Taliban Setup Office in South Waziristan

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 3 Issue: 14

In South Waziristan, members of the local Taliban have been allowed to establish an office in Wana in an effort to restore law and order to the area (Daily Times, March 15). The decision was made in the Jamia-ul-Aloom madrassa in Wana (Daily Times, March 15). The madrassa is run by Maulana Noor Mohammad, a former member of the lower house of parliament.

Participants noted that the crime rate was rising in Wana, particularly murder, robbery and drug trafficking. Local cleric Maulana Maulvi Abass explained in a meeting that the purpose of opening the office was not to enforce Sharia, but to restore peace in the area (Daily Times, March 15). As part of the plan, locals will be able to bring their problems and grievances to the Taliban office where they can be heard by a local judge, replacing the traditional jirga system. Maulana Abass said that the government did not oppose the opening of the office because it knows that it will improve law and order in the area. Maulana Abass was previously wanted by the government. Last year, however, he signed an agreement with the government in which he agreed not to participate or encourage attacks on government security forces (Daily Times, March 15).

While the Taliban in South Waziristan is beginning to cooperate with the government, the Taliban in North Waziristan is involved in intense fighting with government security forces. There are a variety of reasons for this paradoxical attitude.

South Waziristan is predominantly inhabited by Mehsuds, a tribe that was nomadic in the past but is now considered well-educated when compared with other tribes in FATA. They control a visible share of the civil and military bureaucracy in Pakistan. Retired Lieutenant General Alam Jan Mehsud is among those who rose to the rank of three star general in the Pakistan Army. Geographically, South Waziristan is more closely linked with southern Pakistan and paved roads have been built up to small villages. Wana, the agency headquarters, can easily be reached. Mehsuds are conservative Pashtuns, but they are also connected to mainstream Pakistani society. The Pakistani government used all of these factors to reach a peace agreement with militant leaders in South Waziristan that led to the opening of the Taliban office.

The militant leaders who led the insurgency in South Waziristan were not religious scholars. Among these leaders, three are critical figures. Nake Mohammad was the first who became famous and, despite an agreement with the government, was killed after his house was hit by a missile believed to be fired by an unmanned drone aircraft (BBC Urdu Service, June 18, 2004). The other, Bait-u-llah Mehsud and Haji Omar, kept quiet and distanced themselves from the insurgency. This is the reason that South Waziristan has been relatively calm: there is an absence of a central leadership. In North Waziristan, for example, Maulana Sadiq Noor is actively leading the local Taliban.

In North Waziristan, there are two prominent leaders who are driving the resistance against the Pakistani government. Both of these leaders—Maulana Sadiq Noor and Maulana Abdul Khaliq—are religious scholars.

Maulana Sadiq Noor is 45 years old and hails from Khatiklay, a small village in the suburbs of Miran Shah. He is also an experienced warrior who fought on the Bagram front in Afghanistan against the Northern Alliance. He is also believed to support anti-U.S. entities in Khost, Afghanistan. For the past 15 years, Maulana Sadiq has operated a seminary in his native village of Khatiklay.

The other leader who came to prominence, Maulana Abdul Khaliq, is not considered as serious of a leader. He is, however, fond of delivering speeches against Presidents Pervez Musharraf and George W. Bush (BBC Urdu Service, March 15).

Additionally, North Waziristan primarily consists of the Wazir tribe. The Wazirs and the Mehsuds are old rivals and have a history of conflict. North and South Waziristan, socially and economically, have different traits. Both are made up of Pashtun tribes, but they have constant blood feuds and in both North and South Waziristan they live in heavily guarded fort like villages with high walls built around their homes. Additionally, North Waziristan is next to the Afghan province of Khost, a former stronghold of the Afghan Taliban.

Government officials, for obvious reasons, are trying to undermine the strength of the local Taliban. For instance, Sikandar Qayyum, the Peshawar-based security chief of the tribal zone, said that the local Taliban “are just a few local people [who] studied in madrassas where some miscreant mullah misled them…They create an environment of fear, [and] pretend [that] they are in charge. We cannot let those Taliban impose what they want” (AFP, March 18). The fact of the matter, however, is that the Taliban in Pakistan are gaining in strength.

While the insurgency is in full swing in North Waziristan, security analysts think that a lull in violence in South Waziristan could be brief. Local and foreign militants could escalate their attacks at any time. According to intelligence information, there are still about 400 foreign militants in different parts of North and South Waziristan (The Nation, March 19).

Despite an apparent calm, militants are showing signs of a resurgence in South Waziristan and on March 22 killed former pro-Taliban militant leader Maulana Sibghatullah who, as a result of a peace agreement with the government last year, ended his association with the Taliban (AFP, March 22). Indeed, on March 20 militants destroyed a state-run radio tower, resulting in the suspension of anti-militant transmissions in the area (Terrorism Focus, April 4). Also, more recently, on April 2, tribesmen discovered the body of Maulvi Zahir Shah, a cleric who ran the Mazahirul Uloom Madrassah in Tajori in the Lakki Marwat district of the NWFP (Dawn, April 2).