Militants enter Shangla; TTP spokesman denies
By Daud Khattak
and Delawar Jan
PESHAWAR: The NWFP government has reportedly made up its mind to opt for plan-B — a military operation — if the “intransigent” Taliban did not agree to vacate Buner district, cease patrolling in Swat and stop moving to other districts, according to sources.
The decision was discussed and later recommended as ‘second option’ after a high-level meeting at the Chief Minister’s House on Thursday with Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti in the chair.
The meeting was briefed about the Taliban build-up and their running over of some villages in Buner district, the armed patrolling of militants in Swat and the threats to the government and contradictory statements from banned Tehrik Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) head Maulana Sufi Muhammad.
Requesting anonymity, the sources privy to the meeting told The News that the meeting was unanimous on action against those violating the peace agreement and intimidating civilians in Malakand.
Situation arising out of the Taliban infiltration into Dir and Shangla districts was also reviewed. The meeting was told that everything was not good in the area and the NWFP government and the security agencies must come to the rescue of people in Buner, who had been taken hostage by the Taliban from Swat.
Besides the chief minister, the meeting was attended by Senator Afrasiyab Khattak, senior ministers Bashir Bilour and Rahimdad Khan, Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) parliamentary leader in NWFP Assembly Abdul Akbar Khan, NWFP Chief Secretary Javed Iqbal and Home Secretary Fiaz Khan Toru.
The meeting decided to convene a grand jirga of the NWFP-based political parties to discuss the situation. The sources said the chief minister and other participants of the meeting were also informed about the Wednesday’s visit of Afrasiyab Khattak and Mian Iftikhar Hussain to Malakand and their talks with Sufi Muhammad about his deadline for the establishment of Darul Qaza and Darul-Darul Qaza (appellate and final appellate courts, respectively) and his criticism of the Parliament and judiciary during a public meeting in Mingora.
The provincial government was perturbed after Sufi’s threat to pull out of the peace deal if the government failed to establish Darul Qaza and Darul-Darul Qaza in Malakand by Thursday evening.
However, a TNSM spokesman extended the deadline till an indefinite period, minutes after its time of expiry following reports that the government was set to carry out an operation against militants.
Talking to The News, Mian Iftikhar Hussain said the first option with the provincial government was peaceful means. “However, we’ll be compelled to use force as second option if the other side failed to honour its promises and continued challenging the writ of the government,” he said.
Mian Iftikhar said they would not allow anyone to establish a parallel government. “Disregarding internal and external pressure, we enforced Nizam-e-Adl Regulation in Malakand after which there was no justification for the other side to display arms and challenge the writ of the government,” he added.
About the government’s grand jirga at the Chief Minister’s House, Mian Iftikhar said he had himself talked to leaders of all the NWFP-based political parties to join the meeting on Friday to develop a consensus.
The ANP government had convened a similar jirga at the CM’s House in mid-February before the signing of peace pact with the TNSM.Another such meeting was held at the Governor’s House with NWFP Governor Owais Ahmad Ghani in the chair. Besides others, the chief minister, Peshawar corps commander and Home secretary attended the meeting.
The sources said the situation in Malakand Division was reviewed in the high-level meeting where a voice of concern was heard about the Taliban build-up in Buner.A day earlier, the NWFP governor had warned that those bent upon scuttling the peace deal in Swat would be dealt with sternly.
Signed with much fanfare and an overwhelming criticism from some internal and external quarters, the peace deal with the TNSM seem to be in the doldrums following Sufi Muhammad’s everyday threats and his provocative statements about the provincial and central governments as well as the Parliament and the superior judiciary.
Meanwhile, tension in Malakand region dramatically escalated as suspected Taliban militants attacked a convoy of the Frontier Constabulary (FC) being moved to Buner district to guard government buildings and take action against the intruders. Taliban militants also reportedly entered Shangla district and started their activities there.
The militants have also established an FM radio channel in Pir Baba to disseminate their messages to the people, official and local sources confirmed.The fresh advances by the militants despite a peace deal set alarm bells ringing for the government and security agencies as they are now threatening several strategic sites of the country.
Some 30-40 militants advanced into the Shangla district, which they had controlled in 2007, triggering a military operation to evict them. They patrolled in the bazaar of Aloch, the headquarters of Puran tehsil. Locals said later they dispersed and hid in the population. The local police station of Aloch confirmed the presence of Taliban.
However, spokesman for Swat militants Muslim Khan denied entry of Taliban into Shangla district. “Certain elements are spreading these rumours to sabotage peace here,” he said, adding they had directed their fighters in Buner to be peaceful and unarmed.
“The advances of the militants are dangerous as their march onto the Hazara region could threaten Khanpur Dam, Tarbela Dam on Topi, Swabi side and Karakoram Highway to the Shangla district side. What is alarming is that only Margalla Hills separate Islamabad from Hazara, which is a great matter of concern,” an official source having knowledge of the situation told The News.
As tension escalated in Buner, the government moved eight platoons of Frontier Constabulary — some 240 personnel — to man government buildings and installations. The convoy of the FC was attacked on its way to Daggar at Totalai, killing one police head constable escorting the FC officials and injuring another. The slain cop was identified as Gul Said and the injured as Yehya.
The district has 200-250 force of police apart from 57 officials of elite force but they were confined to the district headquarters Daggar, officials and locals said. The civil administration is becoming ineffective in the district, providing freedom to the militants to do their activities. The militants have already recruited a good number of people, while their “preaching” is still underway. A local jirga held on Thursday allowed militants to continue “preaching.”
The militants stormed a police checkpost in Jangali area of Buner on Thursday and kidnapped a cop, whose name could not be ascertained. It was learnt that there were six officials in the checkpost. Other five took shelter in civilian population but militants, officials said, surrounded the village and asked people to hand over police officials to them or else they would carry out a search operation.
An official source said that the militants had established checkposts at all the entrance points from Swabi, Mardan, Malakand and Swat. The source said they were at the borders of all these districts.
Officials estimated the strength of militants in Buner at 600-700. “The situation is precarious. The way the developments have been unfolding, action may be taken to secure the strategically located Buner district,” the official said. It was learnt from official sources that Frontier Corps and army were on the stand-by to cope with any dangerous situation in Buner.