Pakistan Taliban: Osama welcome

The recent military campaign by tribesmen in Pakistan’s northwest borderlands to drive out Uzbek Islamist militants, portrayed as a victory against extremism by Islamabad, may have more to do with mere animosity between Pashtuns and Uzbeks than a rejection of al-Qaeda’s ideology. Mullah Nazir, the tribal commander who led the weeks-long battle against the Uzbeks in South Waziristan, is now refered to in Pakistan’s media as a “Taliban leader”—and says he would protect Osama bin Laden if the al-Qaeda leader sought shelter in his territory.

Mullah Nazir told a rare press conference in Wana that he had never met bin Laden, but would help him in line with local traditions. “Bin Laden has never come to this area but if he comes here and seeks our protection then according to tribal laws and customs we will protect him,” the 32-year-old Taliban commander said.

Nazir said that “peaceful foreigners” are welcome in South Waziristan, but (in an apparent reference to Uzbeks) said the area will not be a “safe sanctuary for miscreants.” He announced an amnesty for foreign fighters if they surrendered, but warned that those loyal to Uzbek militant leader Tahir Yuldashev would not be spared. He vowed that his men would “fight the US and the infidel forces if they attack our territory.” (Pakistan Daily Times, April 21)

A story on Pakistan’s borderlands in the new edition of New York’s The Nation is attracting much attention in the Muslim world. Pakistan’s army suffered losses of 700 killed in its unsuccessful effort to push Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan out of their tribal sanctuaries in Pakistan, writes Graham Usher in the April 16 issue.

“With every incursion, civilian death, and displacement, the Pakistan Taliban grew stronger… When the army sued for peace with pro-Taliban tribesmen in the Waziristans in 2005 and 2006, it was not because of a new ‘holistic’ strategy for the tribal areas, as sold by [Pervez] Musharraf to Washington. It was because of the army’s military and political defeat.”

In 56 years of independence, Pakistani soldiers had never set foot in the Waziristans, “part of the trade-off for keeping the tribes loyal,” Usher wrote—and when they did (at US behest), the numbers of civilians killed and displaced were in the thousands.

Malik Qadir Khan, a tribal leader in North Waziristan, told Usher: “Everyone supported the Taliban when the army came in. It was a people’s revolt. Pakistan had broken its promise, and that’s a big thing in the tribal areas. You don’t break your promise.” (Middle East Times, April 21

See our last posts on Pakistan and al-Qaeda in Pakistan.