According to Claudio Cordone, Amnesty International’s head, “nearly four million people are living under the Taliban in Fata without the rule of law, abandoned by the Pakistani government.” But how did the Taliban come in control of such a large area?
The Afghan Taliban took over Kabul in 1996, inspiring the Dawar tribe of North Waziristan to raise a Taliban force in Mirali in 1998/99 followed by the Taliban’s emergence in Orakzai Agency. The Afghan Taliban started infiltrating Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and although Musharraf’s government was aware of these developments no steps were taken to stop them.
Post 9/11, Waziristan was used as a base for launching raids against coalition forces in Afghanistan and by 2002 operations against foreigners began and prominent tribal opponents and suspected informers were killed. In 2003, Abdullah Mehsud organised a small Taliban force. At the same time, the army established a number of border posts in Waziristan, coming into direct conflict with the militants. In 2005, an agreement was signed with Baitullah Mehsud and an operation was conducted against the Wazirs. During this period, Baitullah acquired strength and power, violated the peace agreement and established his rule in the Mehsud area.
A focused strategy to deal with terrorists was never followed. In September 2006 the government concluded another peace deal with the Taliban of North Waziristan. Because of this deal, foreign militants started operating openly. The only option for the locals was to accept Taliban rule. By December 2007, Pakistan’s Tehreek-i-Taliban was formed with Baitullah as its leader. In Orakzai, the locals raised lashkars to fight the Taliban but since support from the government was scant, suicide bombings and other attacks forced the lashkars to give up. Fata and Swat were ruled by militants with their own courts and administration. Musharraf’s government and the MMA in KPK watched these developments but maintained that peace agreements were the only solution. The media and most political parties were also pro-Taliban and against the war on terror. Splinter groups like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi joined hands to rule these areas. Suicide bombings, attacks on army convoys, and kidnapping of law enforcement personnel became the order of the day. In 2008, the first serious operation against Baitullah was launched but abandoned midway.
In 2009 some events prompted a change in the media’s attitude and in public perception. It was acknowledged that the Taliban had killed and wounded more than 3,000 Muslims. With the people’s support, the army cleared Swat and secured areas like South Waziristan, Dir and Bajaur but other areas like Upper Orakzai, Tirah and North Waziristan still have to be cleared. As an organisation the TTP has been damaged. It will be an uphill task for the Taliban to become a potent force again. They have lost control of several areas and their command hierarchy and supply system remains disrupted.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2010.