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Taliban kill anti-militancy tribal elders in Peshawar
Killings in Peshawar and elsewhere sign of weakness among militants
By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR – Tribesmen who have worked for peace in Pakistan face an ever-present threat of retaliation from the militants, so much so that even migrating to Peshawar or elsewhere offers little protection.
“About 20 pro-government tribal elders and members of the army-backed peace committees have been killed in 2012,” said Abdur Rehman, a Peshawar police officer.
In the latest killings, unknown motorcyclists March 8 assassinated three tribesmen from Mohmand Agency on Charsadda Road in Peshawar.
“Jan Muhammad and Akhtar Muneer, residents of Shero Jangi Mohmand, had been staunch opponents of the Taliban but had been living in Peshawar to pursue their business,” Rehman said. “They had received several threats from the Taliban.”
Tribesmen from Mohmand, Khyber, Kurram, Orakzai and Bajaur agencies – areas where the military has been waging an aggressive campaign against the militancy – have been among those killed in Peshawar, he said.
“Now, the Taliban are out to punish them for supporting security forces,” said Bashir Mohmand, whose late elder brother, a peace committee member, was gunned down in Peshawar January 13.
Part of the reason the danger exists in Peshawar is that the militants, too, have left tribal areas – for fear of being killed or arrested. Faced with aggressive military action, the Taliban are killing government supporters, Islamzeb Khan, political agent of Bajaur Agency, told Central Asia Online.
“The Taliban have been weakened to the extent that they cannot appear in the tribal areas, particularly in Bajaur,” Khan said. “(It) has totally been cleared of the militants.”
Peacekeepers’ families also in danger
The Taliban have even begun murdering relatives of peace lashkar members.
On March 20, brothers Gul Zeb and Malik Zeb came under fire on Charsadda Road in Peshawar, as they headed to the airport. Both received critical injuries.
“We are being punished for being the sons of Mukhtiar Zeb, who is deputy head of peace committee in Mohmand,” Malik Zeb told Central Asia Online.
Before that, unknown gunmen killed Yar Muhammad of Khyber Agency February 8. Investigations revealed that his father, Kashmir Khan, was part of an anti-Taliban lashkar in Khyber Agency.
Two days later, unidentified assailants shot and killed Saifullah, an auto-parts dealer in Khyber Bazaar, Peshawar, in his shop.
“The reason for his killing is obvious,” said Jamil Khan, a police officer in East Cantonment Police Station. “His father, Hazratullah, is siding with the army in Mohmand, which had enraged Taliban.”
Killings have gone on for more than a year
The targeted killings in Peshawar reveal the desperation of the Taliban, now reduced to seeking soft targets, analysts said.
The problem is not new. The Special Branch police alerted the government in November 2010 that the Taliban might target tribesmen in Peshawar.
The police also asked local real estate dealers for information about where tribesmen were renting.
“As per police instructions, we have also been asking them (the tribesmen) to restrict their movements and inform the police in case they see any suspected persons,” said Mazhar Ali, a property dealer in Pakha Ghulam.
Analysts cautioned tribesmen in Peshawar and elsewhere to heed such advice.
The Taliban have no qualms about killing elders who have helped the army break the backs of the militancy, said Sanaullah Khan, a political scientist at Abdul Wali Khan University.
“The worst victims of Taliban’s onslaught are the tribesmen from Bajaur and Mohmand, where the militants have tasted the worst defeats in the past three years,” he said. In both agencies, the population has shifted its support behind the army in the fight against militants, he said.
Fight for peace called important
Some urged the pro-peace tribesmen not to let fear of retaliation make them give up their fight for peace and stability. The killings of lashkar members doesn’t mean their efforts will go to waste, since they have been instrumental in evicting the Taliban from their areas, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said.
“We have been supporting the peace committees everywhere in KP,” he told Central Asia Online. “The government has asked the tribal population to seek the government’s support in protecting themselves against the Taliban.”
Militant threats will not squelch the ideals of peace and stability, Khan said.
“The tribesmen have been bearing the brunt of opposing the Taliban, but they are also reaping the fruits, as peace is returning to their areas gradually and one day there would be complete peace,” he said.