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The Taliban and Salarzais

The Taliban and Salarzais

Author: Farhat Taj
Publication: The News.com
Date: September 27, 2009
URL: http://www.thenews.com.pk/print1.asp?id=200309

I was in Pakistan in August and had the opportunity to meet the leaders of the anti-Taliban lashkar (volunteer army) of Bajaur's Salarzai tribe. I am honoured that upon my request they travelled from Bajaur to meet me in Nowshehra and shared with me information about their anti-Taliban struggle. I am not mentioning their names for reasons of their security.

The area of the Salarzai tribe is on the border with Afghanistan. The tribe have collectively decided that there won't be any Taliban on their soil. The Taliban have been driven out of the Salarzai area. The Salarzai lashkar, mostly made up of labourers and peasants, has successfully kept the Salazai area free of the Taliban.

Tens of Salarzail lashkar leaders have been target-killed. The Salarzai leaders informed me they hold the ISI responsible for the targeted killings. "The Taliban are just a façade. The real force is the ISI punishing us for our anti-Taliban struggle," said one of the leaders.

The leaders said that Mamond Taliban headquarters used to be in Damadola, which is a few kilometres from the FC fort in Bajaur. The Mamond Taliban used to bomb Salarzai villages. The Salarzai tribal elders requested the Political Agent, the authorities of the FC and the Pakistani army to stop the Mamond Taliban. None of these offered any help. Finally the Salarzai lashkar took positions on the mountains and for two hours heavily bombarded the surrounding villages of the Mamond Taliban. At that point the political agent and a colonel of the army asked the Salarzai lashkar to stop the bombing. They gave the same old logic: who will fight the NATO forces from across the Afghan border if you eliminate the Taliban?

Following such encounters with the state authorities, the Salarzais decided to fire at any forces entering their area: be it the Taliban, Al Qaida, the army or the US or NATO. The Salarzais have taken up positions all over the area and are always on guard. The tribesmen take turns to defend those positions. Unlike the bombed out schools in the Taliban-controlled areas, all schools in the Salarzai region are functioning. The tribesmen are performing security duties in both girls' and boys' schools in the area.

The leaders informed me that there is a set pattern of target-killing of anti-Taliban Salarzai leader. Before each targeted killing all telephone links with the far-flung Salarzai area are cut off. The targeted killing takes place in 24 to 48 hours later. The telephone links are restored a couple of days after the assassinated leader has been buried. A day or so later a news item of a few lines appears in the newspapers about the killing. "No one in Pakistan seems to be bothered about the state-sponsored targeted killing of anti-Taliban Salarzai leaders. Our area is too far from the rest of Pakistan and our agony means nothing to fellow-Pakistanis. The Pakistani media never ever tries to probe into the targeted killings," said one of the Salarzai leaders.

All telephone lines to the Salarzia area were dead the day I was meeting with the leaders. They said they were deeply worried whose turn it might be to be targeted for killing. Two days later the telephone links were restored. The same day they informed me on telephone that Malik Munasib Khan, the spokesman of the Salarzai lashkar, had been killed. They held the ISI responsible for his killing.

The Salarzai leaders also informed me that last year the army deliberately fired at those villages in Bajaur that were known to be staunchly anti-Taliban. They said one of their colleagues called Maj Gen Alam Khattak to ask him to stop the bombing of his village. "Major General Sahib! I will start a vendetta with you if you did not halt the bombing of my village immediately. I will make sure to kill you and your family at the first available opportunity," they quoted one of their colleagues as saying. The major general asked him to meet Col Sajjad who was bombing the anti-Taliban villages from his base in Timergara. That colleague saw a big Bajaur map affixed on the wall in the office of Col Sajjad. The map had several encircled villages. Col Sajjad informed him that the map had been handed over to him by his commanders with the order to bomb all the encircled villages. "Our colleague's blood boiled with anger: none of the villages had Taliban in them," said the Salarzai leaders. The villages included Butmali, Danqul, Attkay, Matasha, Baro, Raghjan and Nazkai.

On the other hand, those Salarzai villages that had Taliban were not marked on the map or bombed by the army. Such villages are Pashat, Banda, Malasyed, Darra and Gundai. Now the Salarzai lashkar has cleared these villages from Taliban control, without any state support.

The leaders also made the accusation that the Salarzais are discriminated against by the state in allocation of developmental funds due to their hostility to the Taliban. The FATA Rural Development Project (FRDP) is working in Bajaur Agency but entire Salarzai area of the agency has been deliberately excluded by from the project. "A wilful under-development has been imposed on us as punishment for our anti-Taliban stance. The Salazai area would be included in FRDP if we allowed the Taliban to take control of our area. Without this, we Salarzais can beg as much as we can for development, but the state will never budge," said the Salarzai tribal leaders.

The reason I write this piece is not to defame the institution of the Pakistani army, which I hold in high esteem. I just wish to request the President of Pakistan, the Chief of Army Staff and the DG of the ISI to pay attention to the complaints of the Salarzais and resolve their problems to the satisfaction of the tribe. The Salarzai leaders categorically told me they are loyal Pakistanis, but they are not ready to let the peace of their area be destroyed for the power games of the intelligence agencies. All they want from the state is peaceful and development.

I would request fellow-Pakistanis all over the country to support the Salarzais. I wonder why the civil society of Pakistan is so silent over the heroic anti-Taliban struggle of the Salarzais. Salarzais are the natural allies of all those who are against the Taliban and civil society should forcefully support them. I would request the Pakistani media to keep a close watch on the Salarzai area to discourage targeted killings there.

The Taliban are anti-civilisation. The Salarzais are the embodiment of civilisation because they are so oppose to the Taliban. I would request all civilised people in the world to morally support the Salarzais in the name of human civilisation.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy.

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