WASHINGTON DC, Sept 14, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Arms seized from Taliban militants on display by Pakistan Army, yet

Taliban Militants Take Over Control of Volatile South Waziristan

By Behroz Khan
Special to South Asia Tribune

PESHAWAR, September 14: Militant groups opposed to the United States and Pakistan Army have almost taken over control of the volatile and troubled South Waziristan Agency where the Army last year launched major operations, and after heavy casualties, claimed to have cleaned up the place and restored peace.

That peace, as is now turning out, is purely on the terms of Taliban and its armed fighters, who have reorganized and emerged as the de facto rulers of the area. Some 60 notable Maliks and elders of the Agency, who collaborated with the US and Pakistan Army, have been shot dead in the last 18 months.

The groups, led by trained Taliban commanders have taken physical control. New offices have been opened all over the Agency to recruit youngsters and fighters for 'jihad' inside Afghanistan and against the Pakistan Army.

It is thus no surprise that attacks against government installations have now become a routine affair. Attacks against candidates, pro-government clergymen and government officials have increased in the neighboring Afghanistan as the war-ravaged country prepares to hold the first ever parliamentary elections on September 18.

The groups collect money and ask for generous donations. Foreigners are escorted by local Taliban to visit mosques, mostly during the night, crying and wailing before the faithful, asking them for help against the infidels and their supporters, a number of local tribesmen confirmed.

None of the tribal sources wanted to be named due to fear of persecution. Armed with heavy weapons, the Taliban patrol the streets of Wana and other towns to ensure that no music is played and only the religious and inspirational cassettes and CDs are sold, as was the case in parts of Afghanistan during the Taliban regime.

A pregnant silence prevails over the area in the backdrop of these operations. Life has become so difficult and dangerous for journalists that most of them have already left their native homes in South Waziristan to live in safer towns and cities in Pakistan. Others are in the process of moving out as soon as possible.

The reason behind this migration is the haunting insecurity and scare spread by the militants that they can target any one at any time. The militants, both local and foreigners, do not want journalists to report about the killing of the pro-government tribal elders and government officials.

The office of the Political Agent, the official responsible for the Administration, is situated in Tank district, which is an awkward five hours drive away from Wana while the Pakistan Army troops stationed at Ziary Noor Army Camp, have nothing to do with the administrative set of the agency.

Among journalists, Mir Nawab Wazir and Allah Noor Wazir have become the latest victims of this target-killing spree while Anwar Shakir and Mujeebur Rehman have been injured beside another tribal journalist, Dilawar Khan Wazir, who narrowly escaped when his vehicle was sprayed with bullets.

"We are virtually prisoners in our homes and offices," remarked one journalist requesting anonymity. Like the few other remaining journalists, he too is restricted to his home and is now planning to move out with the approval of his organization either to Tank or DI Khan. The family of Allah Noor Wazir has moved out of the agency.

The terror of the militants is such that no journalist can dare even shoot or take a picture of people in Wana bazaar due to fear of the Taliban, who believe that taking pictures and making films is un-Islamic and could help the Americans and their stooges, a reference to the government functionaries.

The militants last week snatched the vehicle of Assistant Political Agent at gunpoint by dragging the driver out in the main Wana bazaar. They asked the Khasadar (Levies) personnel present there to keep quiet if they cared for their lives. No one resisted and the militants took away their vehicle saying it was needed for 'jihad' rather than serving the slaves of America, eyewitness told this correspondent.

Another vehicle owned by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), an NGO, was snatched by the Taliban in the same manner and the NGO has asked its staff to remain indoors amid reports that number of the field staff has been drastically slashed by the organization.

About 60 Maliks and chieftains who have been killed in target shootings since February 2004, were pronounced as 'traitors' because they assisted in military operations or demolishing of houses of militants. Many others have also been named as collaborators and most of them have shifted their families outside South Waziristan. Among them are Malik Mahsud Khan, Malik Inayat Khan, Malik Ibrahim Khan and the family of late Malik Mirza Alam.

The militants are not just operating secretly. They staged a show of strength last Friday when a huge gathering of the mujahideen was held at Dela Khula to observe the first anniversary of the killing of more than 40 alleged militants, when their hideout was bombed by Pakistan Air Force last year.

This was the second biggest assembly of the militants in South Waziristan after a similar gathering was organized on the death anniversary of late commander, Nek Muhammad, who was killed in a gun fight after he put up a heroic battle, locals said. Among those who paid their respects to Nek Mohammed were local and foreign militants fighting in Afghanistan and the Pakistani troops in the region.

The assembly was presided over by tribal parliamentarian, Maulana Mirajuddin and specially addressed by Baitullah Mahsud, the leader of his own group of mujahideen.

Although Baitullah has signed an agreement with the Pakistan Army to remain peaceful and not to shelter foreign nationals, he addressed the crowd and promised not to allow the NGOs to work in Waziristan.

Maulana Mirajuddin termed General Pervez Musharraf as the enemy of mujahideen and a friend of America and hailed the continuation of 'jihad' against infidels till they were ousted from the region. Another religious figure, Maulana Gul Naseeb declared that those helping the US and Pakistani government against the 'mujahideen' are liable to death.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Peshawar. He wrote this report after talking to a number of journalists and officials of South Waziristan Agency

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