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NEWS & COMMENTARY 2008 SPEAKERS 2007 2006 2005

Friday, September 01, 2006


Miran Shah, 1 Sept. (AKI)- (by Syed Saleem Shahzad) - "We will bring the Islamic revolution to Pakistan and make the country the home of Islam" - powerful lines from a Pashtu poem - rang out loud and clear in a tent packed with hundreds of people celebrating the graduation of madrassa students in Miran Shah, on the Pakistan-Afghan border. But it was far more than just a ceremony. Locals referred to Wednesday's meeting as the largest ever gathering of pro-Taliban militants, tribal elders and politicians in Waziristan's history, and for many it was a snapshot of the changing dynamics in the volatile region.

The meeting comes at a period of negotiations between the Pakistan government and the pro-Taliban militants in the tribal region, which were both engaged in intense fighting earlier this year in which dozens of tribal militants and government troops were killed.

A conditional ceasefire agreement was reached in June and was extended last Friday until December 2006 with the government agreeing to the demand for the release of 10 pro-Taliban militants and the reduction of the Pakistan Army presence in the tribal belt to just three ares.

Both North Waziristan and South Waziristan appear to have now begun to develop a new system to administer the tribal agency where politicians, tribal elders and clerics are in the forefront and pro-taliban militants, also known as Pakistani Taliban, appear to be in the backbenches, but are actually in charge of the situation.

Seated at the meeting were some of the most-wanted faces from the past - Maulana Sadiq Noor and Maulana Abdul Khaliq - religious scholars whose seminaries were demolished by Pakistani forces just a few months ago. Also at the meeting was Maulana Deendar, an ideologue for the Pakistani Taliban. All three were silently seated in the back row.

The stage was in the hands of political-cum-religious figures in the region like Maulana Abdul Rahman and a member of the provincial assembly in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Maulana Amanullah, who are believed to be the two main brokers of the truce agreement between the Pakistani security forces and Pakistani Taliban.

As usual, the commander of the Pakistani Taliban in North Waziristan Gul Badar did not make a public appearance and instead sent his representatives, the members of Mujahadeen Shura (council), to attend the ceremony for fresh madrassa graduates.

"We have given a great sacrifice on many counts to give this truce a chance," said Maulana Mehmoodul Hasan, the chief patron of the Jamiat-i-Talba-i-Islam, a student wing of Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Rehman is the opposition leader in Pakistan's national assembly who has joined the efforts to restore peace in the retive tribal region.

"Now Mujahadeen (Pakistani Taliban), Ulemas (clerics) and the Mishran (tribal elders) are at one forum and are aiming to develop an indigenous system to run the region without the intervention of the Pakistan Army,” Mehmoodul Hasan told Adnkronos International (AKI).

"We made it clear that the political agents must be in charge of the tribal area and we, the locals, will run the affairs with their coordination like it has been in the past," Mehmood asserted. The political agent is the Pakistan government's representative in each tribal agency.

According to local sources, the gathering which has been called the largest-ever in the history of both North and South Waziristan, is part of a strategy to counter any moves by US-led coalitions forces to target the two Waziristans in fresh attacks as part of their war on terror. Last month a tripartite commission including Pakistan, Afghanistan and US and NATO forces, discussed plan to track down Taliban fighters across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. At the meeting, it was agreed that North and South Waziristan were the main conduits of violence and suicide bombers and that it was necessary that the region be part of the front in the war on terror.

As a solution to the problem, Pakistan has proposed to fence the border in this region which is known as the Durand Line, an imaginary border that passes through the mountainous areas, porous and impossible to seal. While Afghanistan has expressed reservations about such a proposal, the Americans are also not satisfied insisting instead on a broad scale pursuit of the Taliban militants, wherever they find terror, even if it is on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line.

The most recent visit by US Centcom (Central Command) General John Abizaid was part of this same campaign.

Wednesday's gathering highlighted the position of the hardliners in the two Waziristans and made it clear that the pro-Taliban forces in tribal belt are really calling the shots. More such gatherings are expected to bring forward a real tribal council to take over control in the region.
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