Al-Qaeda Faces Crushing Defeat In Bajaur Agency
Bajaur Agency, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border where Al-Qaeda has faced a crushing defeat as Pakistan army has taken control of the whole agency. Terrorists were either killed or flushed out the areas. The local people of Bajaur Agency have welcomed the defeat of terrorists in the hand of army. Half of Bajaur Agency has been bulldozed during the fighting between terrorists and Pakistani forces. Some half a million people have been migrated from Bajaur Agency. Pakistan Army has brought foreign journalists to the areas where the fighting took place. The New York Times correspondent was also present in the delegation of journalists brought to Bajaur Agency. The following is his story published in The New York Times.
INAYAT KALAY, Pakistan — After a six-month campaign, the Pakistani military is claiming victory over the Taliban in Bajaur, a northern sliver of the tribal areas, saying the militants have suffered heavy losses and have been pushed over the border into Afghanistan.
As evidence, the military this month showed off the once-busy, mile-long marketplace here, captured from the militants and pulverized to bits of concrete and mounds of dust. A tank was still parked in the remains of a shop.
“The resistance has been broken down. We control the roads,” said Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, the inspector general of the Frontier Corps, the paramilitary force responsible for security in the tribal regions. “They have lost.”
Already, Pakistani officials are hailing Bajaur as a landmark turn in the battle against Islamic militants and are trying to persuade the 300,000 people displaced by the fighting here to return, aided by a $19 million program financed by the United States.
But beyond the bounds of a tightly guarded tour of Bajaur for reporters, the larger battle against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, whose fighters are deeply entrenched across northwestern Pakistan, seems unsettled.
Residents and Western military experts, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the political situation, said it was likely that rather than being finally uprooted from this slice of Bajaur and a nearby stronghold in Loe Sam, the bulk of the Taliban forces had retreated to mountain enclaves, waiting to return, as they have so often, when the military eases off.
At the same time, a recent truce between the Pakistani government and Taliban forces who have seized the Swat Valley, an area just east of here, has called into question the military’s ability and the government’s willingness to take on the militants with finality.
The heavy bombardment and troop concentration, cited by the military as its winning formula here, have alienated much of the population, according to interviews with residents and refugees from this area. The joint Pakistani and American plan to keep this area free of the Taliban hinges on meeting the tough challenge of rapidly winning the support of these displaced people.
“If the government doesn’t build and attract tribesmen back quickly, and do things to put money in their pockets, there is every likelihood of a reversion to the militants,” said Khalid Aziz, a former chief secretary of the North-West Frontier Province, who is working on the Pakistani-American effort for Bajaur.
Among other things, he said, the displaced need agricultural help.
“The economy doesn’t exist now,” he said.
Under the joint program to bring refugees back here, essential services like electricity and water would be repaired, damaged homes rebuilt, and cash-for-work programs started, the representative of the federal government in Bajaur, Shafirullah Wazir, said. The plan envisions creating a new civilian volunteer force, backed by the paramilitary Frontier Corps, to help keep order, an American official said.
But many obstacles must be overcome, including convincing disaffected tribal elders who have been singled out by the Taliban and abandoned by the government that it is in their interest to return, the officials said.
One of them is Idrees Khan, a tribal elder from Inayat Kalay who with his four brothers owns most of the properties in the ruined marketplace. He said he had been asked by the government to return now that the military campaign was over. But now, he said, he has conditions.
A natural ally of the government, whose duty as a tribal leader is to act as a broker between the militants and the authorities, Mr. Khan said he left Inayat Kalay two months ago when it was clear that the military was planning to attack.
He left with bad feelings and remains bitter, he said. The family tried under tremendous odds to stave off the Taliban in December, he said. When the militants attacked one of their houses near the market and his brother called for help, the army showed up late and was of little help, he said. A helicopter gunship came after the Taliban had fled, but it shot at the family house anyway, severely damaging it, he said.
“The government betrayed my brother,” he said in an interview in Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier Province.
“We want compensation for the structures that have been demolished,” Mr. Khan said, “and we want accountability from the government and the Taliban.”
Despite the government’s assurances, many refugees said they were not convinced that it was safe to return.
In a camp for the displaced near Peshawar, families from Bajaur complained that they had received no offers of aid from the government. Others said they had little information. Several residents of Inayat Kalay said they were nervous about security because they had tried to raise a volunteer army against the Taliban last fall, but had received inadequate backing from the authorities.
What’s going on is very secretive,” said Nawab Khan, a laborer from Inayat Kalay. “It’s like being in the dark where you can’t see.”
He said he was reluctant to return, in part because he had no confidence in the Pakistani government. “When we returned in November they shelled us,” he said. “We don’t want to repeat that.”
General Khan, in a briefing of reporters invited by the army to Bajaur, said that 1,600 militants had been killed in the six-month campaign.
But residents said they did not believe that claim, and Western military officials said it was impossible to gauge how many Taliban fighters had been killed because the army had not shown any bodies.
Mr. Khan, the tribal leader, was outraged that the main compound of Fakir Mohammed, a senior Taliban leader in Bajaur, appeared to go completely unscathed. “Fakir Mohammed is sitting in Damadola,” Mr. Khan said. “Why don’t they hit his house?”
General Khan acknowledged that none of the Taliban’s top leaders had been killed. He blamed weak intelligence.
In Mohmand, the neighboring tribal area to the south of Bajaur, the Pakistani military is also claiming success against the Taliban.
The Frontier Corps escorted reporters to Qandharo, a village on flatlands where a boys’ high school that served as a military headquarters of Mohmand’s Taliban leader, Abdul Wali, was now controlled by the Frontier Corps. An Islamic court run by the Taliban is no longer operating, officers of the Corps said.
But the day before the reporters’ visit, militants shot and killed three Frontier Corps members in Mohmand, and three government security men were killed on patrol when their truck hit a land mine.
And on Saturday, in a sign that the militants can still create havoc in Mohmand, 14 paramilitary recruits, known as levies, were killed by the Taliban in the Yaka Ghund area, the authorities said.
The levies, the most lightly armed of the paramilitary troops in the tribal area, were killed after trying to come to the rescue of a tribal elder whose house had been surrounded by the militants. The Taliban apparently singled out the elder because he had been visited by a senior government official.
A doctor from Mohmand, who was interviewed in Peshawar but spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for his family’s safety, said the militants had been weakened in Mohmand and were no longer able to roam freely. Instead of traveling in large groups and convoys of many cars, they must now travel furtively, he said.
But he said the militants were regrouping in the mountains around the villages of Mitai and Chinarai. In Mitai, a considerable number of Arab men, with their wives and children, recently arrived, he said.
Even if the military victory in Bajaur and Mohmand holds, some Pakistani and American officials cautioned that it might not mean much in the larger picture. Though strategically placed, they are relatively small pockets of the tribal belt, with relatively educated populations and benign terrain. Much tougher challenges would face the Pakistani military, the officials said, if it decided to take on the harsh territory and entrenched Taliban and Qaeda forces in South and North Waziristan.