Tal­iban­iza­tion spreads to south­west Pak­istan

The Washington Times Weekly - - International Perspective - BY RAZA KHAN

QUETTA, Pak­istan | Tal­iban­iza­tion, long a se­ri­ous prob­lem in Pak­istan’s north­west, is ac­cel­er­at­ing in and around the south­west­ern city of Quetta, un­der­min­ing sec­u­lar par­ties and pos­ing new threats to both Pak­istan and Afghanistan.

Out­side the pop­u­lar Baig snack bar, a sign now reads: “Woman are not al­lowed, only for gents.” The Tal­iban for­bid min­gling of un­re­lated men and women.

At­tacks on mi­nor­ity Shi’ite Mus­lims are also on the rise. In Jan­uary, Hus­sain Ali Yousafi, leader of the Hazar Demo­cratic Party, was killed, ap­par­ently by Sunni fun­da­men­tal­ists.

While the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment has blamed Baluch eth­nic na­tion­al­ists for the kid­nap­ping last month of Amer­i­can John Solecki, a lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees, na­tion­al­ists have de­nied this and said the Tal­iban was in­volved.

Sanaullah Baluch, a spokesman for the Baluchis­tan Na­tional Party (BNP) and a for­mer se­na­tor, ac­cused Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence agen­cies of sup­port­ing Tal­iban­iza­tion to un­der­mine eth­nic na­tion­al­ists.

“Tal­iban and their sup­port­ers are con­sol­i­dat­ing their grip around Quetta while the gov­ern­ment has be­come a fa­cil­i­ta­tor of this process of Tal­iban­iza­tion,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

He said Tal­iban sup­port­ers have ac­quired land worth $2.5 mil­lion in the east­ern and west­ern parts of Quetta with the covert sup­port of the “es­tab­lish­ment,” a eu­phemism for Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

The Tal­iban has set up scores of Is­lamic schools, or madras­sas, in what have be­come safe havens for the Tal­iban and no-go ar­eas for Baluchis, he said.

The gov­ern­ment de­nies sup­port­ing the Tal­iban. A gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the topic said, “There has been some prob­lem with rad­i­cal el­e­ments crop­ping up around Quetta, but the gov­ern­ment has kept its eye on it and would never al­low them to be­come a threat.”

Sec­u­lar Baluch na­tion­al­ist move­ments have been ac­tive in the prov­ince since the 1960s and seek greater eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal rights for their eth­nic group. Suc­ces­sive Pak­istani gov­ern­ments, dom­i­nated by the coun­try’s largest eth­nic group, the Pun­jabis, have long viewed th­ese move­ments as un­pa­tri­otic and pe­ri­od­i­cally launched op­er­a­tions to sup­press them.

The gov­ern­ment is aided by the fact that Baluchis­tan’s pop­u­la­tion is al­most equally di­vided be­tween Baluchis and Pash­tuns. Tal­iban mem­bers are largely Pash­tuns.

Sanaullah Baluch and other Baluch leaders base their con­tention that the Pak­istani se­cu­rity forces are pro­mot­ing the Tal­iban in Quetta in part on the fact that the gov­ern­ment has not car­ried out any mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions against the group.

“Bil­lions of ru­pees were be­ing spent on elim­i­nat­ing the Tal­iban and their sup­port­ers” in the Fed­er­ally Ad­min­is­tered Tribal Ar­eas and the North West Fron­tier Prov­ince, he told a Pak­istani news­pa­per, while the gov­ern­ment ig­nores the “alarm­ingly danger­ous moves” of the Tal­iban in Baluchis­tan.

Se­cu­rity spe­cial­ists in Pak­istan have long said that the Pak­istani se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus, which helped cre­ate the Tal­iban in the 1980s, con­tin­ues to re­gard the move­ment as a strate­gic as­set to pur­sue Pak­istani in­ter­ests in Afghanistan and in Pash­tun and Baluch ar­eas of Pak­istan.

How­ever, mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions have failed to quell the Baluch move­ment, which resur­faced af­ter the Pak­istani army killed for­mer Baluchis­tan gov­er­nor and chief min­is­ter Nawab Ak­bar Bugti in Au­gust 2006.

Lo­cated just a few hours’ drive from Kandahar, the birth­place of the Afghan Tal­iban, Quetta is also thought to be host­ing the Afghan Tal­iban Quetta Shura, or coun­cil, which is con­sid­ered to be the Tal­iban gov­ern­ment in ex­ile since U.S. and Afghan forces top­pled the regime in Kabul in 2001.

Afghan and U.S. com­man­ders have long said that Tal­iban leaders, in­clud­ing Mul­lah Mo­hammed Omar, guide com­mand- ers in Afghanistan from Quetta — al­though re­cent re­ports say some Afghan Tal­iban mem­bers have re­lo­cated to the port city of Karachi in the south­ern prov­ince of Sindh.

“Mul­lah Mo­hammed Omar, to whom [al Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden has pledged loy­alty, has lived in Quetta, Pak­istan, for the past sev­eral years,” Bruce Riedel, a for­mer CIA spe­cial­ist on South Asia, wrote in Novem­ber in the pub­li­ca­tion Cur­rent His­tory.

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