Agence France Presse – 2006-04-28 08:55:41
(April 26, 2006) — Pro-Taliban tribes in northwest Pakistan have buried ancient feuds and joined forces to fight the army, posing a new threat to President Pervez Musharraf’s anti-militant drive, analysts and officials said.
Up to 5,000 tribesmen are launching near-daily rocket and bomb attacks on military bases and convoys in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, while the headless bodies of alleged US spies are dumped on the streets, they said.
Brought together by religion and their hatred of Musharraf’s ties to Washington, the tribes are stepping up their defiance of military efforts to control the region and flush out foreign Al-Qaeda suspects, they added.
“The unending bloodbath is alienating the Pashtun tribes, who are known to sympathise with the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda leader (Osama bin Laden),” said retired Brigadier Mahmood Shah, who oversaw a 2003-4 operation to clear militants from South Waziristan, one of seven agencies in the tribal belt.
Since Pakistan’s creation in 1947, the government has allowed the devoutly Islamic, ethnic Pashtun tribes in the region to live outside Pakistani law, ruled loosely by federal administrators. That began to change after the clans offered shelter to Al-Qaeda rebels and fundamentalist Taliban miltants, from the same ethnic group as the tribes, who fled from the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.
In 2003, Musharraf deployed 70,000 troops along the border and claimed to have rid South Waziristan of foreign fighters. But then late last year violence erupted again, this time in neighbouring North Waziristan. The army says it has killed 300 militants since March, including two senior Egyptian Al-Qaeda members. The figures are impossible to confirm because journalists have been both threatened by tribesmen and denied access to the tribal areas by the authorities.
Local sources said the prolonged military campaign has resulted in Wazir tribesmen — who give Waziristan its name — linking hands with their long-term rivals, the Dawar tribe, to protect their joint independence.
Previously the tribesmen were distracted by blood feuds and cycles of revenge, fuelled by the ready availability of weapons since the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan during the 1980s, the sources said. “This (the alliance of the tribes) is not a good sign for the government in North Waziristan, because in the unrest in South Waziristan they never really faced a combined resistance,” a former security official who hails from the region said on condition of anonymity.
The two firebrand clerics the military says are behind the current resistance — Abdul Khaleq and Sadiq Noor — are both from the Dawar clan and are commanding members of their rival Wazir clan, the sources said. The security official added that the number of people who had joined the local Taliban was anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000.
Moreover, residents say that the troops in the tribal areas have recently spent most of their time in their bases, ignoring militant hideouts on their doorsteps and taking action only when they are attacked.
As a result the area is becoming increasingly “Talibanized”, with strict Islamic Sharia law replacing normal governance, edicts on beard lengths and newspapers burned on pyres for describing the tribesmen as militants, they say.
Military spokesman Major General Shaukat Sultan said that the army was using force only as a last resort. “It does result in army taking more casualties but our effort is to prevent collateral damage and we avoid using big force,” he said.
Sultan admitted that the situation was “not that good” but said that the problem lay with militants from Afghanistan, along with some locals, who wanted to use the region to launch attacks on coalition troops across the border.
Analysts say the military offensives in North Waziristan have led to a situation where the only functioning structures are the army and the militants. “With the passage of time the tribal chiefs have weakened and three years of military operations have further weakened this insitution,” defence analyst Hasan Askari told AFP.
“Now in the tribal areas the focal point of political attraction is the mullah who is now defiant of the tribal chief, the Pakistan military and the United States.”
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