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By Iqbal Khattak
PESHAWAR -- About 300 tribal chieftains pledged during a May 10 tribal jirga to keep militants loyal to the Hakeemullah Mehsud-led Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) out of Ahmedzai Wazir areas.
Ahmedzai Wazir areas are in the west of South Waziristan, close to the Afghan border. The Wazir tribes have escaped clashes between security forces and militants, and attacks on state installations, since the spring of 2007, when the local population rose up against foreign militants, especially Uzbeks.
“The government has been alarmed by reports that Mehsud militants are coming to Wana”, Syed Ghafoor Shah, a senior government official, told the jirga, according to local journalist Hafeez Wazir. “Now it all depends on you what you want — to keep peace or let it be destroyed”.
Government officials said at the May 10 jirga in Wana that Mehsud militants are hiding among Mehsud refugees, a situation that could threaten the peace in the Wazir areas.
“We have conveyed our concern to the tribes, and (we) hope they will help maintain this peace,” Shah said.
Official sources say about 600 families from Mehsud areas have taken refuge in Ahmedzai Wazir areas since leaving their homes before Operation Rah-e-Nijat ("Operation Path of Salvation"), which sought to dislodge the TTP from its South Waziristan strongholds. Tribesmen asked some of those families to leave after the jirga.
“Indications are that some Mehsud militant commanders and foot soldiers have trimmed their long hair and live with families as internally displaced persons” (IDP’s), a Zalikhel tribal elder said.
Most Mehsud families come from Tiarza, near Ladah and Kaniguram, where the TTP had great influence before Operation Rah-e-Nijat started in October. Madi Jan and Badar are two other Mehsud-inhibited areas bordering the Wazir areas.
The Wazir areas also live with militant influence, but the residents generally oppose the TTP and Uzbek militants. Locals accused them of unleashing a reign of terror before driving them out in 2007.
“We want to keep peace in our areas at all costs”, Malik Behram Khan, a tribal elder, said.
“We will let no anti-state elements come to our areas. We have fought against the Uzbek militants to achieve this peace”, influential tribal chieftain Malik Noor Ali agreed during the jirga.
Ahmedzai Wazir areas have seen a dramatic turnaround in the past seven years.
The Pakistan military first launched strikes against fleeing Taliban and al-Qaeda elements here in late 2003. Militant commander Nek Muhammad led counter-attacks, resulting in a peace deal with the government in March 2004. A missile attack three months later killed him.
Baitullah Mehsud — a TTP leader later slain by a missile — allowed Uzbek militants to stay with him after tribesmen chased them out of the Ahmedzai Wazir areas. That decision angered the Ahmedzai Wazir, who pressed Mullah Nazir, a militant commander from the Wazir areas, to stay away from any TTP alliance.
Encouraged by the peaceful situation in the Ahmedzai Wazir areas, the government has approved reconstruction money for "quick impact projects" in tribal areas, including US $55m for roads, electricity and water.