Taliban and Allies Tighten Grip in North of Pakistan


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

December 11, 2006

Taliban and Allies Tighten Grip in North of Pakistan
Correction Appended

PESHAWAR, Pakistan ‹ Islamic militants are using a recent peace deal with the 
government to consolidate their hold in northern Pakistan, vastly expanding 
their training of suicide bombers and other recruits and fortifying alliances 
with Al Qaeda and foreign fighters, diplomats and intelligence officials from 
several nations say. The result, they say, is virtually a Taliban mini-state.

The militants, the officials say, are openly flouting the terms of the September
accord in North Waziristan, under which they agreed to end cross-border help for
the Taliban insurgency that revived in Afghanistan with new force this year.

The area is becoming a magnet for an influx of foreign fighters, who not only 
challenge government authority in the area, but are even wresting control from 
local tribes and spreading their influence to neighboring areas, according to 
several American and NATO officials and Pakistani and Afghan intelligence 

This year more than 100 local leaders, government sympathizers or accused 
³American spies² have been killed, several of them in beheadings, as the 
militants have used a reign of terror to impose what President Pervez Musharraf 
of Pakistan calls a creeping ³Talibanization.² Last year, at least 100 others 
were also killed.

While the tribes once offered refuge to the militants when they retreated to the
area in 2002 after the American invasion of Afghanistan, that welcome is waning 
as the killings have generated new tensions and added to the region¹s 

³They are taking territory,² said one Western ambassador in Pakistan. ³They are 
becoming much more aggressive in Pakistan.²

³It is the lesson from Afghanistan in the ¹90s,² he added. ³Ungoverned spaces 
are a problem. The whole tribal area is a problem.²

The links among the various groups date to the 1980s, when Arabs, Pakistanis and
other Muslims joined Afghans in their fight to drive the Soviet Union out of 
Afghanistan, using a network of training camps and religious schools set up by 
the Pakistani intelligence agency and financed by the C.I.A. and Saudi Arabia.

The training continued with Pakistani and Qaeda support through the 1990s, and 
then moved into Afghanistan under the Taliban. It was during this time that 
Pakistanis became drawn into militancy in big numbers, fighting alongside the 
Taliban and hundreds of foreign fighters against the northern tribes of 
Afghanistan. Today the history of the region has come full circle.

Since retreating from Afghanistan in 2002 under American military attacks, the 
Taliban and foreign fighters have again been using the tribal areas to organize 
themselves ‹ now training their sights on the 40,000 American and NATO troops in

After failing to gain control of the areas in military campaigns, the government
cut peace deals in South Waziristan in 2004 and 2005, and then in North 
Waziristan on Sept. 5. Since the September accord, NATO officials say 
cross-border attacks by Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and their foreign allies 
have increased.

In recent weeks, Pakistani intelligence officials said the number of foreign 
fighters in the tribal areas was far higher than the official estimate of 500, 
perhaps as high as 2,000 today.

These fighters include Afghans and seasoned Taliban leaders, Uzbek and other 
Central Asian militants, and what intelligence officials estimate to be 80 to 90
Arab terrorist operatives and fugitives, possibly including the Qaeda leaders 
Osama bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri.

The tightening web of alliances among these groups in a remote, mountainous area
increasingly beyond state authority is potentially disastrous for efforts to 
combat terrorism as far away as Europe and the United States, intelligence 
officials warn.

They and Western diplomats say it also portends an even bloodier year for 
Afghanistan in 2007, with the winter expected to serve as what one official 
described as a ³breeding season² to multiply ranks.

³I expect next year to be quite bloody,² the United States ambassador in 
Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, said in a recent interview. ³My sense is the 
Taliban wants to come back and fight. I don¹t expect the Taliban to win, but 
everyone needs to understand that we are in for a fight.²

Foreign Influence

One of the clearest measures of the dangers of this local cross-fertilization is
the suicide bombings. Diplomats with knowledge of the area¹s Pashtun tribes say 
they have little doubt the tactic emerged from the influence of Al Qaeda, since 
such attacks were unknown in Pakistan or Afghanistan before 2001.

This year suicide attacks have become a regular feature of the Afghan war and 
have also appeared for the first time in Pakistan, including two in this 
frontier province in recent weeks, indicating a growing threat to Pakistan¹s 

In recent weeks, Afghan officials say they have uncovered alarming signs of 
large-scale indoctrination and preparation of suicide bombers in the tribal 
areas, and the Pakistani minister of the interior, Aftab Khan Sherpao, publicly 
acknowledged for the first time that training of suicide bombers was occurring 
in the tribal areas.

The Afghan intelligence service said last week in a statement that it had 
captured an Afghan suicide bomber wearing a vest filled with explosives. The man
reportedly said he had been given the task by the head of a religious school in 
the Pakistani tribal region of Bajaur, and that 500 to 600 students there were 
being prepared to fight jihad and be suicide bombers.

The bomber said that the former head of Pakistani intelligence, Gen. Hamid Gul, 
was financing and supporting the project, according to the statement, though the
claim is impossible to verify. Pakistani intelligence agencies have long 
nurtured militants in the tribal areas to pressure the rival government in 
Afghanistan, though the government claims to have ceased its support.

So numerous are the recruits that a tribal leader in southern Afghanistan, who 
did not want to be named because of the threat of suicide bombers, relayed an 
account of how one would-be suicide bomber was sent home and told to wait his 
turn because there were many in line ahead of him.

American military officials say they believe much of the training in Waziristan 
is taking place under the aegis of men like Jalaluddin Haqqani, once one of the 
most formidable commanders of the anti-Soviet mujahedeen forces who joined the 
Taliban in the 1990s.

He has had a close relationship with Arab fighters since the 1980s, when 
Waziristan was his rear base for fighting the Soviet occupation. Arab fighters 
had joined him there in the struggle, among them Mr. bin Laden.

Mr. Haqqani later became the Taliban¹s minister of tribal affairs and was the 
main protector for the foreign fighters on their exodus from Afghanistan in 2001
and 2002. He and his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, remain the most important local 
partners for Al Qaeda in Waziristan.

Mr. Haqqani bases himself in North Waziristan and has a host of other Taliban 
and foreign commanders, in particular Uzbeks, who are loyal to him, United 
States military officials say.

Money continues to flow in from religious supporters at home and in the Persian 
Gulf, as well as from a range of illicit activities like a lucrative opium 
trade, smuggling and even kidnapping, said diplomats, United Nations analysts 
and local journalists.

³There are clearly very substantial training facilities that are still operating
in Waziristan, both north and south, and other parts of FATA and Baluchistan,² 
said a diplomat in Kabul, referring to the region by the acronym for its formal 
name, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

³Even more worrying is the continued presence of the Taliban and Haqqani 
leadership networks,² the diplomat said, dismayed at what he characterized as 
Pakistani passivity in breaking up the networks.

³They haven¹t been addressed at all on the Pakistani side,² he added. ³They 
haven¹t been pursued.²

The diplomat also singled out Saddique Noor, a Pakistani militant commander in 
his mid-40s who he said was training suicide bombers in Waziristan and sending 
them into Afghanistan. Mr. Noor fought in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban in 
the 1990s and is a determined opponent of the American and NATO presence in 

Another commander, Beitullah Mehsud, about 40 and also from the region, is now 
probably the strongest Pakistani Taliban commander and may also be dispatching 
suicide bombers. He also fought in Afghanistan under the Taliban and claims to 
have 15,000 fighters under him now.

Both men are loyal to Mr. Haqqani, whom Western diplomats consider one of the 
most dangerous Taliban commanders because of his links to Al Qaeda and his 
strong local standing.

The other, for the same reason, is Mullah Dadullah, a ruthless Taliban commander
from southern Afghanistan, who has emerged as the main figure in the resurgence 
of the Afghan Taliban.

The one-legged Dadullah ‹ he lost a leg in fighting ‹ has a flamboyant if cruel 
reputation. He narrowly escaped capture in northern Afghanistan in 2001, often 
gives boastful interviews to news agencies, and is known to have personally 
ordered the killings of aid workers. His latest announcement, made in a phone 
call to Reuters, was that the Taliban had infiltrated suicide bombers into every
Afghan city.

He is widely thought to be based in or around the southern Pakistani town of 
Quetta but is reported to be constantly on the move. He visited various areas of
southern Afghanistan this year and has traveled to Waziristan repeatedly, in 
particular as the tribes of North Waziristan negotiated their Sept. 5 peace deal
with the government, which he sanctioned, according to local reporters and 
intelligence officials.

Push for Order

The increasingly urgent question for Pakistani, Afghan, American and NATO 
officials is what can be done to bring the region under control. The Pakistani 
government¹s latest attempt was the Sept. 5 peace accord in North Waziristan.

Under the deal, both the government and militants agreed to cease attacks, and 
the militants agreed to end cross-border help for the Afghan insurgency, the 
killings of tribal leaders and accused government sympathizers, and to cease the
³Talibanization² of the area.

Taliban commanders sanctioned the deals, arguing that the militants should 
concentrate their efforts on the foreign armies in Afghanistan and not waste 
their energies on clashing with the Pakistani military, journalists working in 
Waziristan say.

Critics say that the agreement is fatally flawed since it lacks any means of 
enforcement, and that it has actually empowered the militants. In a report to be
released on Dec. 11, the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research 
organization, brands it as a policy of appeasement.

The government has taken down checkpoints, released detainees, returned 
confiscated weapons and vehicles and issued an amnesty. But the militants have 
increased their activities, benefiting from the truce with the Pakistani 
military, the groups said.

³From the start the agreement was not good because there are too many 
concessions and no clauses that are binding,² said Brig. Mahmood Shah, who 
served as secretary of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas until 2005. ³This
agreement is not going to work, and if it is working, it is working against the 
government interest.²

Afrasiab Khattak, a local politician and spokesman for the Awami National Party 
in Peshawar, also criticized the agreement. The militants rather than the 
traditional tribal leaders have the power now, he said.

³They have imposed a new elite in Waziristan,² he said. ³More than 200 tribal 
chiefs have been killed, and not a single culprit brought to justice.²

Still, Javed Iqbal, the newly appointed Pakistani secretary of the tribal areas,
defended the North Waziristan accord as an effort to return to the traditional 
way of running the tribal areas, through the tribal chiefs. That system, 
employed by the British and Pakistani rulers alike, was eroded during the 
military campaigns of the last few years.

³We have tried the coercive tactic, we did not achieve much,² he said in an 
interview in Peshawar. ³So what do you do? Engage.²

He said the government had let down the tribal elders in Waziristan who had 
wanted dialogue with the government, but were murdered one after another by the 
militants. But the big turnout of some 500 to 600 tribal elders at a meeting in 
Miramshah in North Waziristan in November was encouraging, he said, and showed 
that the tribes wanted to engage. ³We are back in business,² he said.

Loss of Control

Some Pakistani officials admit they have made a serious mistake in allowing the 
militants so much leeway, but only if they will not be quoted publicly.

Afghan and Pakistani Taliban leadership networks run training camps in various 
parts of the 500-mile length of the tribal areas, from Baluchistan in the south 
to the hub of North and South Waziristan, and farther north to Bajaur, said a 
Western diplomat in Kabul.

A diplomat who visited Wana, the capital of South Waziristan, said the 
government had almost no control over either of the Waziristans.

³They are absolutely not running the show in North Waziristan, and it runs the 
risk of becoming like South Waziristan,² he said. ³In South Waziristan the 
government does not even pretend to have a remit that runs outside of its 

The fundamentalists¹ influence is seeping outward, with propaganda being spread 
on private radio stations, and through a widening network of religious schools 
and the distribution of CDs and DVDs. It can now be felt in neighboring tribal 
departments and the settled areas of the North-West Frontier Province. In recent
months, Pakistani newspapers have reported incidents of music and barber shops 
being closed, television sets burned and girls¹ schools threatened.

The militants are more powerful than the military and the local tribal police, 
kill with impunity and shield criminals and fugitives. Local journalists say 
people blame the militants for a rising tide of kidnappings, killings, robberies
and even rapes.

The brutality of some foreign militants has led to rising discontent among their
Pakistani hosts, many of whom are also armed and militant, making the region 
increasingly volatile and uncontrollable.

³Initially, it was sympathy,² one Pakistani intelligence official said. ³Then 
came the money, but it was soon followed by fear. Now, fear is overriding the 
other two factors, sympathy and money.²

For now, however, the Taliban commanders and the Pakistani militants under them 
remain unswervingly loyal to jihad in Afghanistan and, despite the tensions, 
still enjoy local support for the cause, officials and local journalists say.

The failed government military campaigns of recent years, which are seen as 
dictated by the United States, have further radicalized the local population, 
many in the region say.

As a potential indicator of local support, the families of two suicide bombers 
sent to Afghanistan from Waziristan gained renown in the community, according to
a local journalist.

³The people support the militants because they are from their own tribe, they 
are family,² said the journalist, who asked not to be named out of fear of the 

Morale is high among the resurgent Taliban after their revival in Afghanistan 
this year, one Pakistani security official said. That will lead to still more 
recruitment and better organization and planning in the year ahead.

Fighting traditionally dies down in winter because of the inhospitable 
conditions in the mountains.

But the new fighting season in the spring will be even bloodier, a Western 
diplomat in Kabul said. ³We have to assume that things will be bad again,² he 
said, ³because none of the underlying causes are being addressed.²

David Rohde contributed reporting to this story from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Correction: December 12, 2006

A front-page article yesterday about the Taliban¹s growing strength in northern 
Pakistan omitted a credit. David Rohde contributed reporting from Kabul, 
Afghanistan. The credits for two photographs that accompanied the continuation 
of the article were reversed. The photograph of a bombing in a Peshawar market 
was by Mohammad Zubair of The Associated Press; the photograph showing an 
embrace between the Taliban commander Mullah Dadulla and a would-be suicide 
bomber was by Reuters Video News.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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