July 22, 2008


Plot to divide the Taliban foiled (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 7/22/08, Asia Times)

The story of the current infighting in the Taliban starts in the labyrinth of the regional war theater with the emergence of one Aminullah Peshawari, a well-respected Salafi academic whose influence spread from the Pakistani city of Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), the tribal areas of Mohmand and Bajaur to the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nooristan.

Aminullah was a known anti-establishment figure and used to meet Osama bin Laden, but he was neither a militant nor operated any militant group. He was a credible anti-American voice in the region.

After the US invasion of Afghanistan and the defeat of the Taliban, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation started operations in Pakistan against al-Qaeda's sympathizers. The Pakistani security apparatus was aware that it had to play its cards very cleverly in its newfound role as a partner in the "war on terror". Pakistani officials thus approached Aminullah and warned him of possible arrest and of being sent to the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The noose was tightened so much that the respected Salafi academic was left with no choice but to blindly follow the footsteps of the Pakistani security agencies, which were desperate that he announce his support for the Laskhar-i-Taiba's commander in Mohmand Agency, Shah Khalid.

Previously, Khalid's group had been banned from operating inside Afghanistan because of his closeness with the Pakistani security agencies. Aminullah's support allowed Khalid to operate in the region freely. Both Aminullah and Khalid were now on the payroll of the ISI and Saudi intelligence.

Aminullah moved around with armed guards and a string of four-wheel drive vehicles in the city of Peshawar. The same protocol was given to Khalid. These sort of allowances and the money helped their networks thrive and they boasted of several successful operations in Afghanistan.

This month, North Waziristan's Gul Bahadur made public his differences with Baitullah Mehsud and summoned a meeting at which he (Gul) was appointed as the chief of Pakistani Taliban. Khalid emerged as one of Gul's main followers.

Other local Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders, however, suspected that Khalid had links to the state apparatus. A respected Taliban deputy commander in Nooristan province in Afghanistan and Kunar province's Mufti Yousuf advised Khalid to submit to the local discipline of the Taliban instead of operating a separate jihadi network. The advice went unheeded. As a result, tension mounted between Khalid and Omar Khalid, alias Abdul Wali, the regional commander installed by the Taliban.

As for Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan, the Taliban did not want to challenge him as he is a grandson of the legendary anti-British resistance fighter, Faqir of Ipi, and they were not sure he was an ISI proxy.

However, Omar Khalid suspected a few ISI-backed Taliban commanders in the Pakistani tribal areas would aim to take advantage of his and Gul Bahadur's differences, and Khalid was one of them, in addition to Haji Nazeer of South Waziristan.

So the decision was taken to confront the pure proxies of the ISI, Khalid being the first. He was advised by Omar Khalid to leave the area at once. Khalid agreed, and one of his comrades, Haji Namdar from Khyber Agency, provided him with a base in the agency. But last Tuesday, one of Khalid's men killed a deputy of Omar Khalid's group.

This situation in the most important strategic backyard of the Taliban, which guarantees them access to Nooristan and Kunar provinces across the border, was of major concern to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, who also wanted to clarify just who the ISI's contacts were.

Mullah Omar assigned two of the Taliban's most respected regional commanders to intervene. They were Ustad Yasir of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar and Pakistan's Khyber Agency, and Qari Ziaur Rahman of the Afghan provinces of Nooristan and Kunar and the Pakistani agencies of Mohmand and Bajaur.

These commanders arrived in Mohmand Agency on Friday, but on that day the Taliban's local commander had already begun fighting Khalid, conclusively beating him and capturing his network's arsenal and assets.

As a follow up, Mullah Omar's delegates, including Ustad Yasir and Qari Ziaur Rahman, issued a strict warning that such intra-Taliban bloodletting was not acceptable and that in the future all fighters would work under one umbrella with no stand-alone activities tolerated. This is a clear message to the rivals of Baitullah.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani government has tried to play the killing of Khalid and his fellow jihadis to its advantage. The bodies were taken to Peshawar in a procession arranged by various Salafi organizations. The highest political figure of a Salafi political party to have received direct patronage from Riyadh, Allama Sajid Mir, attended prayers in Peshawar and held a press conference in which he maintained that the majority of the Taliban were deviants, terminology generally used by the Saudi religious apparatus against al-Qaeda.

The Pakistani national press played up the incident under banner headlines of discord among the supporters of the Afghan battle against coalition forces.

Baitullah Mehsud hit back by announcing a deadline for NWFP's secular and liberal government, which signed a peace deal with the Taliban, to resign within five days or face the consequences. But at the same time the Taliban resumed operations in NWFP - a clear aggressive gesture against the state's writ.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda have come out of this sideshow in the tribal areas as strong as ever, and more recruits keep pouring in.

Official: 25 Taliban killed or wounded in clashes in western Afghanistan (AP, 7/22/08)
U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops clashed with and called in airstrikes on Taliban militants in western Afghanistan, killing and wounding more than 25 insurgents, an Afghan official said Tuesday.

The joint force has been battling militants in Bala Buluk district of Farah province since Monday afternoon, said regional police spokesman Rauf Ahmadi.

Two police officers were wounded in the fighting, which also involved coalition airstrikes on the militants' positions, Ahmadi said. 1st Lt. Nathan Perry, a coalition spokesman, said that militants used two roadside bombs, small arms and rocket-propelled grenades to attack coalition patrols in Farah on Monday and Tuesday. No coalition troops were killed, but Perry would not say if any were wounded.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 22, 2008 6:58 AM
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