After news that the Pakistan army had the Taliban on the run from South Waziristan, Orakzai and Mohmand agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has struck a heavy blow in Bajaur, killing 47 innocent citizens collecting food items from a World Food Programme distribution point in Khar, the main bazaar in Bajaur Agency.
The TTP and its escaping warriors were hit hard by drones in Tirah in Khyber Agency recently and the speculation was that this represented part of an important reversal inflicted by the army on the terrorists. This could still be true, judging by the lethality of the retaliatory attack on Sunday, which was carried out by a girl suicide bomber. The TTP had remained quiet during the first ten days of Muharram and may have been licking its wounds till now.
The practice of inducting girls as suicide bombers was uncovered in February this year when a girl named Meena from Malakand was interviewed by the BBC as an escapee from an underground ‘factory’ where her father and brother were earning good money training and transporting suicide bombers from South Punjab to the Taliban for attacks inside Afghanistan. Her sister had met her death near Kabul as a suicide bomber but she had somehow overcome the effect of drugs to escape from the den where she was being ‘prepared’ as a ‘martyr’ to earn big money for her family.
Spokesman of TTP, Azam Tariq — named after the late leader of the Sipah-i-Sahaba — says his organisation carried out the attack in Bajaur to prevent the Salarzai tribe from fielding an anti-TTP militia with the help of the government. This makes us aware of the local reaction against the TTP and its Arab friends across the Durand Line in the Afghan province of Kunar. Bajaur is the smallest tribal agency in terms of area and largest in terms of population and qualifies to be integrated with the rest of Pakistan because of the high level of consciousness of its people. It has 70 percent television coverage which is comparable to that in Kurram Agency, which too qualifies for integration before other agencies.
The population, dependent on remittances from within Pakistan and the Gulf, is not easily persuaded to the cause of the Taliban war, but the neighbourhood of Kunar has produced a serious dent in the resolve of the local tribes — mostly of Uthmanzai origin — to resist the TTP. Aiman alZawahiri, the ideological boss of al Qaeda, lived here comfortably and married into a local pro-Taliban tribe, the Tarkani. TTP also got its most ferocious commander from the Tarkanis, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, who boasts of having collected the most number of suicide bombers after Hussain Mehsud of Orakzai. The army went into Bajaur in 2008 with all guns blazing but he survived the onslaught. Today, Maulvi Faqir commands around 6,000 fighters, including about 500 Afghans and 100 other foreign fighters, mostly Arabs and Chechens. Uzbek fighters — commanded by Qari Ziaur Rehman, who also trains other foreign fighters — are present in the Charmang area of Bajaur’s Nawagai tehsil.
Among the agencies, Bajaur is most inclined to resist the TTP and its patron al Qaeda, but the strength of the likes of Maulvi Faqir is more than they can fight. Thinking that Bajaur was strategically important — it abuts on Swat-Malakand and can easily reverse the military’s victory in Swat — the army has tried to clean it up. However, the two big sections, Salarzai and Tarkanis, are at loggerheads, and this has caused the TTP and al Qaeda to kill a large number of local elders to ‘persuade’ the population in their favour. The battle in Bajaur continues to fluctuate. The army is in control but the TTP warriors return to the cleared areas at night. There is a great misunderstanding in Pakistan that the Taliban are of two kinds, and that al Qaeda stands apart from them. Maulvi Faqir, the ruler of Bajaur has proclaimed allegiance to both the Taliban of Mullah Umar and Osama bin Laden and will send TTP warriors into Afghanistan to fight the Americans while the same Taliban kill innocent Pakistanis in our cities.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 28th, 2010.
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