Pakistani militants gaining ground in NWFP restive areas

November 14th, 2007 - 1:48 am ICT by admin  
It has also been reported that the daily attacks on security forces have been intensified not only in the tribal belt on the Afghan-Pakistan border where US intelligence officials claim that al-Qa’eda has rebuilt, but also in adjacent “settled areas”.

“This is happening in Swat and Dera Ismail Khan and Bannu. Where the police are intimidated the militants have greater freedom to roam,” a Western diplomat was quoted, as saying.

Tank, a town on the edge of the tribal area of South Waziristan,has fallen under the sway of a pro-Taliban commander from South Waziristan, Baitullah Mehsud, whose men last week killed three soldiers from a group of 248 they had captured last month.

An army division was deployed to the district two months ago to stem Baitullah’s influence expanding into the neighbouring town of Dera Ismail Khan.

A senior government official said that traditional councils had been undermined by military action and Gen Musharraf’s reforms had taken away the power of administrators in the settled areas.

The government control over the district is tenuous. Last week a teenager, Sohail Zeb, was sentenced to 24 years in jail after being found in Tank with two suicide belts. Now Baitullah has demanded his release as part of negotiations over the fate of the 200 captured soldiers.

More alarming for Tank’s prospects is that militants, who belong to the hardline Sunni Deobandi sect, have reignited vicious sectarianism.

Baitullah’s powerful right-hand man, Qari Hussain, belongs to Sipah-i-Sahaba, a sectarian group with links to intelligence agencies that targets Shia Muslims.

A paramilitary soldier who had been captured by Baitullah’s men was beheaded after he was singled out as a Shia.

Pakistani soldiers backed by helicopter gunships killed 48 pro-Taliban militants but lost 20 of their men during fierce fighting near Mir Ali, North Waziristan, on Saturday. (ANI)

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