared. This, he said, is the true spirit of shariah, which his movement wants to implement all over Pakistan.

The LeI has now lost most of this local support, but analysts feel that the movement was supported by locals at first because it talked about delivering justice.

“The LeI introduced itself as a reformist movement initially and wanted a uniform Islamic system based on Deobandi ideology,” says Rustum Shah Mohmand, a former political agent from the tribal belt. He also alleges that local authorities, instead of dealing with them head on to re-establish the writ of the state, started to support another armed force in the area, known as Ansarul Islam. “After that strategy failed, an operation was launched, but forces have been unable to control the area for four years because it did not contain it in the beginning which it should have,” he complains.

A military official who looks after intelligence affairs in Fata says that Khyber Agency has been virtually occupied by smugglers. “The LeI has taken control of those routes to generate funds for themselves,” he says.

Interestingly everyone, including the military and tribal elders, say the solution to the conflict is through talks. Even the LeI feels the same, but Omar, their representative, says certain elements are not letting talks happen. “The government is lying since it tells us one thing and tells the public another.”

For the intelligence officer, the situation is still hugely challenging, but an end is in sight. “It will take a few years more before we gain full control but we believe Khyber Agency is the last battlefield,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Bombay Dude
    Mar 28, 2012 - 11:35AM

    Any Pakistani wants to clarify this news and make the rest of the world understand on why to not look upon you as stoneage and medieval people?


  • TMohsin
    Mar 28, 2012 - 1:21PM

    @Bombay Dude:
    All five fingers of the hand are not the same. So the whole Pakistan is not like this. This news is about a Tribal area..where tribes rule rather than the government. and where the literacy rate is almost nil. Those who are literate in the area move to towns instead. So when you live in an area where you get NO privileges and the govt treats you like you don’t exist, this outcome is bound to happen as you have nothing else to look up to in your life. These are the most under developed areas of Pakistan. There are many places in India also where people live the most under-privileged life but your media does not portray it all the time unlike ours that is bound to creating only a negative image of Pakistan.


  • Mard-e-Haq
    Mar 28, 2012 - 2:22PM

    When asked, the LeI spokesperson said that, except for those who follow their strict interpretation of Islam, all others are not proper Muslims and should not be spared. This, he said, is the true spirit of shariah, which his movement wants to implement all over Pakistan.

    Maybe they should come up with a catchy slogan: Jihad is the way, there is no other way!


  • Tauseef
    Mar 29, 2012 - 2:14AM

    @Bombay Dude Pakistan is a big country. We have our set of unique and challenging problems just like any other country and we are dealing with them.


  • monafiq
    Mar 29, 2012 - 6:09AM

    The militants are encircling Peshawar……………….the cherry of the valley. Political agents are plundering……………the nations


  • Aditya Randhawa
    Mar 29, 2012 - 8:49AM

    When asked, the LeI spokesperson said that, except for those who follow their strict interpretation of Islam, all others are not proper Muslims and should not be spared. This, he said, is the true spirit of shariah, which his movement wants to implement all over Pakistan.

    good for Islam, good for Pakistan and good for world as these fanatics will kill each other for who is true muslim among them


  • Aditya Randhawa
    Mar 29, 2012 - 8:52AM

    mind it literacy or education has nothing to do with Muslims and Islam as for them Koran is the best education who effect you r seeing and Even highly educated Muslims are jehadi or terrorist contributing their bit


  • Mar 29, 2012 - 10:53AM

    LeI wants yo impose their version pf Islam on Muslims and any difference of opinion is intolerable to them. They are against worldly education which may help a person secure a job/ livelihood. Education to girls is a bug NO NO _!. How the literacy rate will improve? Establishment/army/MI have vested interest yo maintain Status Quo( yo use them to control Afghanistan by proxy). But please understand that these guns have already turned towards Pakistan and they will die to implement their version of Islam In Pakistan too. And in the process a huge number pf innocent lives will be lost. If the sensible people remain silent spectators you too will be accountable to the History of Pakistan.


  • TMohsin
    Mar 29, 2012 - 2:28PM

    @Aditya Randhawa:
    Nice..i wrote a detailed reply but ET did’nt publish it….even our own media is biased so what else can one expect…why are we so afraid of the super powers i wonder.
    anyway..i will sum it up..the first revelation on our Prophet was based upon getting education with the first word being “Iqra” which means “Read” in Arabic. Quran asks all men and women to seek education both from the world’s perspective and the religion’s perspective. So don’t judge it without even reading a single line of Quran or just because what others say to you. The people of these underdeveloped areas are not true followers of we dont consider them as Muslims. They are created out of western propaganda..If they would have been properly educated since birth they would not have been what they are today. It is only an outcome of absence of good education from the start. But our govt thinks that military operation is the solution…which is only making things worse.
    @p r sharma:
    As long as sensible and educated people exist in our society, No militant can overtake the country..but we also need to get rid of our corrupt and self centered politicians..puppets of the west.


  • TMohsin
    Mar 29, 2012 - 2:32PM

    and mind you..being a jehadi and being a terrorist are two totally different have to read the whole of Quran to understand the concept of Jehad ..not just a mere sentence :)


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