Tuesday 23 June 2009

Tide turns agains the Taliban in Pakistan?

Events in Pakistan may yet have a great bearing on the conflict in Afghanistan. This video, filmed in Pakistan in the Punjabi city of Jhelum a week ago, shows a protest against the Taliban and al-Qaeda after they murdered the renowned cleric, Dr. Mufti Sarfaraz Naeemi in Lahore in a suicide attack in his mosque. Dr Naeemi had issued a fatwa correctly stating that suicide bombings are forbidden by Islam and had also condemned Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) – sister organisation to its Afghan counterpart - as un-Islamic.
Despite Dr Naeemi’s killing and last week's bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar, it is clear that the TTP are now on the defensive in Pakistan. The Swat Valley, where for the last two months the Pakistan Army has been engaged in a fierce confrontation with Islamist militants, has now been cleared. Some of the estimated 2.5 million internal refugees will soon be able to start returning to their homes and harvesting their crops.
Significantly, in some areas of Swat local villagers took up arms against the TTP fighters. At least three villages in Upper Dir were cleared by local lashkars (militias) who killed more than a dozen TTP fighters.
The big test will be the Army’s campaign in Waziristan. Up to 10,000 fighters loyal to TTP Emir Baitullah Mahsud, along with hundreds of Arab, Uzbek and Chechen fighters from al-Qaeda are based in this remote tribal agency bordering Afghanistan. It is likely that much of the al-Qaeda leadership is also in this region.
The Army’s new offensive, known as ‘Path of Salvation’, is already underway, although it has so far only involved air strikes and artillery bombardments. But Pakistani officials have already been able to drive a wedge between Mahsud and two former allies, Turkistan Bhittani and Qari Zainuddin Mahsud, both of whom have called Baitullah an enemy of Islam.
Qari Zainuddin Mahsud, who comes from the same tribe as Baitullah, was killed today when one of his guards opened fire on him in the north-western town of Dera Ismail Khan. Turkistan Bhittani, 40, remains a significant threat.
According to a well-informed article published by the Jamestown Foundation

Bhittani told local jirgas that he will take revenge on Baitullah for killing innocent Pakistani civilians and security forces. The article describes him thus:
Turkistan Bhittani, 40, once a friend of Baitullah Mahsud who fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, is now his biggest enemy. Turkistan also served in the Frontier Corps (FC) until his retirement in 1998. He developed differences with Baitullah and parted ways with him when Baitullah slaughtered some FC officials and began using suicide bombing as a tool to terrorize his opponents inside Pakistan."
These divisions and the formation of lashkars are significant. Nothing similar has happened in Afghanistan so far, but if the jihadi infrastructure built up by Pakistan’s ISI intelligence service over many years begins to come apart, it will undoubtedly have an impact on the Afghan Taliban leadership, who are mostly based in Quetta in Baluchistan.

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