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Lashkar-e-Islami / Mangal Bagh Afridi

Mangal Bagh Afridi is leader of a Pakistani Taliban organization called Lashkar-e-Islami, or "Army of Islam." (Not to be confused with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani group that orchestrated the 2008 Mumbai attacks) The organization is active in the Khyber Agency, which is a geographical area within Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA). Importantly, the Khyber Agency encompasses the Khyber Pass, which is a strategically important gap in the mountains separating Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Pass is therefore a transportation chokepoint for NATO supply lines going into Afghanistan.

The largest city in the Khyber region is Peshawar. Lashkar-e-Islami is most active in the local town of Bara. Other Taliban organizations are also active in Khyber Agency. Their slightly different interpretations of the Koran are of enormous ideological importance, and the groups have running turf wars with each other.

Lashkar-e-Islami was founded and previously led by fundamentalist cleric Mufti Munir Shakir. Shakir is a Deobandi Sunni and an excellent orator. He became locally famous in Khyber Agency during the 2003-04 period for his advocacy of a strict Islamic lifestyle that resonated with residents in the poor and neglected area. In 2005, Shakir's supporters clashed with supporters of a rival Taliban chief-Pir Saifur Rehman-and several people were killed. Shakir then formally organized his followers into Lashkar-e-Islami for defense and expansion, and the other Taliban chiefs followed suit. Private FM radio stations were set up by these different groups to propagandize the local population. Thus began the "Talibanization" of Khyber Agency.

The different Taliban groups effectively replaced the government in their respective areas: Shakir set up an Islamic court and armed militiamen from Lashkar-e-Islami acted as "police" in Bara (which is also a major hub in the Afghan-Pakistan smuggling system) and surrounding areas. Road checkpoints were setup and opponents of the group were terrorized and had their houses looted by the militiamen. People accused of prostitution, gambling, witchcraft, or other un-Islamic activities were assaulted and sometimes abducted. Praying at the town mosque five times a day became mandatory. The armed men also shut down schools and colleges. All during this period (2006-07), fighting between Taliban factions continued to claim dozens of lives and embarrass the legitimate government because it exposed the true lack of control it had over Khyber Agency. While both the government and the Taliban claimed the area, both also feared the consequences of an open confrontation over the issue.

The government finally cracked down in 2007 when it sent in troops to blow up Lashkar-e-Islami's Islamic courthouse. In an incident involving militiamen, government troops, and civilian protestors, at least six people were shot dead. Afterwards, Shakir was arrested and another Taliban chief was banished. At that point, Shakir's student, Mangal Bagh Afridi (he is of the Afridi tribe), took control of Lashkar-e-Islami. The government then declared Lashkar-e-Islami to be an illegal organization.

Though Mangal is an Islamic fundamentalist who is critical of the Pakistani government and the U.S., as of early 2009 had refused to join forces with other militant groups in Pakistan's northwest to attack NATO supply lines. Some view this as being very important since Mangal's group exerts control over much of the vulnerable transit area between Peshawar and the Khyber Pass.

Mangal claims that Lashkar-e-Islami has 10,000 men at arms and could muster another 120,000 if needed.

In late June 2008, Pakistani Frontier Corps conducted a significant operation in Bara targeting Lashkar-e-Islami. Mangal was apparently forewarned of the invasion and moved to a safe area from which he ordered his supporters to remain in place and not resist. "Several hundred" armed members of the organization had showed up in the city, possibly for a confrontation with the authorities, but they dispersed at Mangal's order. The government forces encountered no problems and destroyed a handful of homes and hideouts that were supposedly being used by Lashkar-e-Islami, along with a pirate FM radio station. Local people appeared to support Lashkar-e-Islami and some claimed that the operation was a token affair that concealed an alliance between Mangal and the Pakistani government. The troops agreed to leave a short while later once Bara elders agreed not to allow Lashkar-e-Islami extend its operations beyond the town.

In November 2008, Lashkar-e-Islami broke this promise by sending a truckload of militiamen into Peshawar to shut down a suspected casino. The police intercepted the truck before it could reach its destination, and they shot one militant and arrested another while the other fled. It was claimed that another five militants from the organization were shot dead by police in February 2009, again outside of Peshawar.

Mangal uses his illegal radio broadcasts and the Lashkar-e-Islami website to disseminate anti-government, anti-secular ideas. He has threatened the life of Khyber Agency's representative to the central government due to the individual's moderate stances on some unspecified issues.

Since late 2008, NATO supply convoys and vehicles bound for Afghanistan have been attacked by Islamic militants on the road between Peshawar and the Khyber Pass and within the city of Peshawar itself. While this is Lashkar-e-Islami's general area of operations, it must be remembered that many different Taliban and criminal groups are active there, and that Mangal has previously avoided attacking foreign assets.




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