| Ander Nieuws week 24 / nieuwe oorlog 2007 |
Haven on Afghan border also harbors more Islamic fighters
San Francisco Chronicle
June 1, 2007
The presence of five heavily armed Taliban fighters waiting outside a government office comes as no surprise in the autonomous tribal area known as South Waziristan. Most residents agree that the former Afghan rulers have created a virtual ministate here.
This lawless 10,000-square-mile territory along the Afghan border -- one of seven tribal districts -- has become a haven not only for the Taliban but for other Islamic fundamentalist groups linked to al Qaeda, residents say. These militant groups have taken advantage of an area where Pashtun tribes largely govern themselves, where criminals flee to escape the law and where foreigners are barred without an army escort.
"The visit by Vice President Dick Cheney to Pakistan in February and his demand that President (Pervez) Musharraf rein in militants in tribal areas is proof that Pakistani forces have failed in South Waziristan," said Mehmud Shah, a former top security official in the tribal area.
Foreign diplomats say Pakistan has ceded too much control, largely through controversial truces in which tribal elders have agreed to provide regional security. And while the government has stationed about 100,000 troops along the border, some garrisons have been accused of either doing very little or actively supporting the Taliban in its raids across the border. In past years, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Musharraf have traded harsh words on the issue of infiltration.
On a recent tour of South Waziristan -- a volatile area populated by some 500,000 inhabitants -- a reporter saw few Pakistani security forces, but many Taliban fighters -- both Pakistani and Afghan -- on patrol or manning security checkpoints. The fighters easily passed through border posts with hardly a glance from army soldiers.
In a two-hour trip from Jandola to Wana, soldiers were seen only at two lightly guarded checkpoints, while a Taliban fighter stood guard in a trench at the entrance to Wana, the administrative center of South Waziristan.
In the Wana bazaar, shopkeepers played Taliban poems from loud boom boxes while Taliban vehicles patrolled the market. At Taliban headquarters, a two-story building in the center of town, some bearded fighters with white headbands, black turbans or brown caps clutched Kalashnikov rifles and wireless radios. Some even danced to drum beats, holding their rifles above their heads.
Residents say Maulvi Nazir, the Taliban commander of South Waziristan, recently agreed to head a six-member committee with the support of local clerics and tribal elders to solve local problems in accordance with Islamic Shariah law. Nazir recently said he would grant refuge to Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar under Pashtun tribal customs that offer hospitality to anyone seeking shelter. He denied any knowledge of their whereabouts.
In recent months, Nazir has established Islamic courts throughout South Waziristan that have decided scores of cases, residents say. Most locals say they welcome Shariah law and the replacement of judges who often took years to decide a case -- or refused to settle them without a bribe. Now, a decision is rendered within days, they say.
"The people agree (with Shariah courts) because the decisions are based purely on the tenets of Islam," said Wana resident Aslam Noor.
In April, Nazir's forces also helped kill or expel hundreds of Uzbek militants, many of whom were linked to al Qaeda and entered South Waziristan from Afghanistan after a U.S.-led invasion defeated the Taliban in 2001.
In recent years, both Uzbeks and Taliban fighters crossed the border together, attacked coalition forces in Afghanistan and then returned to Pakistan. That arrangement ended when local tribes killed scores of Uzbek fighters after accusing them of involvement in organized crime, including robbery and killings, according to Iqbal Khattak, a Peshawar-based reporter who specializes in security issues.
Some analysts say Musharraf will be unable to stop the Taliban's political and cultural influence in South Waziristan.
"Due to the ongoing instability on both sides of the border, the Taliban will become the ultimate rulers in South Waziristan," said Fazal-ur-Rahim Marwat, a professor at the Pakistan Study Center at the University of Peshawar. "Nobody can stop the Talibanization of the tribal areas."
(c) 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.
| Ander Nieuws week 24 / nieuwe oorlog 2007 |