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Pak Taliban on comeback trail in non-tribal areas

July 14, 2012 12:59 IST

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants have found sanctuary in Afghanistan's eastern provinces, which are under the Haqqani network's control, reports B Raman

On June 24, about 100 followers of Maulana Fazlullah, a Pakistani Taliban leader who used to operate from the Swat Valley of the Khyber-Pakhtunkwa Province of Pakistan and who have since taken sanctuary in the Nuristan area of Afghanistan after they were driven out of Swat by the Pakistani Army in 2009, infiltrated into the Dir Area of Pakistan. They ambushed a Pakistani military convoy and captured 17 soldiers and then retreated into Nuristan. On June 29, they disseminated a video showing the pictures of the heads of the kidnapped soldiers and their army identification cards.

They announced through Sirajuddin Ahmad, Fazlullah's cousin and spokesman, that their jihad against the Pakistan army was continuing despite the setback suffered by them in the Swat Valley and expressed their determination to re-establish their control over the Swat Valley.

In the Swat Valley, Maulana Fazlullah had become well known as Mulla FM radio because he used to address the residents of the valley and conduct Friday prayers through an FM radio station.

Commenting on the brutal massacre of the 17 kidnapped soldiers by the Pakistani Taliban group headed by Fazlullah, the Daily Times of Lahore wrote in an editorial titled 'Murder Most Foul' as follows: The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants now, it seems, have found sanctuary in Afghanistan's eastern provinces, which, ironically, are under the Haqqani network's control.

All along, our establishment, to the detriment of the nation, has been giving safe havens to its proxies. And now these same proxies seem to be returning the favour by giving shelter to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the enemies of the Pakistani state. It seems like our policy of waging proxy war by using these jihadi murderers has boomeranged to hit us hard.

On July 10, six Pakistani soldiers and a policeman were killed when unidentified gunmen opened fire on a Pakistani army camp in Wazirabad in Punjab's district of Gujrat, 150 kilometres southeast of Islamabad. The Pakistani Taliban was later reported to have claimed responsibility for the attack.

A few hours before the attack, an anti-North Atlantic Treaty Organisation procession to protest against the government's decision to lift the ban on the movement of NATO supplies from Karachi to Afghanistan had passed through the area on its way to Islamabad. The army camp had reportedly been set up to prevent any untoward incident.

Commenting on the incident, the Friday Times wrote: That the insurgents, once tools of the 'deep state', have now turned against their mentors has exposed the blinkered policies followed by the generals over many years. The severity of the event, if seen together with the recent upper Dir attacks, is enough to ring alarm bells on a future, not too far away, where an unruly situation awaits Pakistan.

The spate of attacks, that too on multiple targets across Pakistan, is an indication that the insurgents can no longer be considered to be confined to just the tribal regions. Hinting at its future course of action after striking the military camp in Wazirabad, the TTP has indicated it is activating its Punjabi Taliban wing, meaning more attacks in Punjab.

And the threatened attack by the Punjabi Taliban came early on the morning of July 12 when unidentified gunmen entered a private hostel in Lahore and killed nine policemen working in the prison department of the Khyber Pakhtunkwa province who were staying there. They were undergoing training in the national academy of prison administration in Lahore run by the federal government.

Since the academy could not provide accommodation to all the trainees in its premises, 28 from the KP province and three from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir  had been put up in a private hostel. According to an IGP of Lahore, about 10 terrorists reached the hostel at about 5.30 am in a car and three motor cycles, indiscriminately opened fire and threw hand-grenades and escaped in their vehicles.

According to the Agence France Presse, one Ehsanullah Ehsan, who claimed to be a spokesman of the Pakistani Taliban, rang up the AFP office and said that the attack proved "no place is beyond our reach". He claimed that five attackers had targeted the policemen because Taliban inmates were tortured in prisons and added that the raid was "part of chain of attacks" that started in Punjab's Gujrat district on July 9 and would continue.

After the May 22, 2011, attack by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan on the PNS Mehran, the base of the air wing of the Pakistan Navy in Karachi, there was a lull in the attacks of the Pakistani Taliban on governmental targets, particularly in the non-tribal areas.

However, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is considered as identical with what is referred to as the Punjabi Taliban, has kept up its attacks on Shia targets in Balochistan. It is reported to have killed about 80 Shias, mainly Hazaras, in Balochistan since the beginning of this year, without any action being taken against it by the Pakistani authorities.

Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malikhas has been periodically blaming the LEJ for some of the violent incidents in Karachi.

While the followers of Fazlullah, who operate from Nuristan in Afghanistan, and those of Hakimullah Mehsud, who operate from North Waziristan in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, are referred to as the Pashtun Taliban, the cadres of the LEJ, who operate from sanctuaries in Pakistani Punjab, are referred to as the Punjabi Taliban.

After a lull of a little more than a year, these elements have resumed their attacks on governmental targets. The resumption of the attacks cannot be attributed to the resumption of NATO transit supplies, since the attack in Dir took place before the NATO supplies were resumed and the ban was still in force. The reasons for the resumption of the attacks on governmental targets in the non-tribal areas are not clear.

B Raman