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`Rah-e-Rast’ – Is Pak Army Fooling Around?

29 June 2009 No Comment


The Malakand and Waziristan areas, where the Army is conducting its operations to clean up the Taliban, are prohibited areas for journalists and civilians.  The only source of information on `Rah-e-Rast’ operations, therefore, is daily press briefings from the DG ISPR Major General Athar Abbas.  In a briefing on June 22, he said, “the military operation is in its final phase to eliminate terrorists from Swat. Total figure of militants who have been killed is 1592. Military is targeting main leaders. We have information that some of the key Taliban leaders were seriously injured. We don’t have any information about Maulvi Fazlullah’s injuries. The second and third level Taliban fighters are locals so the most of the people killed in the operation are locals.”

The displaced persons and press reporters, who were taken on an escorted tour of the operational area, have different stories to narrate.  The Taliban leadership is in tact and there are no signs of any being targeted.  There are even suspicions that many of them shifted to safer places in the country or abroad before the operation was launched. Some media reports are quite revealing.

Letter From Friday Times

•    Sir,     One of the most talked about Taliban commanders was Ibn-e-Amin, who is rumoured to have been killed in the ongoing military operation.  He was the most dreaded; when Ibn-e-Amin travelled, people would either hide in their houses or bow down as his convoy passed.  A number of IDPs confirmed in Mardan that if Ibn-e-Amin had been killed, the Taliban could be defeated.  Earlier this year, Amin’s men invited a tribal jirga to a mosque in Swat and entered into negotiations to settle disputes.  Amin walked in and allegedly shot all the elders present.  Khairullah, one of the eyewitnesses of the incident, said that Amin took a hatchet and chopped up the dead bodies.  This was meant as a message to anyone who dared to challenge the Taliban.  Let us hope that the military operation is able to root out the Taliban.  (Sher Khan, Mardan)

Excerpts from The Herald, June 2009

•    Babar, a Pathan who moved to Islamabad, mentioned a friend in Swat whose servants had been killed by the army.  “The army was saying they were militants, but my friend says they were his servants”.  He thinks he can make a trip to Swat, but hesitates when asked if he can take someone with him.  “It is not safe.  It is not the Taliban that are the problem.  The other side can’t be trusted”.

•    A resident of Kabal, who moved his family to Abottabad days after the operation started, laughed when asked if he feels that Rah-e-Rast is the real McCoy, “There is a theatre production going on in front of us, but it is the audience which is being attacked and killed”.

•    A Peshawar-based journalist asked a friend in Mingora in mid-May if the operation was genuine this time around and the friend shot back, “Have you ever met someone who kills the hen which lays eggs for you? The Taliban are the hen for the army”.  According to the journalist, “the track record has been so bad in the past four to five years that people are distrustful.”

•    Brigadier Tahir Hameed, who is in charge of the operation in Mingora, said the main city has been cleared of militants and 22 people had been arrested while 286 Taliban killed from May 19 to 27.  When the Herald asked one local resident about militant casualties, he replied that he had seen only eight Taliban bodies.  And Minhaj, a shop owner with a store near Mingora, claims militants and criminals have escaped and only “indoctrinated people and misguided locals and followers are the ones who have died”.

•    Media reports already indicate heavy civilian casualties in what many say is a disproportionate use of force against any enemy that has mostly light infantry weapons. According to a report in Dawn, 30 to 35 civilians were killed on day one of the operation in Shahdara area of Mingora.

•    Given the limited destruction or property, it is once again unclear if militants were tactfully captured or killed or if they had already left these areas when the army moved in.

•    The case of Imam Dehri, two to three kilometres from the city, encapsulates the uncertainty regarding Mingora’s suburbs.  Although military officials claimed that Swat Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Maulana Fazlullah’s base there had been destroyed, the headquarters were still standing and visible to visiting journalists on May 27.  Only the water tank on its roof had been hit.  Kota, another nearby village, had supposedly been cleared more than two weeks ago, but since then military supplies were attacked, four soldiers were killed and six soldiers were kidnapped before being rescued in front of the journalist group.  And as of May 31, Herald reporter, while unescorted by the military, spotted Taliban operatives roaming Kota’s roads.

•    We only saw the army bombing us, not the Taliban,” says Sherzad whose family escaped from Kumber amid bombing and shelling.

•    “We have seen many military operations in the past two years but this time it was unbearable.  Mohammad Khalid Khan tells.  Khalid, a master’s student at Malakand University, says his family left Mingora to escape the army shelling.  “We have seen many people fall victim to artillery shelling and wanted to get out of the city as soon as possible”.

•    While talking to the displaced people it is clear that this battle for the hearts and minds has already been lost – from the moment they had to leave their homes and long before they reached the camps. One example of this is the internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) willingness to recount in detail the suffering resulting from the Army action while they tend to be hazy and vague when it comes to the Taliban’s atrocities.

•    A young man tells the story of his father being killed by army shells in Mingora city while his family was attempting to escape.  “Our family was part of a convoy of people.  Mortar sells fell near the convoy and my father was killed along with two other people.”
•    A political representative of Bajaur recounted an Army operation in his agency in September 2008, “Initially, they (Army) kept firing everywhere but the house of Mauli Faqir (head of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in Bajaur).  When all the inhabitants of the house ha left after a week, they finally targeted it.”

Excerpts from op-ed by Zafar Hilaly, former ambassador, in The News, June 24

•    The army is fast acquiring a credibility problem with its claims of dead, injured and captured Taliban. At first there were mere mutterings, sotto voce suspicions, that not all is as claimed.

•    Army’s reluctant display of photos of a mere 54 dead while claiming that the actual number is 2000 do not wash. Especially as not a single one of the first tier leaders has been killed, wounded or captured and rumours are circulating that the Taliban leadership have been evacuated away from the danger zone, along with Al Qaeda leaders to Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan and would return in due course.

•    It was also revealing that the BBC correspondent who was taken on a tour of the battle zone, he termed it “bandit country,” said that while he was shown a half dozen or so of “captured Taliban” he saw none of the 2000 dead nor any graves or other signs of death. Instead BBC viewers last night got to see what the Taliban had allowed him to film which was the hanging corpse of a beheaded soldier and another who had been killed, with boastful Taliban standing nearby.

•    A news report in Dawn of 23 June entitled “Efforts on for patch- up between Darra Taliban, Adezai lashkar,” stated that “Some “invisible” forces( normally a euphemism for we know who) are out to narrow the differences and broker an understanding between the Darra Adam Khel-based Taliban and leaders of the Qaumi Lashkar of Adezai on the outskirts of the provincial capital – the Taliban conditions included that their men would freely move in parts of Peshawar and would take action against those found involved in ‘un-Islamic’ activities and the Lashkar would not object to their actions. Secondly, the Taliban want the lashkar not to create hurdles while they recruit new members. Another condition of the Taliban is that the lashkar will not support security forces in case of any clash between the Taliban and law enforcing agencies.”

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