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    South Asia
     Jan 30, 2009
ON THE MILITANT TRAIL, Part 2
Faceless Taliban rule

PART 1: A battle before a battle

In the second report in a series of articles exploring Pakistan's tribal areas, Syed Saleem Shahzad visits Malakand Agency to examine the differing natures and strategies of various Taliban groups. Malakand Agency is a region in North-West Frontier Province and covers one third of the total area of the province. The region is further divided into several districts - Chitral, Dir, Swat, Buner, Shangla and agencies like Malakand and Mohmand.
Malakand Agency: Dear Mr Doctor ... ENT specialist
May Allah bless you. The mercy on the people, created by God, rains blessings by the creator. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is the name of an organization which aims to establish a welfare 

 
society based on justice and confront all evil forces which try to obstruct in this great objective. May Allah heal you from all physical and spiritual ailments.

We don't have any personal grudge with anybody. If we stop anybody from wrongdoings or motivate for righteous things, our purpose is simply to attain God's blessings and to express affection from its creation - the masses.

You are our brother. If you are hurt from our behavior, we apologize. We only did that for the reform of your behavior. Prophet Mohammad - Peace Be Upon Him - said a sweet and good talking to somebody is charity. Therefore, we advise you to take care of your patients. Don't charge too much because several people cannot afford that. May Allah reward you the best and may He guide us all for good deeds. Blessings ...
Ameer-i-Taliban Pakistan (Malakand) Qari Jabbar.
This is a translation (at right) of a letter written on the Taliban's letterhead and delivered through the post on January 22, 2009, to an ear, nose and throat specialist at a hospital in Batkaila in Malakand Agency.

Earlier, the names of five doctors were broadcast on the Taliban's local FM radio station, saying that based on public complaints, the Taliban had made some investigations and found that the five doctors had behaved arrogantly towards their patients.

The Taliban said that the doctors did not have any sympathy for their patients and that they just tried to make as much money as they could. Further, they were hand-in-glove with the pharmaceutical companies and prescribed very costly medicine.

The Taliban warned the doctors that they must "reform" their behavior, otherwise stringent actions would be taken against them. The doctors did change their behavior, and then each of them received a letter of "clearance", as above.

Welcome to Malakand Agency, where one can freely roam around and yet not see a single Taliban vigilante, even though they rule the roost.

In Pakistan, "Taliban" is the generic name for those groups that pledge their allegiance to Mullah Mohammad Omar and al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but in different areas they have different manifestations.

In some places they aim to enforce strict sharia law. In others, the Taliban want to establish bases from which to work in support of the resistance against foreign forces in Afghanistan.

In yet other areas, the purpose is simply to create chaos and anarchy so that militants can engage the Pakistani armed forces and deter them from supporting the global "war on terror".

However, the ultimate mission of the groups is steadily harmonizing, that is, to support the regional war and then the global war against Western hegemony; this is the concept driving the neo-Taliban.

In Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), and surrounding areas such as Muttani, Shabkadar, Darra Adam Khail and Khyber Agency, the Taliban have never tried to implement sharia. Their presence is more strategic and several groups operate independently under various commanders.

Their purpose is to sever North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) supply lines that pass through Pakistan and to eliminate the writ of the central government so that it will not be able to provide protection to the supply convoys.

In the South Waziristan, North Waziristan and Bajaur tribal agencies, the Taliban aim to establish strategic bases with al-Qaeda to provide support to the Afghan resistance. In Malakand Agency and the Swat Valley, the struggle is focussed on enforcing sharia and in cleansing society of unscrupulous elements.

Increasingly, though, as mentioned, these differing goals, as a result of Pakistan's military operations, are coming together as a broad struggle to defeat the Western powers in the region and their ally - Pakistan.

In much of the tribal areas and the Swat Valley, the state of Pakistan has lost its control, but the situation in Malakand Agency is somewhat more complex.

In early 2008, the Taliban flexed their muscles all around NWFP, especially in the the area between the Swat Valley and Peshawar, and Mardan became a hotbed of militancy.

However, the Taliban realized that without local support and only with fighters from different regions of the province, they would never be able to defeat the state forces. Therefore, they resolved to establish their influence over the urban centers in this area, hoping eventually to wrest NWFP completely from Islamabad's control. Similarly, Balochistan province, which also borders Afghanistan, is destined to become "Taliban territory".

The remaining two provinces of Pakistan, Punjab and Sindh, do not figure in this plan. Any attacks here would add additional pressure, but there is no urge for the Talibanization of these areas.

At present, in areas such as Malakand, the Taliban use radio to expose government incompetence and corruption and then ask the people to submit their complaints to the Taliban. Only then do they act.

Recently, after having received complaints in the form of dozens of letters, the Taliban announced on radio that they would investigate the matter of brothels in the Malakand region. The result: several brothels were blown up.

As seen with the medical community, a similar approach was adopted. In the same vein, a local gangster, Shoaib Khan, who was said to have received backing from politicians and the police, was forced to flee.

People in the area call this "creeping Talibanization" and say it is taking root because of corrupt and bad governance. It's not only guns that win over hearts and minds.

NEXT: Swat Valley - whose war is this?

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at saleem_shahzad2002@yahoo.com

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