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Buner

In Pakistan, Guile Helps Taliban Gain By JANE PERLEZ and PIR ZUBAIR SHAH The New York Times April 25, 2009 On the Other Hand
"the Taliban captured Buner, a strategically vital district just 60 miles northwest of the capital"There is no explanation for why this small jurisdication is "strategically vital". Buner does play a significant role in the flue-cured Virginia tobacco industry in Pakistan, but that about sums it up. The "just 60 miles northwest of the capital" factoid is exciting, but Buner might as well be on the far side of the Moon for all the difference it makes.
"That Buner fell should be no surprise" Buner did not "fall" in the sense that Rome or Berlin or Baghdad "fell" - rather, it was briefly over-run by a motley collection of lightly armed militants, who dispersed as soon as lightly armed Frontier Constabulary forces arrived.
"the inspector general of police in North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan ... was so desperate - and had been so thoroughly abandoned by the military and the government - that he was relying on citizen posses like the one that stood up to the Taliban last August."The local posses ["lashkars"] were part of a carefully considered classical counter-insurgency strategy of using local self defense forces, where possible, rather than conventional Army units. Buner and other jurisdications in the Malakand Agency confront a small number of outside militants, capitalizing on local grievances. The North West Frontier Provice government, democratically elected in early 2008, opted for a strategy of political reconciliation where possible, to separate the militants from the population. Using posses organized by legimate tribal elders is one prong of this strategy. The success of this strategy forced the militants into acts, such as the December car bomb attack, which have alientated them from the local population.
"Pakistanis can do little to stem the Taliban advance if their government and military will not help them."The government sent in Frontier Constabulary, the next level up from the Laskhars, and the militants dispersed.
"the chief government official in charge of Malakand, Syed Mohammed Javed,.... was appointed in late February as the main government power broker in Malakand even though he was known to be sympathetic to the Taliban..."Javed, a career civil servant with a long a beard and known for his strict religious views, was appointed commissioner of Malakand, the Agency that includes Swat and Buner, in 2008. Awami National Party (ANP) leader Haji Adil said the perception that Syed Mohammed Javed had relations with the militants "holds no substance". . Talks were held by a range of officials, including NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, Afrasiyab Khattak, Home Secretary Fayaz Toru, Malakand Commissioner Syed Muhammad Javed and District Coordination Officer Malakand Agency Arshad Khan. On 26 April 2009 it was reported that Syed Muhammad Javed had been transferred from Malakand Division and Fazal Karim Khattak had taken over in his place.
"In the main prize, the richest and most populous province, Punjab, in eastern Pakistan, the Taliban are relying on the sleeper cells of other militant groups, including the many fighters who had been trained by the Pakistani military for combat in Kashmir, and now felt abandoned by the state"These sweeping plans are un-reported by other sources. There are no other reports of militant "sleeper cells" rising across Punjab.
"It would not be difficult for the Taliban to seize Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, by shutting down the airport and blocking the two main thoroughfares from Islamabad"It is one thing to "seize" and another thing to hold. While a group of a few hundred militants might be able to disrupt access to Peshawar for a brief time, there is no indication that this insurgency has advanced to the point of being able to hold ground in the face of the Pakistan Army.
"Across North-West Frontier Province, the Taliban are rapidly consolidating power by activating cells"OUtside of the Swat and Buner areas of Malakand Agency, the rest of NWFP has largely remained immune to Taliban agitation.

Advisers to U.S. President Barack Obama's administration say their worst security nightmare is the possibility that Pakistan -- a nuclear-armed country -- might fall under the control of Al-Qaeda militants.

The US Government was initially un-concerned about the situation with respect to implementation of Shariah. On February 18, 2009 US State Department Spokesman Gordon K Duguid, asked to comment on enforcement of Sharia-based justice system in Swat said: "As I understand that the Islamic law is within the constitutional framework of Pakistan, so I don't know that is particularly an issue for anyone outside of Pakistan to discuss."

On 23 April 2009 Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned the House Foreign Affairs Committee "I think we cannot underscore [enough] the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances, now within hours of Islamabad, that are being made by a loosely-confederated group of terrorists and others who are seeking the overthrow of the Pakistani state, which is, as we all know, a nuclear armed nation." Pakistanis "need to speak out forcefully against a policy that is ceding more and more territory to the insurgents, to the Taliban, to Al Qaeda, to the allies that are in this terrorist syndicate," Clinton said. Howard Berman, the panel chairman, passed on the opinion of experts that "Pakistan could collapse in as little as six months." Robert Gates, US Secretary of Defence said "My hope is that there will be an increasing recognition on the part of the Pakistani government that the Taliban in Pakistan are in fact an existential threat to the democratic government of that country."

As the Washington Post noted on 26 April 2009, "That they felt compelled to openly air such conclusions about a nominally close U.S. ally -- for which the administration is proposing billions in new aid dollars -- was a measure of the desperation that seems to have infected the Obama administration's dealings with Pakistan's weak civilian government and obtuse military leadership."

George Perkovich, director of the Nonproliferation Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says he has never been more concerned about the possibility of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into the hands of Islamist extremists. "I would say that I thought [the threat] was exaggerated -- that there were 10 or 12 other [threats] in Pakistan that were more probable and were also very grave -- [but] it's gotten much worse in the last few years, and you have a sense of parts of Pakistan now becoming ungovernable by the Pakistani state," Perkovich says. "Today I'm feeling like we really, really have to focus on the nuclear danger in a way that I wouldn't have said was the case until recently. It's not an exaggeration to say that there is a risk." Perkovich says. "The fear comes if there is a coup within the military so that, somehow, the people now in charge within the military get dispossessed of their nuclear weapons by other people in the military who would be less responsible." To that "first fear," however, Perkovich adds another alarming scenario: "The second fear is [if] there is basically just a takeover by the Taliban and somehow the military crumbles and flees."

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman said on 22 April 2009 that lawmakers were deeply concerned about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Pakistan. "We cannot allow al-Qaida or any other terrorist group that threatens our national security to operate with impunity in the tribal regions," he said. "Nor can we permit the Pakistani state - and its nuclear arsenal - to be taken over by the Taliban or any other radical groups, or otherwise be destabilized in a manner that could lead to renewed conflict with India. So it is very alarming that we are now hearing predictions from a number of leading experts that Pakistan could collapse in as little as six months."

Buner is a valley just 100 km (60 miles) and less than five hours drive from Islamabad. The scenic Buner district is known for a number of great saints. Though the majority of the district's population is descended from the Yousufzai tribes, Buner is also home to other ethnic groups as well as religious minorities, including Sikhs and Hindus. The region called 'Kohistan', "Land of Mountains" - was formerly known as 'Yagistan', "Land of the Ungovernable," or "The Rebellious Country." Along the Karakoram Highway [KKH] east of Buner, the small Gor Valley drains into the far side of the Indus from the North. A significant number of the younger generation works abroad. Unlike a number of its neighboring districts, Buner was known for its peaceful atmosphere.

Buner was formerly part of the Swat state ruled by the Wali of Swat until its merger with Pakistan in 1969. It was only after its merger with Pakistan in 1969 that the princely state of Swat along with District Dir, Buner and Chitral were placed under the administrative structure. Earlier it was ruled by the late Wali-e-Swat, Mian Gul Jahanzeb, father of the former Governor of Balochistan, Mian Gul Aurangzeb.

Part of the Malakand division till 2000, Buner is surrounded by high hills densely covered by pine and other trees. The Malakand region includes Buner, Chitral, Lower & Upper Dir, Malakand, Shangla, and Swat districts. About 51 percent of the population of the NWFP province population resides in high deprivation areas, such as Buner. With an area of 1,865 Sq. Kms., it had a population in 1998 of 506,048 persons, and 740,000 by the year 2008. While 28571 (51.14 %) housing units had electricity, only 156 (0.28 %) housing units used gas for cooking.

Agriculture provides the main source of livelihood and wheat, maize and tobacco are the main crops grown here. Pakistan is now the 8th largest producer of flue-cured Virginia tobacco in the world. This has been the result of farming best practices facilitated by the Pakistan Tobacco Company, such as introduction of diesel water pumps; as a low cost alternative to supplement irrigation in the rain fed area of Buner, NWFP.

The famous Ambela Pass, situated in Buner, can easily be approached from Mardan via Shabbaz Garhi and Rustam. It is about 50 km away from Mardan. The British fought a very tough battle here against Yusufzai Afghan lashkars in 1863. The Muslim graveyard of martyrs, the Babaji Kando, where Hazrat Saidu Baba camped. The Craig Picket and Eagles Nest can still be seen while passing through Arnbela Pass. The route to Swat is quieter and more scenic than the Malakand Pass route. The main road climbs up across 894 meters to Buner Pass. The 45 km road from Pir Baba to Barikot passes through Mount Ilam rising through mature pine forests to 1336 meters high Karakar Pass.

The idea of raising tribal lashkars and denying refuge to militants is catching on in the settled districts of NWFP. The government is actively encouraging and supporting the tribes to rise up against the Taliban and evict them from their areas. On 13 August 2008, six militants, led by Taliban commander for Mardan, Kamran Khan, chose to put up a fight and were all killed. They were allegedly responsible for the murder of eight policemen at a post in Kingargalli village in Buner a few nights before their own slaying in Shalbandai. Though some Taliban fighters remained active in Buner district and attacked police stations, their back appeared to have been broken after losing their commander.

Soon after the August 2008 Buner incident, jirgas were held in other districts of the Frontier Province in which the local elders vowed to resist Taliban intrusion in their areas. The killing of the six militants in the Buner district encouraged people in other parts of the province as well as the bordering tribal belt to rise against the militants, form volunteer squads (lashkars) and hold jirgas. This was something which the common people couldn't think of before -- out of fear of the Taliban.

A suicide car bomb attack on Sunday 28 December 2008 destroyed a school in the town of Buner on the edge of the restive Swat valley, where voters were casting ballots in a parliamentary by-election, and caused the collapse of a busy market nearby. The death toll from the suicide car bombing in Buner was at leasat 41. Taliban-linked extremists claimed responsibility for the attack in revenge for the six Taliban who were sent to death by Shalbandai villagers in August 2008.

A group of Swat Taliban moved into Buner in the first few days of April 2009. However, local villagers resisted them, engaging the heavily armed Taliban and killing 20 of them. Reports about entry of around 100 militants from Swat valley to the district panicked people and jirgas were held to discuss the matter. Jirga elders made it clear that the Buner residents would not let their soil be used for militancy and military operations. Locals formed Lashkars in all nine tehsils of district Buner to fight against militants entering from Swat. Each lashkar would contain 100 people.

Later hundreds of armed fighters set up checkpoints and occupied mosques in the Buner district, warning residents not to engage in "un-Islamic" activity and barring women from public places. Instead of pulling out of Buner as they had announced on Thursday 09 April 2009, the Taliban of Swat moved on Friday 10 April 2009 to consolidate their hold and took control of new areas, including the shrine of Sufi saint Pir Baba.

In April 2009 Buner was invaded by the Afghan Tajiks who had come from the other side of the border, shortly after the government signed a peace deal to establish Islamic law in nearby Swat valley and other parts of the northwest. They are not the local Taliban - these Afghan Tajiks were said to be using interpreters to communicate with the local Pakhtoons. The district administration recognised Taliban's control over Buner district by holding a jirga with a local commander to lay down procedures to govern the district. "We will not display weapons in public, and we will stay away from undue interference in the district administration," Taliban commanders Mufti Bashir and Ustad Yasir told the jirga which local administration officials and jirga elders attended.

On 18 April 2009 Awami National Party (ANP), district chapter, and Tehreek Nifaz Shariat-i-Muhammadi (TNSM) jointly took out a rally after Juma prayer in order to celebrate the implementation of Nizam-i-Adl Regulation (NAR) in Malakand. The rally was led by ANP leader Muhammad Karim Babak, district nazim Rauf Khan, Maulana Afzal of TNSM and others. ANP leaders expressed jubilation over the implementation of Shariah Law and said that it was the only way to restore peace in the region. They further said that the provincial government always adopted a way of peace and non-violence to resolve issues, adding that peace in Malakand was also restored due to sincerity on the part of incumbent ANP leaders. They also criticised the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for opposing the Shariah Law, saying that all conspiracies hatched against the NAR would be foiled.

Army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas insisted the situation in Buner was not as dire as some have portrayed - telling the Associated Press that Taliban were in control of less than 25 percent of the district, mostly its north. "We are fully aware of the situation," Abbas said. "The other side has been informed to move these people out of this area."

The NWFP government convened a meeting of provincial heads of political parties to discuss the situation after the approval of Nizam-e-Adal Regulation and concerns that the Taliban were running a parallel administration, abductions for ransom continued and the writ of the state was far from returning to the area. The Chief Minister's Secretariat in Peshawar said "It was decided to convene a joint meeting of all political parties to brief them on the situation in the region.". NWFP Senior Minister Bashir Bilour said the government "reserves the right" to use force if peace accord violations continued. "But first we want to let peace come."

By 23 April 2009 all courts had been closed in District Buner, while session and civil judges had gone on leave. On 24 April 2009 the commander of the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Buner, Maulana Khalilur Rahman, said that the majority of the Taliban had returned to Swat but 100, along with some of their commanders, were now present in Buner to preach Islam.

Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariah Muhammadi (TNSM) said that there will be only one government in Malakand division in line with other parts of the country, after implementation of Nizam-e-Adal Regulation, and that will be the government of Pakistan. "After the implementation of Nizam-e-Adal regulation in Malakand division, there will be only one government. And that would be the government of Pakistan. We totally reject the idea of a state within state", Ameer Izzat Khan, central spokesman of the TNSM stated.

The provincial government sent four platoons of Frontier Constabulary to maintain law and order in Buner, after regular police and Elite Police Force (EPF) refused deployment in the troubled district. Taliban leaders agreed to pull out Friday 24 April 2009 after more than 100 government paramilitary troops were sent to Buner. Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani rejected the notion that the peace deal through Sufi Mohammad amounted to giving any 'concession' to the armed Islamists.




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