Talibanization getting entrenched in NWFP/FATA

Talibanisation imperils security, NSC warned: Immediate action urged
By Ismail Khan: Dawn, June 22, 2007

PESHAWAR, June 22: Describing ‘Talibanisation’ as a potential threat to national security, a high-level presentation made to President Pervez Musharraf is reported to have called for an immediate action before it is too late.

“Time is of essence. We must act before it is too late,” is how it was summed up at the National Security Council meeting early this month. The NSC that met on June 4 with President Musharraf in the chair held exhaustive discussions on Talibanisation in Fata and the NWFP.

NWFP Chief Minister Akram Khan Durrani, who until very recently, has been in total denial of the creeping Talibanisation in the MMA-ruled NWFP, was also in attendance and, according to one source, was in total agreement with the assessment made at the NSC meeting.

“He was equally concerned,” the source, who was privy to the discussions at the NSC, said of the chief minister.

The 15-page presentation at the NSC speaks of the Taliban of having regrouped and reorganised, bringing about serious repercussions for Pakistan.

“Talibanisation has not only unfolded potential threats to our security, but is also casting its dark shadows over Fata and now in the settled areas adjoining the tribal belt,” it was informed. “The reality is that it is spreading,” the participants were told.

In its assessment of the ‘rapidly’ deteriorating law and order situation, the NSC was told that militancy and extremism had risen with an increase in the number of suicide attacks and there was unhindered movement of militants to the settled areas.

In contrast, the NSC was informed that there was inaction on the part of law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) and morale of the agency personnel had declined. “Resultant vacuum has been filled by militants and non-state actors.”

The NSC was told that while the situation had marginally improved in South Waziristan after the flushing out of the Uzbek militants, a top militant commander continued to call the shots by harbouring foreigners and sponsoring terrorist activities throughout the country.

It was told that the North Waziristan agreement was holding but it remained fragile with Mirali, a sub-district of the restive tribal region, emerging as the hub of militant activities.

The situation in the Kurram tribal region remained precarious because of sectarian clashes and it had also become a major transit point for cross-border movement into Afghanistan.

In the Khyber tribal region, the Lashkar-i-Islami and the Ansar-ul-Islam continued to clash while one factional leader was asserting and attempting to use state authority.

The NSC was also informed that while the recent undertaking by tribes in Bajaur might help restore the government authority, foreign and local militants were operating there with the support of some local clerics.

The participants were told that while Mohmand and Orakzai, the remaining two of the seven federally-administered tribal regions, were relatively peaceful, there were signs of militancy creeping into the region as well.

Recounting the “gravity of the problem” in the settled districts of the NWFP, the council was informed of the rising militancy manifesting itself in the shape of suicide attacks, harassment of NGOs, bombings of barber and video shops, threats to religious minorities, girls schools and politicians and attacks on law-enforcement personnel.

It was told that Tank district and Frontier Region Tank, Lakki Marwat, Bannu district and Frontier Region Bannu, Kohat district and Frontier Region Kohat, Hangu, Dera Ismail Khan in south of the NWFP, Peshawar, Mardan and Charsadda in the central NWFP and Mansehra, Swat, Malakand and Dir in the northern NWFP had been affected by varying degrees of militancy and extremism.

It was told that foreign occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan’s alliance with the United States in the war on terror; long festering political disputes in the Muslim world and a growing feeling among Muslims that they are under attack from the West were major contributory factors behind the growing militancy in the region.

The source said the NSC was also briefed on specifics and was told that while the police were outnumbered and outgunned, there was almost total inaction on their part to take on militancy in the settled districts.

The meeting was told that there was a general policy of appeasement towards the Taliban while the police in Bannu and Tank were patronising the Taliban and had abdicated their own role.

The militants had easy and unchecked access to the settled districts because of lack of security infrastructure along the border with tribal regions and no serious effort had been made to arrest militant leaders who had been identified, the NSC was told.Clerics were making full use of illegal FM radio channels to preach extremism and militancy and some madressahs were involved in recruiting young boys for ‘jihad’ and the LEAs appeared to be unconcerned.

In the tribal region, the NSC was told, the erosion of the authority of maliks and political agents had had a negative effect and the loss of administrative capacity had provided space to the Taliban to become a parallel authority.

The source said that the interior ministry laid out a comprehensive strategy before the NSC to deal with the situation, suggested political and administrative measures and made recommendations regarding law enforcement, blocking of illegal FM transmission and launching a media campaign to create awareness and counter militant propaganda.

“Swift and decisive action is required to turn the tide of what in time can become a threat to the rest of Pakistan,” the NSC was told at the end of the presentation.

One senior official said it was for the first time that the issue was so comprehensively discussed in the NSC meeting and some important decisions were taken to deal with the deteriorating law and order situation in the NWFP and Fata.

But, the official said, it would be wrong to assume the prevailing situation as a law and order problem. “This is militancy and in some cases a low-intensity insurgency. It requires urgent and concerted effort. I just hope that the passing of the buck and blame-game between the centre and the province would stop and they would sit together to implement all the good decisions taken at the NSC.”

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