Tora Bora group a major obstacle to peace in Swat

April 13th, 2009 - 11:59 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban By Nadeem Sarwar and Aqeel Yousafzai
Peshawar, April 13 (DPA) The much-criticised agreement with Taliban in Pakistan’s restive Swat valley stands on increasingly shaky ground since last week, when its major broker Maulana Sufi Mohammad packed up his peace camp and left the region in protest.

The cleric accused President Asif Ali Zardari of insincerity in implementing the two-month agreement, but local politicians and intelligence officials blame hardcore elements linked to Al Qaeda within the Taliban ranks over whom Mohammad has little control.

Since Feb 16, when the regional government in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) signed the truce deal with Mohammad, hardcore fighters have repeatedly violated it by attacking security forces, kidnapping government officials and expanding their influence to nearby areas.

Those developments held Zardari back from formal approval of the accord, under which officials agreed to enforce Islamic laws through government-sanctioned courts in Swat and its seven neighbouring districts in exchange for peace.

Reportedly, Zardari is also under pressure from Washington and other Western allies who believe that the new deal, like similar ones in the past, would only give the Taliban more time to reorganise and expand their influence.

The president will sign “the agreement only after complete peace and serenity is restored in Swat”, said Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira.

But the complete peace in Swat seems only a remote possibility, and so is the success of the truce.

“The Taliban in Swat are clearly divided over (the) peace deal,” said a local lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On one side, there are Islamist insurgents with local interests. They are led by Mohammad’s disciple and son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, who launched an armed campaign against the government in October 2007 for the enforcement of Islamic sharia law in Swat, located some 140 km north-west of Islamabad.

“Fazlullah is reconcilable and supportive of his father-in-law’s peace initiative. He seems ready to lay down arms and return to normal life if his demands are met,” said a local lawmaker from the nationalist Awami National Party which rules the NWFP.

“But the opposition comes from what we call here the Tora Bora group,” added the lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he has been on the Taliban’s hit list.

The faction consists of foreign fighters and local militants trained by Al Qaeda operatives, who operated in the Afghan region of Tora Bora where Osama bin Laden dodged US forces in early 2002 before going underground.

Led by hardline chief commander Ibn Amin, and six other commanders, the group follows Al Qaeda’s “global jihad” philosophy and has little interest in peace in Swat.

“They know if the peace agreement is fully implemented, Al Qaeda fighters will have to leave the region. This is something they cannot accept,” said the lawmaker.

According to one local intelligence official, between 1,000 and 1,400 Al Qaeda fighters, most of them from Central Asian countries, are present in the areas of Qambar, Kabal, Charbagh, Khwazakhela and Matta that are strongholds of Amin, who also heads an Al Qaeda training camp in Peuchar village of the Swat district.

“In a way Fazlullah’s role is that of a spiritual leader, who has given militants the violent ideology, but Ibn Amin is the chief commander of the militant forces,” the intelligence official said.

“And that is why Amin has direct influence over a large number of militants and is supported by the fighters who are more trained and well-equipped than the ones controlled by some commanders loyal to Fazlullah,” he added.

Amin, in his 30s, came to the limelight in late 2006 when he led a group of militants, some from Al Qaeda, to rob a bank in Chaprial area and killed some of the villagers who chased them. The attackers were arrested but mysteriously released later by the authorities.

Always dressed in a Muslim shroud, a white un-sewn sheet, which symbolises his desire for so-called martyrdom, Amin is feared even by his comrades for his brutality.

From day one, he has tried to sabotage the peace deal under different pretensions.

He pressed Fazlullah and Mohammad to go further than establishing Islamic courts and put forward demands that brings almost every sphere of public life under the militants’ self-defined narrow interpretation of Islam.

In order to avoid further bloodshed, the provincial government accepted even these tough demands under a 17-point accord, which allows a ban on music, expulsion of prostitutes and pimps from the area, closure of businesses during prayer times, and a campaign against what they call obscenity.

The military and paramilitary troops were also confined to their camps, but the militants continued their violent actions on a lesser scale.

Attackers loyal to Amin raided the neighbouring Buner district last week and killed five people, including three policemen, challenging their influence in the area.

“Maulana Sufi Mohammad knew he could not deliver what the government was expecting from him,” said former interior minister Hamid Nawaz.

“He was unable to convince the Taliban to lay down their weapons and allow the government to restore its writ, so he left. It was just a face-saving exercise,” added Nawaz, predicting the failure of the peace deal.

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