Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Rise of Tehreek-e-Taliban

The recent fighting between militants and security forces has dominated news coverage of Pakistan. Yesterday, the hostage-taking of 250 schoolchildren and subsequent surrender of the "gunmen" garnered major media attention, although sources differed on whether the incident was perpetrated by a "criminal gang" or by "Islamic militants." According to an article in today's Daily Times, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Javed Cheema told the AFP that the gunmen were members of a "kidnapping gang," although President Pervez Musharraf called them "extremists" at yesterday's news conference in London. Today's UK Times further asserted the hostage-takers were "pro-Taliban militants."

Despite the contradicting accounts, the increasing presence of the extremists in the region is very problematic for the current security situation in Pakistan, as well as the region as a whole. Today's Daily Times' editorial focused on the rise of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, the umbrella organization that was formed last month in an effort to coordinate extremist activities and wage a joint struggle against the Pakistani military. According to the Times' editorial, the organization is made up of 40 groups "commanding an army of 40,000 gathered in Peshawar to unite under a single banner." During a television interview cited by the Daily Times' editors, the leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban, Beitullah Mehsud claimed "he had never met Osama bin Laden but had known Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda leader who died in Iraq fighting the Americans." However, according to sources inside the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), Mehsud does receive funding from the overarching AQ organization.

As has been noted before, very little is known about Beitullah Mehsud [see CHUP! post for January 18th], perhaps adding to his hype. On Tuesday, U.S. News and World Report released an article on the militant leader, entitled, "Pakistan's Most Wanted Warlord." In the piece, Kevin Whitelaw wrote, "While the United States has been urging Pakistan to scour its largely ungoverned tribal regions for Al Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden, the Pakistanis have been more focused on tribal extremist figures like Mehsud, who has mounted a serious challenge to the authority of Pakistan's embattled government." Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at RAND, commented, "Baitullah Mehsud is a primary ringmaster for cultivating and deploying suicide bombers. He himself has said so. It's a banner of honor he drapes about himself."According to a report from the United Nations last August, a Taliban source claimed 80 percent of suicide bombers in Afghanistan pass through recruitment centers, training facilities, or safe houses in the Waziristan region before they "reach their targets." [Image courtesy of Reuters]

1 comment:

Fahad said...

Whoever is in charge of Pakistan has a very tight rope to walk bc these forces have to be quelled with swift force but the people of NWFP can not be further alienated-- this is where the skill of diplomacy is an asset.