Taliban Spreading, Pakistani President Is Warned
By JANE PERLEZ and ISMAIL KHAN
New York Times, June 30, 2007
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 28 — The Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was warned this month that Islamic militants and Taliban fighters were rapidly spreading beyond the country’s lawless tribal areas and that without “swift and decisive action,” the growing militancy could engulf the rest of the country.
The warning came in a document from the Interior Ministry, which said Pakistan’s security forces in North-West Frontier Province abutting the tribal areas were outgunned and outnumbered and had forfeited authority to the Taliban and their allies.
“The ongoing spell of active Taliban resistance has brought about serious repercussions for Pakistan,” says the 15-page document, which was shown to The New York Times. “There is a general policy of appeasement towards the Taliban, which has further emboldened them.”
The document was discussed by this country’s National Security Council on June 4 while General Musharraf was present, the document notes. It appears to be the first such document to emerge from the Pakistani government formally recognizing the seriousness of the spreading threat here from Al Qaeda and the Taliban, according to a Western diplomat.
The diplomat, who was not authorized to speak for attribution, called the document “an accurate description of the dagger pointed at the country’s heart.”
“It’s tragic it’s taken so long to recognize it,” the diplomat added.
Indeed, the recognition of the scope of the extremists’ authority comes after heavy pressure on Pakistan from the United States to contain the lawlessness in the tribal areas. Washington has poured some $1 billion a year into Pakistan in the last five years for what are described as reimbursements for Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts along the border with Afghanistan.
The prime purpose of the sizable financial support has been to stop the area from becoming a haven for the Taliban and Al Qaeda as they wage their insurgency in Afghanistan.
But now the Interior Ministry is telling General Musharraf that the influence of the extremists is swiftly bleeding east and deeper into his own country, threatening areas like Peshawar, Nowshera and Kohat, which were considered to be safeguarded by Pakistani government forces.
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, the prime mover behind the document, narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack in April by extremists in his home area of Charsadda, 18 miles northeast of Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province.
The attack on Mr. Sherpao shook his confidence in General Musharraf’s policy toward the militants, which has included a series of peace deals.
Since the peace accords have been signed, the militants have filled a vacuum left by tribal leaders, who have taken a back seat, and by the military, which has retreated to its barracks, the president’s critics say. The policy has been questioned by the United States and by some of General Musharraf’s own officers.
“It’s a policy of appeasement,” said Brig. Mahmood Shah, who was the senior Pakistani government official in charge of security in the tribal areas until last year. “It hasn’t worked. The Talibanization has increased in the past year.”
The American Embassy here currently lacks an ambassador. Ryan Crocker left the post in March, and President Bush’s nominee to succeed him, Anne W. Patterson, appeared before the Senate for confirmation hearings last week. Asked about the document, the embassy had no official comment.
During a visit to Islamabad nearly two weeks ago, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte sidestepped a direct question about the growing lawlessness as a result of the peace deals in the tribal areas. But he said Washington was considering bolstering the Frontier Corps, an elite force deployed in the border regions. Mr. Negroponte also cited a new $750 million development aid package to be spent over the next several years in the tribal areas as a measure of Washington’s concern.
General Musharraf has made no public comment on the issues raised during the National Security Council meeting. But the secretary of the Interior Ministry, Kamal Shah, said Thursday that in the aftermath of the ministry’s analysis, the government has taken several concrete steps to beef up forces in the region.
In particular, he said 31 platoons of the Frontier Constabulary, consisting of 40 officers each, had been redeployed from elsewhere in Pakistan to the area where the tribal lands and North-West Frontier Province meet.
In addition, he said, the Frontier Police, which operate inside the province, and the Frontier Corps, which patrols the border with Afghanistan, are being strengthened. “We’re getting more mobility, more equipment and more transport” to those forces, he said.
As well, he said, peace committees consisting of members of local tribes were being mobilized, because “we want to bring the people along.”
“It’s important we have the people on board,” Mr. Shah said.
Brimming with details, the Interior Ministry document gives the names of well-known Taliban commanders in this country — like Mullah Muhammad Nazir, also known as Maulavi Nazir, who has close links to the Afghan Taliban — but also lesser-known militants who lead the Taliban patrols responsible for assassinations and suicide bombings in smaller jurisdictions in North-West Frontier Province.
The mention of lesser-known but potent Taliban figures by name shows that the Pakistani government is aware of the far-reaching tentacles of the Taliban and other extremists but cannot do anything about them or chooses not to do anything, the Western diplomat said.
Among the particulars, the document says the Taliban have recently begun bombing oil tank trucks that pass through the Khyber area near the border on their way to Afghanistan for United States and NATO forces. A convoy of 12 of the trucks was hit with grenades and gutted on Thursday night in the third such incident in a month.
The document describes Peshawar, the regional headquarters of the Pakistani military and police, as suffering the “highest number of terrorist incidents, including attacks on local police,” in the province. Many city’s schools were closed because of threats from extremists. Government offices, diplomats and independent relief organizations routinely receive threatening letters.
In Swat, a scenic area that the government recommends for tourists, an extremist imam has begun to issue edicts against vaccination, female education and female health workers. A local FM radio station spouts jihadist beliefs, the document said.
In two areas, Bannu and Tank, the police are “patronizing the local Taliban and have abdicated the role of law and order,” the document said. In an example of the impotence of local government forces, the document said that “every military or sting operation” drew retaliation in the form of suicide bombings or terrorist attacks.
In an illustration of the surge in violence, the report said Taliban fighters had gone on a rampage in Tank, ransacking banks, schools, gas pumps and checkpoints after an assistant to a Taliban leader who was enrolling students for jihad operations was killed by the police.
In a series of recommendations, the document called for the local enforcement agencies to tackle the militants “head on.” But it gave no suggestion how that was to be done. It suggested blocking FM radio transmissions by extremists and called for a media campaign to mobilize public opinion.