Pakistan: Sufi Mohammad arrested?

The militant cleric Sufi Mohammed, who brokered the failed Swat Valley peace deal, has been arrested and transferred to a secret “safehouse” in Peshawar, together with his wife, an unnamed official told Italy’s AKI news service. The government is keeping the arrests secret until it decides what the cleric’s fate will be, the source, who added: “This could be the beginning of a new round of a dialogue as the military operation so far failed to get the government any place.”

Mohammed is the head of militant group Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, and father-in-law of the Taliban leader in Swat, Maulana Fazlullah. Mohammed has been calling for an end to the military operation, and has threatened to officially abandon the Swat peace deal.

Over 3.5 million people have been taken refuge in camps since the operation started in Swat, and the government is now poised to open up a new front in South Waziristan—stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud. A rival of Mehsud, Qari Turkestan Bhitaini, has confirmed CIA and Pakistani government reports he was behind the December 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Bhitaini said he can supply the addresses of the suicide bombers who were sent by Baitullah to kill Bhutto.

In words sure to encourage the conspiranoia set, Bhitaini told Pakistan’s Express TV: “Baitullah Mehsud is an American, Indian and Jewish Agent. He receives dollars from the Indian embassy in Afghanistan to attack the Indian security forces and has continued to defy the directives of the commander of faithful [Afghan Taliban leader] Mullah Mohammad Omar to go to Afghanistan along with his fighters and fight against the infidel NATO forces.”

Although Bhitni and fellow warlord and Mehsud rival Qari Zain Mehsud are seen as key to government strategy in South Waziristan, their combined force does not exceed 3,000 fighters. Two other prominent Mehsud rivals, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Taliban chief in the neighboring North Waziristan; and Mullah Nazir, local Taliban commander in South Waziristan’s main town of Wana, have decided to remain neutral in the conflict. Another top Taliban warlord, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is also said to be neutral. Haqqani, who leads Taliban militants in the Afghan provinces of Baktika and Khost, is said to be close to Pakistani security forces. (AKI, June 19)

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