Death toll in military convoy attack reaches 30
By Mushtaq Yusufzai & Malik Mumtaz Khan
PESHAWAR/MIRAMSHAH: Previously known as pro-government militants, the Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led Taliban in the troubled North Waziristan region on Monday formally scrapped the peace deal with the government in, what they termed, protest against the US drone attacks.
Ahmadullah Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Hafiz Gul Bahadur-led militants, called The News from Miramshah, headquarters of North Waziristan Agency (NWA), and said their Shura members had decided in a meeting to scrap the peace accord.
Meanwhile, the death toll in the Sunday�s attack on a military convoy in NWA rose to 30, as 10 more seriously wounded soldiers succumbed to their injuries on Monday. The slain troops included a colonel, a captain and a lieutenant.
The Taliban in NWA had signed the first peace accord with the government on September 5, 2006 after months of bloody clashes with security forces in which both the sides had suffered heavy casualties. However, later they scrapped the agreement when their relations with the government turned sour.
Again, with the help of a 40-member peace committee, comprising tribal elders and clerics, the Taliban signed another peace agreement with the government on February 17, 2008, a day before the general elections last year. The latest accord was signed on militants� terms and conditions.
Before signing the agreement, the government had removed all the roadside military checkpoints, released detained militants and compensated them and other tribesmen for their losses they had suffered during the military operation.
However, despite being in peace accord the two sides never enjoyed cordial relations and lack of trust has always been visible. The militants were running the tribal region according to their own will, leaving little space for the government and the law-enforcement agencies.
Hafiz Gul Bahadur has said he had scrapped the peace accord in protest against the frequent US drone attacks in NWA. He claimed that the drones had carried over 50 attacks since signing of the peace accord in NWA in which hundreds of people, including women and children, had lost their lives.
Another reason that reportedly annoyed Gul Bahadur was the recent military operation in Janikhel and Bakakhel villages of the FR Bannu. Gul Bahadur has recently threatened more than once to end the peace agreement but it was the 40-memebr peace committee members who prevented him from taking such a decision.
Tribal sources said the peace committee members also reminded Gul Bahadur and his men that drones did not pound any target in NWA during the past two months and a military operation in the FR Bannu was almost over.
The Taliban commander has also reportedly demanded an end to the military operation against the Baitullah Mehsud-led militants and drone attacks in the adjoining South Waziristan tribal region. The elders, however, have told Gul Bahadur that their peace agreement was restricted to NWA, therefore, it would be difficult for them to put pressure on the government to accept their demands related to South Waziristan.
In the meantime, Gul Bahadur told the tribal elders that all doors for negotiations between him and the government had been closed, warning the peace committee members not to approach him for talks.
He also later issued a pamphlet, asking all tribal elders and Maliks to boycott the government offices and its functions.The pamphlet, a copy of which was made available to The News, forbade the tribesmen from approaching the government and attending its functionaries. It also banned holding of Jirgas and congregations in the tribal region. He had warned he would not even hesitate to send his suicide bombers to attack any meeting convened for peace in the region.
The tribal sources said Gul Bahadur�s decision to scrap the peace deal with the government was in context of his previous association with Baitullah Mehsud.In February last, Baitullah Mehsud, Gul Bahadur and Mulla Nazeer, commander of Ahmadzai Wazir militants in Wana area, had entered into an alliance � �Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahideen� or council of holy warriors � and pledged to end their differences and fight together in future against their enemy.
Sources close to the Taliban said that Gul Bahadur had personally decided to break the peace accord. They said he had called 600 well-armed militants to his village for attacking the military convoy.
Several soldiers went missing after their convoy was ambushed and militants are believed to have kidnapped them. After Gul Bahadur, militants affiliated with Mulla Nazeer have also started attacks on military installations in Wana and Shakai areas of South Waziristan. Though he has been silent so far, military officials believe his men are involved in recent attacks on military installations.