Taliban cut hair and beards to flee army assault

Published: July 6, 2014
In this photograph taken on June 13, a shopkeeper leans against his belongings as he waits to leave Miramshah. PHOTO: AFP

In this photograph taken on June 13, a shopkeeper leans against his belongings as he waits to leave Miramshah. PHOTO: AFP

BANNU: Hundreds of Taliban fighters rushed to disguise themselves with new haircuts in the weeks before an army assault, it has emerged, as refugees revealed details of life under the militants and their taste for imported luxuries.

Azam Khan was one of the top barbers in Miramshah — the main town of North Waziristan — until he, like nearly half a million others, fled the long-awaited offensive unleashed by the military on the tribal area in June.

He told AFP his business boomed in the month leading up to the army assault as the militants sought to shed their distinctive long-haired, bearded look.

“I have trimmed the hair and beards of more than 700 local and Uzbek militants ahead of the security forces’ operation,” he said, while cutting hair in a shop in Bannu, the town where most civilians fled.

For years he cut Taliban commanders’ hair to match the flowing locks of former Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakimullah Mehsud, killed by a US drone last November, but in May a change in style was called for.

“The same leaders came asking for trimming their beards and hair very short, saying that they were going to the Gulf and wanted to avoid problems at Pakistani airports,” Khan said.

Even Uzbeks and Tajiks with little knowledge of the local language came to him, he said.

“Knowing little Pashto, they used to utter four words: ‘mulgari (friend), machine, zero, Islamabad’,” said Khan, asking him to shave their beards to nothing so they could go to Islamabad.

The military launched the offensive against militants in North Waziristan tribal area on June 15, vowing to wipe out the strongholds they have used to wreak countless deadly terror attacks across the nuclear-armed state.

The rugged, mountainous area on the Afghan border has been a hideout for years for Islamist militants of all stripes, including al Qaeda and the homegrown TTP as well as foreign fighters including Uzbeks and Uighurs.

For years people from North Waziristan remained tight-lipped about life in a Taliban fiefdom, scared of being kidnapped or even beheaded if they shared information about the militants.

But as the exodus of people has grown, some have found the confidence to tell their stories.

While the militants bombed and maimed thousands in their fight to install an austere sharia regime in the country and publicly professed contempt for the West, in North Waziristan they indulged themselves with fancy imported goods.

Hikmatullah Khan, a shopkeeper in Miramshah, said that at the same time as commanders were insisting he pay Rs300 a month “tax”, their fighters were stocking up on grooming products.

“They were very keen to buy foreign-branded shampoos, soaps and perfumed sprays,” Khan told AFP.

“They had a lot of eagerness for French and Turkish perfumes, body sprays and soaps.”

Muhammad Zarif, a wholesale merchant in Datta Khel, near Miramshah, said fighters would buy large quantities of British detergent and American cooking oil, much of it smuggled from Dubai.

The military has said it will target militants “of all hue and colour” but the scant resistance troops have encountered has led many to believe the insurgents fled before the offensive, limiting its effectiveness.

The army says the operation has killed nearly 400 militants and will rid North Waziristan of their bases.

But it remains to be seen what the long-term impact of the offensive will be. Local intelligence and militant sources told AFP that up to 80% of fighters fled after rumours of an army assault emerged in early May, most over the porous border into Afghanistan.

These sources estimate the present number of militants as around 2,000, down from around 10,000 before the operation. The figures are uncertain and difficult to confirm.

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Reader Comments (37)

  • Ahmed
    Jul 6, 2014 - 3:14PM

    And a certain cricketer turned politician was endlessly trying to sabotage the peace process by trying to divert the army operation in guise of gaining sympathy for THESE monsters.

    By the way, Burqas must be in great demand too keeping up with the tradition set by their great leader at Lal Masjid.

    (I know, ET you will never publish this).


  • Momin Imran
    Jul 6, 2014 - 3:16PM

    So these are the bunch of sheep Imran Khan used to say can not be tackled. :)


  • Mega
    Jul 6, 2014 - 3:26PM

    And they were worried about a guy in Pune who had to cut his hair to avoid being targeted. When their own country are targeting their countrymen for sporting beard. (700hair cuts)


  • nassi
    Jul 6, 2014 - 3:34PM

    It goes without saying that these terrorists are nothing but cowards and hypocrites.


  • dfv
    Jul 6, 2014 - 4:05PM

    Haqqani (strategic assets) people flee??…


  • Waseem
    Jul 6, 2014 - 4:26PM

    must not spare them…people like shahid ullah shasid and others must be killed.


  • Faheem
    Jul 6, 2014 - 4:26PM

    It is easy to say bad words about Imran Khan but he is working for peace and prevent s civil war in Pakistan. We need to talk to groups like TTP and stopping attacking them.


  • vaqas
    Jul 6, 2014 - 4:55PM

    Yes ofcourse we need to talk with them and certainly not attack them. Afterall they are just our misguided brothers who are in essence very reasonable and with noble intentions. The scores killed by them was just a fart in the wind, no biggie. Lets just push their terrorizing ways under the rug.


  • Ali S
    Jul 6, 2014 - 5:49PM


    A war against beasts is better than living under them like sheep. I wonder why Imran Khan’s ‘Pakhtun ghairat’ goes out the window the minute TTP enters the equation.


  • Waseem
    Jul 6, 2014 - 5:55PM

    No talking with criminals who have brutally killed thousands of innocent Pakistanis. They must be eliminated.


  • Ahmed
    Jul 6, 2014 - 5:58PM

    I’d love to see these monsters hanging by their beards……I really hope the army makes them all meet a very painful end……. #revenge


  • Ashraf
    Jul 6, 2014 - 6:05PM

    And do you know how many peace deals have been signed with these terrorists after “talks”? I am sure you know what Einstein said about making the same mistakes over and over again. Besides, the Haqqani network is not really being targeted.


  • omz
    Jul 6, 2014 - 6:12PM


    are you for real? i mean seriously? do you mean everything you just typed here? you’re being sarcastic right?


  • Kamal
    Jul 6, 2014 - 6:14PM

    Faheem. What are you talking about. What Civil war. Normal Pakhtuns are as fed up of these common uneducated, uncouth bandits and normal cutthoraot criminals. Nothing will happen. Kill them all. These are pests to a moderate balalnced society and should be eliminated. And their supporters should leave the country. Enough of FATA. It will follow the constitution as will Baluchistan or everyone there will be put on Revservations ala Red Indians in US, Aborogines in Australia, the First Nation in Canada. Their militant days are over.


  • Ahmed
    Jul 6, 2014 - 6:49PM

    Excuse me, civil war? There is no civil war when TTP attacks and kills Pakistanis? Civil war only happens when the militants are attacked? Is this your logic? It is, sadly.

    Pakistan Army, you know who is supporting who. Please clean up the mess, whether its a clean shaven, “educated”, some x-player terrorist or not we don’t care, terrorists need to be eliminated.


  • Rex Minor
    Jul 6, 2014 - 7:03PM

    The beard is now the trade mark of a Pakistan soldier!! Will the ET publish this reply, after trashing the previous one.!

    Rex Minor


  • Inam
    Jul 6, 2014 - 7:27PM

    Its all done or being done now, the only way is to keep the area protected from their return is to have better security in Pakistan.


  • Raj - USA
    Jul 6, 2014 - 8:06PM

    It is easy to say bad words about Imran Khan but he is working for peace and prevent s civil war in Pakistan. We need to talk to groups like TTP and stopping attacking them.”

    Imran Khan started to support the talibans when the army was supporting some taliban groups. IK was installed by Gen. Pasha. He thought that speaking for talibans will will him support from the army, which it did and brought him in power. Now, the army is after the talibans. The army is able to reverse its earlier stance as they did not speak openly for the talibans. IK is unable to reverse his stance as he has made public statements in support of talibans. Army needs no votes from the public. IK without army’s support will be out of power and will not be able to rise up again if he loses voter’s support too. He fears that if he reverses his stance, people will see the real Imran Khan in him. It was due to the taliban attacks on PPP and ANP that brought IK to power in KPK.

    BTW, who are these talibans? Most of their fighters are not Pakistanis. They have no moral values. Pornographic CD’s were found in OBL’s safe house. Just last week we read in ET that the Army has found pornographic CD”s from the bombed taliban hideouts in Miramshah. The army also found drugs there. Talibans like western shampoos and perfumes. They keep boys for their sexual gratification, even when they are married to a woman. They kill by cutting off the heads and walk the streets with cut-off heads. What they do to woman and girls is also known. Are they muslims or religious or do they have any moral or ethical values? No. They are worst than animals. They are cowards too and Pakistan’s army can wipe them out in 1 -2 months if both Pakistan and Afghanistan go after all taliban groups in their country. US and NATO were not able to wipe out talibans from Afghanistan because Pakistan’s army was protecting them and not that the talibans were a fighting force. Talibans were also getting their funding from US, NATO, Saudis and Arab kingdoms. US and NATO were paying them for protecting their supplied en-route. After withdrawal of US and NATO from Afghanistan, this revenue source for talibans will stop. Also, they will not have supplies of arms as there will not be any US and NATO arms containers to loot. In any case, even with arms, they cannot fight as they are basically cowards. They can only threaten and brainwash boys and others to become suicide bombers. Once the public sees that the army is behind them against the talibans, everything will change. This was not the case so far as the Army itself was protecting sections of talibans.

    I only see the days of Imran Khan and Qadri numbered in Pakistan and this will be very good for Pakistan. They no longer have Kayani to protect them with inaction which was an indirect support for the talibans.


  • Jibran
    Jul 6, 2014 - 8:40PM

    Any aah-o-baka now by their sympathizers Ch. Nisar and Imran Khan?


  • Moiz Omar
    Jul 6, 2014 - 8:41PM

    Taliban cowards.Recommend

  • Rao
    Jul 6, 2014 - 9:20PM

    These Talibanis are engaged in a strategic retreat to regroup and fight another day. Don’t you understand?


  • Midas
    Jul 6, 2014 - 11:15PM

    This is what the maulvis did when Atta Turk started the cleanup. Since the process has been started it should not lose momentum.


  • numbersnumbers
    Jul 6, 2014 - 11:39PM

    I would wonder how many previously stolen cars are now sitting in the long term parking lots of major Pakistani airports, left there by militant (terrorist) commanders who have flown out of Pakistan to Gulf countries (first class???) after openly driving from north Waziristan long before the assault!
    Perhaps the police might check the vin number/plates of all vehicles left in those lots to see what “oddities” appear!!!
    In North Waziristan, the militants Weapons of all types along with munitions were probably hidden away in dry caves, to be retrieved when the clean shaven militants return from their vacations along with the returning IDPs after the operation is over!


  • Genesys
    Jul 7, 2014 - 5:41AM

    These are the hypocrites who train others to die and run for thei lives when it comes to their survival.They should die like the brave people they pretend to beRecommend

  • Maliha Nisar
    Jul 7, 2014 - 6:52AM

    I they shouldve kept the name of the barber anonymous for his safety and protection, but media these days would do anything for ratings even if putting someones life in jeopardy.


  • Sharjeel Ashraf
    Jul 7, 2014 - 6:55AM

    Now have they forgotten the word of ‘alleged’ Shariah? Not to trim beards?


  • amused
    Jul 7, 2014 - 10:27AM

    so wait, now do we round up every man having his hair and beard shaved off?! I never thought I’d hear myself suggest that!


  • Gurion
    Jul 7, 2014 - 11:14AM

    They aren’t running away. They are shifting their base as part of a mobile war. They’ll be back and will thrive.
    Remember what happened when USSR used conventional warfare against an unconventional enemy?


  • bajwa
    Jul 7, 2014 - 12:57PM

    After the clean-up operation, army needs to make sure that these animals do not return to Pakistan and establish themselves elsewhere.


  • Ameer
    Jul 7, 2014 - 3:06PM

    All those talking against Imran Khan need to wake up and realise that before the talks the public opinion on operation was divided and the enemy was united. After talks, the enemy was divided and public opinion was strongly pro-operation.

    This was the intent of talks in the first place. This is what is called “strategy”.

    People cannot bear to see that IK was proven right. He has come from politically nothing to making the second largest vote winning party and yet the tunes of his detractors will always deny that he ever did anything right.


  • immortal_soloist
    Jul 7, 2014 - 3:26PM

    Long live Pakistan Army.


  • Momin Imran
    Jul 7, 2014 - 3:32PM

    People cannot bear to see that IK was proven right.

    Can somebody try and explain what this person is trying to say?

    Sorry Imran Khan worshipers, if anything, Khan is proven wrong. Not just once. Khan’s supporters are following in his footsteps. They will say totally senseless stuff with highest level of confidence and then wonder why nobody understands them.


  • Jul 7, 2014 - 8:27PM

    The regular attacks against the innocent people of the region, including: women, children and elderly, had already shown terrorists’ cowardly nature. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that they are running for cover now that the pressure is mounting. According to the recent poll by PEW research, majority of the Pakistanis stand against extremism and reject terrorists’ ideology. Those who have tried to shift the advantage in terrorists favor through conspiracy theories can see that these terrorists are only good at manipulating others to carry forward their evil deeds, and they rather run for cover when their own life is threatened. There is no doubt that the region is faced with many obstacles and challenges at the moment, but we remain fully optimistic in regards to seeing peace prevail throughout the region.

    Ali Khan
    Digital Engagement Team, USCENTCOM


  • Indian Muslim
    Jul 8, 2014 - 12:10AM

    Now all these guys are part of moderate, vibrant, liberal secular Pakistan. only 6% of Pakistani’s vote for religious parties /sarc


  • objective observer
    Jul 8, 2014 - 1:51PM

    You either force them to cut their hair or they will cut your heads and hands.


  • chandran
    Jul 8, 2014 - 4:44PM

    it is good even for indians but pak army should stay there
    other wise these monsters will re-appear. Now a days in
    pak news papers I’m not reading any news about
    bomb blast even in karachi good work. sabash


  • Raza
    Jul 8, 2014 - 6:41PM

    So this is what our brave unconquerable militants are all about; shedding their compulsory beards like unbelievers the minute they faced danger. No surprise really; such thugs are always hypocrites and cowards too. We knew that from the Afghan Taliban. All it needed was the army to finally say enough to the meandering politicians and go on the offensive; should have done it sooner, but better late than never. Glad to see that our new COAS has what it takes to complete Musharraf’s work. Don’t care if they’ve fled across the border, as long as we secure it now to prevent further infilitration, register the IDPs efficiently, kill/capture the remaining militants and lock them up for good (no more prison breaks pleaseee!!!).


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