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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2007, 17:44 GMT
Fractious militants united by one thing
By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, North Waziristan

Maulana Abdul Khaliq's seminary
The Waziristan area contains many groups with different aims

Taleban and al-Qaeda insurgents in Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan have shown themselves to be capable of highly co-ordinated action.

But a closer look at them shows widely divergent groups with just one thing in common - the determination to force Western troops out of Afghanistan.

Critics of the Pakistani government wonder why it is not doing more to exploit those differences and weaken the militants.

The differences are not in short supply.

Explosive proposal

In the offices of one of the largest religious seminaries in Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, Maulana Gul Ramzan of the pro-Taleban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) party is giving the final touches to a potentially explosive proposal.

Maulvi Nek Zaman
The use of force did not serve the British imperial army, and it is not going to serve anyone else. The solution lies in negotiations
Maulvi Nek Zaman, member of parliament for the North Waziristan tribal district

"The ulema [religious scholars] and the tribal elders have agreed to remove tinted shades from the windows of all vehicles in Waziristan," he says.

What he does not say, but what everyone in the area knows, is that al-Qaeda militants based in Mir Ali, 20km (12.5 miles) east of Miranshah, are likely to resist.

Maulana Gul Ramzan was one of the people to draft a highly controversial peace agreement signed between the government and the militants of North Waziristan in September 2006.

Western critics say the deal amounted to creating a safe haven for al-Qaeda.

Under the deal, the militants had pledged not to attack Pakistani troops in their area.

However, in January, a suicide bomber in Mir Ali targeted a Pakistan army convoy killing three soldiers. It is widely believed that this was in retaliation for a government air strike a few days earlier in South Waziristan.

The dominant Taleban groups in Miranshah believe the foreign militants in Mir Ali carried out the suicide attack. And they are under pressure from the government to act against them.

But what effect would removing tinted windows from vehicles in North Waziristan have?

Maulana Gul Ramzan chooses his words carefully: "The decision is not meant to harm the mujahideen [the al-Qaeda fighters] but to discourage criminals from moving around freely."

Iraqi national

However, Javed Iqbal, a senior central government official dealing with the border tribal areas uses language that is much more blunt. "There is a groundswell of opposition to foreigners in Mir Ali, and people want to expel them from the area."

map

The reality lies somewhere in the middle.

Some Taleban groups in Miranshah do detest the power and influence of the al-Qaeda fighters in Mir Ali. But in Mir Ali itself, Taleban groups pledge unity with them.

Mir Ali certainly appears to be a hub for foreign militants who dress like the local tribesmen and speak flawless Pashto.

Central Asian militants with distinct Uzbek features stand out in the crowds, but there are also Arabs, Chechens and Tajiks who blend in more easily with the local Pashtun population.

People in Mir Ali say the Taleban's main council (jirga) is headed by an Iraqi national who goes by the name of Abu Okash.

These people are linked to a larger al-Qaeda sanctuary in the Wana region of South Waziristan through a direct road that bypasses Miranshah.

Taleban fighters in Miranshah, photographed from inside a car
The Taleban roam many border areas unimpeded

This road is protected by another set of Taleban who are friendly with the Arabs, chief among them being the top Taleban leader in South Waziristan, Baitullah Mahsud.

So the main areas where the foreign fighters are located are also well protected by local Taleban sympathetic to them.

And that presents a problem for the central government, says Afrasiab Khatak, a nationalist leader and political analyst.

"If the government is serious in dislodging these fighters from Mir Ali, it would need to adopt a more proactive strategy instead of leaving it to the people of the area."

People interviewed in Mir Ali say the foreign fighters have paid huge sums of money in advance rents to their hosts which the latter may not be able to repay should they want to evict them.

And there is the fear factor. Locals say the foreign militants could also resort to targeted killings in order to eliminate their enemies.

The Pakistani government paid 32m rupees ($530,000) to four militant commanders in South Waziristan's Wana region to repay their debts to al-Qaeda militants following a peace deal signed in November 2004.

But the result was just the opposite of what had been intended. The foreign fighters refused to leave.

Instead, over the next two years, more than 150 local residents were assassinated while hundreds of others fled to the relative safety of North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

'Force won't work'

Other frictions and rivalries among the various militant groups often translate into armed hostilities.

Darul Uloom Ashrafiya
There are no police in the tribal areas
In November 2006, Wana region's nine groups split into two camps and dug in against each other when negotiations to appoint a Taleban chief for the area failed.

Eyewitnesses say Mullah Dadullah, the Taleban's regional commander for southern Afghanistan, personally intervened to prevent a conflagration.

Last month, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf admitted that Mullah Dadullah had been inside Pakistan three times.

People from Wana say he is a more regular visitor to the area.

So the cracks and divisions within the militants are there to be seen in general they have still managed to maintain a sense of unity.

And that is why, perhaps, Maulvi Nek Zaman, a member of parliament for North Waziristan, insists that the central government cannot sort out the militants by force.

"The use of force did not serve the British imperial army and it is not going to serve anyone else," he says.

"The solution lies in negotiations."



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