Thursday 24 December 2009

Pakistan Taliban commander unbowed

Hakimullah Mahsud (l)and Waliur Rahman (r)

Interesting comments from the Pakistan Taliban's deputy leader, Waliur Rahman, who on Monday night gave the first interview by any of the group's leaders since the start of the Pakistan Army's offensive into South Waziristan on 17 October.
The interview took place in Shaktoi in South Waziristan, which in itself is revealing. Shaktoi is on the border of north and south Waziristan, in the territory of the Shabi Khel Mahsuds, one of the sub-tribes. It is interesting to note that Mullah Powindah, one of the most active opponents of the British in Waziristan in the 1880s-90s, was a Shabi Khel Mahsud.
You may also be surprised to find out that he assumed the title of Badshah-e-Taliban in the 1880s, so don't let anyone try to convince you that the Taliban is a new phenomenon.
Either side of this territory is land controlled by the Daurs and the Tori Khel Wazirs, both supporters of the TTP.
Waliur Rahman himself is from the Mal Khel of the Manzais of the Mahsuds, who are cousins to the Shabi Khel. As one informant told me: "They normally are on very good terms and are closer to each other in blood than the others, so if there is a problem among the Mahsud clans, the Manzais would always stand with Shabi Khels and vice versa."
This may all sound a bit complicated, but it is all of significance. The real point about Rahman's appearance is that it took place despite the presence of thousands of Pakistani troops in the area and Pakistani Army claims of a major success against the TTP.
Rahman appeared relaxed, according to the Ishtiaq Mahsud, the AP reporter who got the interview. He said he first travelled to the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali and from there was taken by Taliban militants on a six-hour ride to South Waziristan in a vehicle with tinted windows. No attempt to disguise themselves, it seems.
The interview took place in a large mudbrick compound, where Waliur Rahman was surrounded by seven bodyguards,and Azam Tariq, the TTP official spokesman. Despite Army claims that they have killed more than 600 fighters, Rahman claimed to have lost no more than 20.
Doubts are growing about the success of the Pakistan Army's offensive in South Waziristan. Although they have destroyed a lot of houses and seized large numbers of weapons, they appear not to have engaged and destroyed the TTP fighters, most of whom ran away to North Waziristan and Orakzai before the offensive began. Who is right: the Pakistan Army or Waliur Rahman?

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