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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

South Waziristan's Veteran Jihadi Leader: A Profile of Haji Omar

By Sohail Abdul Nasir

Haji Omar
The recent insurgency in some portions of Pakistan's tribal belt has produced a chain of new leaders who govern their respective areas. A common trait of these new leaders is that they receive inspiration from the Afghan Taliban and openly call themselves the "local Taliban." The local Taliban has been associated with the Afghan Taliban and have also vowed to expel foreign troops from Afghanistan through waging jihad. Some of the new local Taliban leaders, such as Faqir Mohammad, are still actively carrying out their activities, but most of them, such as local Taliban leader Haji Omar, are keeping a low profile as a result of government reconciliation efforts (Terrorism Monitor, February 9).

Haji Omar is a veteran jihadi fighter who fought against the Red Army on the Kabul and Bagram fronts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He sustained serious injuries on numerous occasions, but despite these injuries he continued to fight against the Soviets until they withdrew from Afghanistan. His jihadi career is spread over three periods: against Soviet forces, on behalf of the Afghan Taliban against U.S. troops before the fall of Kabul and his current jihadi activities in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Omar is tall, well-built, with a long, thick, black beard. He wears a turban in traditional tribal style. He is approximately 55 years old, and was born in the village of Kalushah, which is situated some 10 kilometers from Wana, the headquarters of South Waziristan agency (BBC, April 20).

After the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, he moved back to his hometown because war among the different jihadi groups disheartened him. At the end of the 1980s, he moved to the Gulf city of Dubai. When the Taliban established control over most of Afghanistan, he returned and became one of the close associates of Taliban chief Mullah Omar and assisted him in day-to-day routine governing matters. He remained there until the fall of the Taliban in 2001. In Waziristan, he began to organize the local Taliban groups. He has excellent communication skills; while Pashto is his native tongue, he is proficient in Arabic due to frequent socialization with Arabs in Afghanistan and also speaks broken Urdu (BBC, April 20).

Haji Omar's two brothers, Haji Sharif and Noor Islam, have been on the government's most wanted list (The News, February 11, 2005). As a result of the Shakai Agreement on April 24, they were given amnesty along with the late Nek Mohammad, but later this amnesty was revoked. Omar was appointed acting leader of the local Taliban group in South Waziristan when Nek Mohammad was killed in a missile attack (The News, June 21, 2004). Haji Omar belongs to the Yargulkhel sub-tribe of the Wazir tribe. This background helped him become the acting chief of the local Taliban in South Waziristan since Nek Mohammad was also a Wazir.

Omar is a staunch opponent of the United States, India and other countries that, according to him, occupy Muslim lands. He appears to have a soft spot for the Pakistani army, and in an interview said that his forces will continue to wage jihad against foreign troops in Afghanistan, but would prefer not to fight the Pakistani army (The News, June 21, 2004). Government agencies accuse him of harboring al-Qaeda fighters, yet, while speaking to the BBC, he called this allegation baseless. Omar explained that his forces do not shelter al-Qaeda fighters, but if an individual comes to them to seek asylum, then they allow him to live with them under their conditions.

Haji Omar has said that jihad is the only way to expel U.S. troops from Afghanistan. According to Omar, Afghan spies come to Pakistan to collect information for the Afghan government and the United States. Omar claimed that his forces have captured a number of such spies, and they have been "slaughtered" (BBC, April 21). Haji Omar was among Pakistan's most wanted militants who were paid approximately 32 million rupees (US$530,000) in order to pay off their debts to al-Qaeda, so that they would end hostilities with the government. This deal was the result of an agreement between the late Nek Mohammad and the government. Out of that money, Haji Omar received one million rupees (US$16,500) (Press Trust of India, June 12, 2005).

Nevertheless, despite Haji Omar's influence, he has been overshadowed by Baitullah Mehsud, another prominent leader in South Waziristan (Terrorism Focus, July 5). This development occurred because of the ethnic fault line that affects South Waziristan. The two main tribes that populate the agency are the Wazir and the Mehsud. While the late Nek Mohammed and Haji Omar are Wazir, Baitullah is Mehsud. After the death of Nek Mohammed, the Wazirs were unable to maintain leadership and Baitullah took control of the Talibanization movement there. Currently, militants like Abdullah Mehsud are working under Baitullah's command. Therefore, under the present circumstances, Haji Omar has to work under the guidance of Baitullah. According to his close associates, in order to avoid this subordinate role, Omar has maintained a low profile and for the time being is not playing an active role in the insurgency.

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