Why Gilgit-Baltistan is simmering with discontent? Ghulam Dastageer tries to find answers in this report.
“He who is pushed to the wall, is left with no option but to fight back,” is how 35-old Muhammad Hussain describes his desperation over his inability to make it back home in Bajaur Agency. Living in Jalozai camp for the internally displaced people, he does not know if he has any peaceful means available to him to ensure his return to his Kotki village, separated from Afghanistan’s Kunar province by a mountain.
Hussain was among the thousands of people displaced from Nawagai tehsil of Bajaur Agency after a September 2008 military operation against the Taliban militants there. By 2009, almost all of them had shifted to two refugee camps — Jalozai and Benazir, both in Nowshera district. In April 2012, the government declared that the military operation in Bajaur had come to end as the tribal agency had been cleared of militants. This led to the repatriation of the displaced people to their native lands.
In the next few months everyone was gone except 100 families in Jalozai camp and another 50 in Benazir camp — all originally from Kotki. They too went back but had to eventually return to the camps because, they allege, the landlord of their village, Muhammad Nawaz Khan, connived with the administration to deprive them of the money required to resettle. “When we heard that the government has started a survey to assess the damage caused to our houses due to the military operation, we went to our village,” says Haji Manasab, now living in Jalozai camp. “But the landlord told the political administration that we did not qualify for the compensation for damaged houses because we did not own the land they were built on,” Mansab adds.
The government had announced to pay 400,000 rupees for every fully damaged house and 160,000 rupees for every partially damaged one. Mansab acknowledges that the land did belong to Nawaz Khan but “we had built those houses on our own”. If they were destroyed or damaged during the operation, it was not Nawaz Khan’s loss, he adds. “We are ready to leave the village and settle somewhere else but we should not be deprived of our right to receive compensation,” he says.
Muhammad Qayyum, another displaced person living in Benazir camp, argues that the government is paying compensation for damaged houses and not for damaged land. “If the compensation is to be distributed on the principle of damaged land, then we have no claim over it, but if it is to be based on the damaged houses, then it is our right because we have been residing in those houses for generations,” he says. “Our elders had built those houses without taking a single penny from Nawaz Khan,” he adds.
Ghulam Hazrat, another displaced Kokti resident, says Nawaz Khan had not provided them land free of cost for building houses. “In return, I used to work as his guard and would take up arms against his opponents,” Hazrat says. Male members of all the families stranded in the two camps used to render similar services to Nawaz Khan — who admits as much. “Those who serve us get a piece of cultivable land to earn their livelihood,” he tells the Herald in Kokti.
Mansab says that he invested 300,000 rupees in the 40-kanal piece of land he obtained from Nawaz Khan, in order to have it levelled and made fit for cultivation. He is not going to get any of that back. To add insult to injury, Nawaz Khan managed to get all the compensation that was due to the 150 displaced families, alleges Mansab. He was able to do so by telling official surveyors that his other tenants were now living in the damaged houses, says Mansab.
Now, say members of the displaced families, Nawaz Khan is not allowing any of them to return to the village. He is not even letting us bury our dead in Kotki, says Lal Badshah, another displaced person.
What they are being forced to leave is a veritable piece of paradise. Located in the foot of a mountain, Kokti has lush green fields and tall shady trees. Even in summer, the weather there remains quite pleasant. During a visit to the village in mid-April, the Herald found out that some displaced people who were able to make it back to the village could do so only after striking a compromise with Nawaz Khan. Many villagers told the Herald that they had received only a fraction of the compensation for their damaged houses; the rest of the money had gone to Nawaz Khan. “My house was partially damaged and Nawaz Khan asked me to give him my identity card. He received the compensation money amounting to 160,000 rupees against my identity card but gave me only 10,000 rupees. Three other relatives of mine were treated the same way,” said a local resident not wanting to be named for security reasons.
He said he and some others had been able to stay back in the village by letting Nawaz Khan take most of the compensation. Otherwise, he said, “we could have been subjected to the same treatment as those living in the camps.” Nawaz Khan will not just physically harm those who do not obey him, he also punishes them by cutting off their water supply, many villagers told the Herald.
Nawaz Khan admitted that he had received the compensation money for all 85 houses listed by the government as damaged in the village — in some cases, by also presenting the identity cards of tenants who were not the real occupants of those houses. He also accepted that the families now in camps had been living in the damaged houses for generations. But he insisted that those houses were not built by those families or their elders. “They have no right over compensation as the damaged houses were not built by them,” he told the Herald in an interview.
Life in the camp is hellish compared to the one left behind in Kotki. Living in the camp with his five children, Hussain finds it very tough. “At times it becomes extremely difficult to brave the vagaries of the weather in these tents,” he says. Temperature varies between zero in winter to 50 degrees in summer in the area where the camps are located.
An even bigger problem is to make ends meet every single day. Since, officially, all those displaced from Bajaur should have gone home by now, authorities have withdrawn all humanitarian assistance from those in the camps. For the last two months, those living in the two camps have not received even the most basic food assistance. There are also no opportunities for earning a livelihood in the camps. Many male members of the families living there go to Pabbi and Nowshera, sometimes even to Peshawar, to work as daily-wage labourers.
Authorities, however, seem totally oblivious to the problem. Jabbar Shah, the political agent in Bajaur Agency, claims he has not received any complaints from any of those displaced from Kotki, regarding the payment of compensation money. “If they have any complaint, they can still contact the political administration in accordance with the existing tribal law,” he says in a telephone interview with the Herald.
People in the camps say this is a standard reply they have been receiving for months. They have not only contacted the political administration but have also met the representatives of the army to get their rights but all in vain, they say. “The mala fide on the part of the people in government is quite clear. Why did they not distribute compensation directly among the displaced people? Why did they hand over all the money to Nawaz Khan so that he could distribute it as he pleased?” asks one of them.
When Husain finds no answers to these questions, he gets furious. “Nawaz Khan’s attitude is compelling us to go to any extreme — even to join the Taliban to get our due,” he says.
A teenage daughter throwing herself at her father to protect him from motorcycle-riding assailants spraying bullets at him from the side of a moving auto rickshaw he is travelling in: This is not a scene out of a movie but a real incident that happened on January 27, 2014 in Lahor, a tehsil of Swabi district. The target of the attack was Javed Khan, an assistant sub-inspector working for the Special Branch of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police in Swabi. Shabana, his daughter, was ailing that day and, at 8:30 in the morning, the two were going to a hospital in the Shah Mansoor area for her check-up, when two people riding a motorcycle appeared besides their auto rickshaw and started firing at Khan. “Please stop this,” Shabana cried in anguish, as she pleaded with the attackers to spare her father’s life. “They fired 14 bullets at me,” says Javed Khan, who is now recuperating from the multiple wounds he sustained in the attack.
This was a second attempt on his life. When he first came under attack in September, 2011, he knew the attacker. “He was Faiz Muhammad of Nabi village, Swabi, a local commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP),” says Khan. The Taliban are after him as they believe that the information he had provided to security forces led to the killing of two militants in 2008.
He is not the only police official in Swabi to have come under Taliban attack of late. About 18 policemen have lost their lives in targeted killing in the last year or so at the hands of the Taliban; so have many workers of non-governmental organisations as well as political activists. The cruel irony, in such difficult times for local people, is that some of them have to turn to the Taliban for protection. Even though Khan is a police official, he is going to get in touch with Adnan Rasheed, a Taliban commander, who is also related to him, to ensure that he is not targeted again. He did the same when he was first attacked.
By Xari Jalil
A private school’s syllabus has come under scrutiny for the wrong reasons
“I will not tolerate any interference in my religion,” an angry parent told Mubashir Lucman, the controversial ARY News talk-show host, on September 16, 2013. She was discussing the change that the Lahore Grammar School (LGS), an elite private educational institution, had made in its syllabus — allegedly replacing Islamiyat (a compulsory subject in Pakistan) with comparative religions as a subject.
In theory, the humanitarian needs of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s residents should get preferential attention. After all, provision of social services like health, education, human resource development and sanitation has suffered immensely in the province due to unrelenting acts of violence and terrorism for the last many years. But in practice official procedures and paperwork requirements are hampering rather than helping the work of national and international humanitarian organisations willing to work in the strife-torn region.
Sources at the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum (PHF), an Islamabad-based coordination body of 53 international humanitarian organisations, tell the Herald that international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which want to launch projects in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have to comply with four official procedures: a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with the government of Pakistan, visas for foreign staff, a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the provincial government for the projects, and an NOC for travelling to the project areas.
“I am bothering you to inform that Mr Tahir Jamil, presently working on deputation as Additional Director, Economic Crimes Wing, FIA Headquarters, Islamabad is my nephew. He is interested in absorbing himself in Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on permanent basis. I shall be grateful if you please consider his request favourably for permanent absorption in FIA.”
This is an excerpt from a letter that Railways Minister Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour sent to Interior Minister Rehman Malik on August 4, 2011. Written on Bilour’s official letterhead, the letter is also copied to the then FIA Director General Tehseen Anwar Shah and shows how the process of deputations to the FIA, and subsequent regularisation of services of the officers on deputation, works or, at least, gets initiated. Those interested in a deputation or regularisation of service approach the FIA’s senior officials through personal connections – in many cases, relatives in high places – to get the envelope pushed on their behalf.
As in almost all such cases, Jamil’s deputation violates the Appointment, Promotion and Transfer Rules, 1975, which say that an additional director can only come from the agency’s internal cadre and cannot be an officer on deputation from some other department. Only in extreme circumstances when no suitable officer is available within the FIA can the position of an additional director be filled through other means; there is, however, no dearth of officials within the agency who qualify for that post, says an FIA official.
Other such sources tell the Herald that, since the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government came into power in March 2008, scores of officials from various government departments have managed to get deputations in the FIA, mostly in violation of the 1975 rules. Sources say that around a 100 officers have made it into the FIA over the last four years from departments as varied as the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), the Senate, the fisheries department, the Pakistan International Airlines, the Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) and cantonment boards. Many of these departments are responsible for doing things which are not even remotely linked to what the FIA does as Pakistan’s supreme investigation agency into terrorism, corruption, financial fraud, money laundering and immigration/migration malpractice. The man mentioned in Bilour’s letter as the minister’s nephew originally worked at the National Bank of Pakistan before he joined the FIA on deputation.
Almost all such deputations violate the rule that declares that all FIA posts in grade 16 and above must be filled through a test conducted by the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC). In some cases, those on deputation do not even have the relevant academic qualifications or the required experience for the job they are holding. This applies in the case of Haris Mirza, the son of the Pakistan Television Corporation’s managing director, Yousaf Baig Mirza. He graduated from the University of Westminster, England, in 2011 with a bachelors in business administration and was appointed assistant director at the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta) on a one-year contract on April 16, 2012. In little more than four months, sources say, he succeeded in securing the post of assistant director at the FIA’s counter-terrorism wing. The recommendation for his appointment on deputation in the FIA came from the interior minister’s office which wrote a letter to the Establishment Division on August 7, 2012, seeking Haris Mirza’s transfer from Nacta to the FIA. The post he is deputed to, however, requires a minimum experience of five years, according to government’s rules, sources say. The other serious flaw pointed out in Haris Mirza’s case is that his initial appointment in Nacta was only for one year, whereas his deputation is to last for three years.
In many other cases, officials seeking deputation have been able to pull it off because of their influential political links, such as the Bilour-sponsored Jamil. Syed Yazim Ali Shah and Syed Gada Haidar Shah have succeeded in joining the FIA on deputation thanks to their relationship with Religious Affairs Minister Syed Khursheed Shah — the former is the minister’s stepson and the latter his nephew. Syed Yazim Ali Shah was working at the EOBI before his deputation as assistant director in the FIA’s immigration wing at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport. Syed Gada Haidar Shah was initially posted at the Sindh Assembly, but is now working as an assistant director in the FIA’s counter-terrorism wing.
These two deputations came into the media spotlight in July 2012 when the Sindh High Court heard a petition filed by the United Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a local non-governmental organisation. The petition specifically mentioned Khursheed Shah and the deputations of his relatives as violating a Supreme Court order issued earlier in the year which had said that all officers on deputation should be sent back to their parent departments.
Similarly, Asghar Ali Mangrio, the son of Faqir Mohammad Jadam Mangrio who is a senior Pakistan Muslim League–Functional leader and a member of the National Assembly, managed to secure a position in the FIA in January 2012 as an assistant director in the corporate crime wing, Karachi, even though his initial posting on December 3, 2010, as a deputy manager at the Export Processing Zones Authority was “purely on a temporary basis”.
Aamir Ali, whose mother Shahnaz Sheikh was a member of the National Assembly representing the Pakistan Muslim League–Quaid-e-Azam before she was disqualified by the Supreme Court last month for holding dual citizenship, got his career fast-tracked after joining the FIA on deputation on November 30, 2011. He was originally serving as a grade 19 officer in Nadra and about four months after joining the FIA, he became an additional director of the agency’s economic crime wing. Also, just under three months after securing his deputation, he sent a request to the interior ministry to have his services regularised in the FIA as a “certified forensic accountant”. The request is under consideration.
Such deputations, according to sources in the FIA, are having a negative impact on the agency’s performance. Inexperienced officers working on deputation bring a bad name to the country during their dealings with international and foreign agencies like Interpol, the United Nations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), says an FIA officer seeking to keep his identity secret. He puts this down to short cuts implicit in the deputation process. “Those who are appointed directly to the FIA through the FPSC have to undergo one year of mandatory training in subjects like policing, investigation and white-collar crime, and laws such as police rules, the Pakistan Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code,” he says. “How will a person thoroughly bereft of any such training deliver?” he asks, adding that those who join the agency through proper channels hate to take orders from someone who is not even familiar with the ABC of investigation. “This badly affects the FIA’s performance.”
Others say deputations, out of turn promotions and regularisation of the services of those on deputation hamper regular promotions in the agency, causing frustration among staff hired through regular channels. Some have moved the courts to air their grievances — a few months ago, some FIA officials wrote a letter to the Supreme Court, complaining that “unprofessional officers of various departments working on deputation … [are] causing frustration in the FIA cadre.”
Two cases of fast track regularisation and promotion of officials on deputation in the FIA exemplify why others going through the slower regular process would feel left out. Shahryar Khan joined Nadra on March 1, 2011, as a contract employee. Two months later, he joined the FIA on deputation, and by the end of the year he has been absorbed in the agency as a regular employee as an inspector in grade 16, without having passed an FPSC test or receiving the mandatory one-year training, both officially required for the job.
Nasrullah Gondal’s case is even more curious. Originally a grade 14 sub-inspector in the Punjab Police, he was appointed as an officiating inspector in 2006. Later that year, he joined the FIA on deputation as an assistant director, a grade 17 post, despite the fact that his promotion violated official rules which state that officials on deputation can work only in the same grade in which they were originally appointed in their parent department. In 2008, in another violation of the rules, Gondal’s services were regularised in the FIA in grade 17 and then in 2012, he was promoted to grade 18.
Cases like this are having a serious impact on the pace of regular promotions in the agency. “There are more than 50 inspectors [in the FIA], with over nine to 10 years of experience awaiting promotion to the next grade,” says an inspector working with the agency since 2002. Their promotions are getting delayed because officers on deputation are being regularised and promoted much more quickly, he adds.
While deputation has been going on for decades in Pakistan, what is remarkable is the apparent mad rush to work in the FIA rather than any other department. If we compare the salaries in the Police Services of Pakistan with those in the FIA, we will find that police officers are drawing better salaries, but even they are willing to get deputation appointments in the FIA, says a senior FIA official. Why? Because a posting in the FIA is a very effective means of making quick money, he says, adding that the nature of crimes the FIA handles ranges from petty to high profile, some involving millions of rupees. “An official posted in the immigration or banking wing of the agency, for instance, can make millions overnight.” In his original department, such as Nadra, the Sindh Assembly or the National Bank of Pakistan, he will never get such a chance.
Director-General FIA Muhammad Anwar Virk admits that there is reason for officials to want to become part of the agency: “We have a power-oriented society and people tend to join departments like the FIA to enjoy more power [as compared to their parent departments].” When asked about irregularities in and the impact of deputations, he says, “[Some] FIA officials had reservations over the transfer and absorption of certain people and, in this regard, they have petitioned the court. Now I can only submit before the court as to whether these deputations are adversely affecting the performance of the FIA.”
Ihsanullah, 39, was working with a telephone company when military officials took him away on March 29, 2012, suspecting him of having links with the Taliban. Hailing from the Sambat area of Swat district’s Matta tehsil, which, until 2009, was the bastion of Swat-based Fazlullah-led religious militants, he returned home a week later — dead. His relatives say Ihsanullah, who has left behind three young daughters and a son, was in good health when he was taken into custody but his captors told his family that he had suffered a stroke.
There may have been a reason for his arrest. The Herald’s investigation reveals that one of Ihsanullah’s uncles, Ahmed Jan, was a Taliban commander for Matta tehsil and was killed by security forces following his arrest in Karachi in 2010. Ihsanullah was detained earlier this year, along with his brother Kareemullah, for allegedly having close links with senior leaders of the Taliban in Swat. According to members of their family, the two were first kept at a security-forces camp at Matta Degree College but were later shifted to a secret prison in Matta tehsil’s Shangwati area. Though Ihsanullah and Kareemullah were detained separately and could not see each other, they were still able to talk due to the close proximity of their detention cells.
It was from his cell in Shangwati, in early April, that Ihsanullah told his brother that he was feeling unwell. The previous night, he reportedly told Kareemullah that day, that his interrogators had forced him to hold a piece of metal with a live electric current running through it. At 10 pm that night, Ihsanullah was moved out of his cell only to be brought back by midnight. His brother is said to have heard his anguished cries for the remainder of the night. The following morning, Ihsanullah was shifted to Saidu Teaching Hospital where his relatives were allowed to see him. By noon, he was dead. Officials gave his family a CT scan report which stated that he had suffered a stroke. Whether the report is genuine or not, his relatives are not sure, as they were not present when the scan was conducted. The army also released Kareemullah the day his brother died.
Umer Ali, 35, was living in Kharayri village in Matta tehsil when he died in a similar manner. His brother Aizaz Ali tells the Herald that he, Umer and his father had surrendered to security forces during the military operation in Swat in mid-2009 after their names appeared on an official list classifying them as terrorists. Their father was released after a few days but the two brothers were shifted to a military camp at Matta Degree College. Soon they were shifted to a military detention centre in Sambat area from where they were then moved to another military detention cell at the Pakistan-Austrian Institute for Tourism and Hotel Management (Paithom) in Gulibagh area. They were officially marked as ‘grey’, meaning that the authorities weren’t convinced they were innocent but that there was also no incriminating evidence linking them to the Taliban or to acts of terrorism. Aizaz was released in November 2010 but a day or two after his release some policemen came to his family house and informed him that his brother had died in custody. “My father and some other villagers went to Paithom to receive his body,” Aizaz says. Umer was severely tortured while he was detained at Paithom and he used to complain of severe back pain because of which he was unable to walk properly, claims Aizaz.
In another incident, Ghafoor Khan, a resident of Dadaara village in Swat district’s Kabal tehsil, returned home dead in July 2012. His relatives tell the Herald that he had been under detention for 17 months before his death. His younger brother Shah Gul Amber says that some military officials told their family that Ghafoor was hospitalised in a medical facility set up at Mingora Circuit House. When they reached the place, they found him dead. The military said tuberculosis was the cause of his death.
Sher Ali, 46, another resident of Dadaara village, also died in custody. His brother Sher Alam says he himself had handed over Sher Ali to the military authorities in April 2010. On June 15, 2012 the family came to know that Sher Ali was admitted at the Saidu Teaching Hospital but when they reached there he was already dead. The official reason for his death was cardiac arrest. “I am not powerful enough to fight my case against the security forces which hold all the power in our country,” says Sher Alam. But still he has a problem with the way Sher Ali died. “If my brother was suffering from a cardiac illness, the security forces should have brought this to our notice so that we could make arrangement for his treatment.”
On August 22, 2010, Bakht Zameen, 37, died hours after he was taken into custody. His elderly father Muhammad Ameen says his son was picked up by military men from his grocery shop in Kharayri village at noon the same day. After torturing him for a couple of hours, the military officials asked a local rickshaw driver to take him to a hospital, says Ameen. The driver coincidently belonged to the same village that Bakht came from and took him to his shop. By the time his family joined him, Bakht was alive but unconscious. He died within an hour while he was being shifted to a hospital. Ameen says the military authorities did not allow him to get an autopsy done to determine the reason for Bakht’s sudden death.
Local journalists in Swat have recorded only a few of the 110 or so cases of deaths in custody that have taken place over during the past two years. All of the dead were detained without having been arrested formally, let alone having been charged and tried in a court of law. These detentions received a legal cover through a presidential ordinance, called Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulation, 2011, issued in the summer of 2011 and applicable in Swat and the tribal areas. The regulation provides the military with power to detain and interrogate people indefinitely without having to produce them
Even though security agencies say that all such deaths were natural, officials have never claimed even in a single case that the dead person was not in their custody. However, human rights activists, and the families of the victims, allege that the dead were subjected to severe mental and physical torture, which is what caused their deaths.
Such allegations first exploded into the public square with news reports that some members of the so-called ‘Adiyala 11’ had died while in custody of security agencies. These 11 alleged terrorists were taken away from Rawalpindi’s Adiyala jail in May 2010; since then, two of them have died in detention in tribal areas and two others have breathed their last after they were shifted by security agencies to a hospital in Peshawar.
Malik Jrar Hussain, a Peshawar-based lawyer and council member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says there are many cases of deaths in custody where military authorities have not allowed the families of the dead to get autopsies done, creating suspicions about the cause of their deaths. First and foremost, he says, cause of death should be established by a neutral authority. “And if it is proven that the death is not natural, then liability should be imposed on those responsible for it,” he says.
But as the families of the Adiyala 11 have found, there is little legal or judicial recourse available in such cases. In spite of all the media attention that the Adiyala 11 case has received, the Supreme Court has been unable to ensure that the detained members of the group are set free as they have been acquitted of all charges by a high court, let alone find out how and why some of them have died.
In fact, families of some detained persons have now developed a new fear: that the prisoner may turn up dead if you move a court for his recovery. A Mingora-based lawyer, who does not want to be named, verifies this. The growing number of deaths in custody has stopped relatives of detained persons from filing habeas corpus petitions with courts fearing that such petitions may place their detained relatives’ lives in danger.
Lawyer Hussain knows of at least two such cases. The relatives of two detained persons – one from Dir and the other from Swabi – recently contacted him to file legal petitions for their recovery but later they nixed the idea. They think that filing cases against state agencies can result in the extrajudicial killing of their relatives and of their deaths in custody, he says. For now they still hope that the detained persons will come back home some day, but no one knows what may happen once the courts start hearing their cases, Hussain adds. They may turn up dead, just as so many others already have.
A four-kilometre long strip of land is the veritable microcosm of sectarianism in the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) region. Running through Gilgit city, it starts from Jutial area and ends in Basin. On both sides of the imaginary line running through the strip, neighbourhoods are divided on the basis of sectarian affiliations of their residents. Both the Sunnis and Shias have turned their respective strongholds into no-go areas for the members of the other sect. The Shias cannot venture into Kashrote,JagirBasinand Skarkoi areas and the Sunnis cannot enter Khomar, Nagaral, Majini Mohallah, Amphary,Burmasand Khur areas.
After successfully infusing terror in the minds of the masses, some Taliban groups are now involved in extorting money from businessmen — based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, police officials say.
Umar Riaz, the senior superintendent police (SSP) who heads the investigation branch in Peshawar, says cases of extortion by Taliban have been reported in Peshawar’s Matani area. The Taliban of Mohmand Agency also receive protection money or bhatta from Mohmand traders based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as in their native tribal agency. “Around 50 per cent of the people contacted by such groups agree to pay bhatta after doing some bargaining over the amount,” says an official of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) who does not want to be named. This, the traders believe, is better than being kidnapped and going through the emotional and physical trauma attached with kidnapping, he adds.
A police source who knows how the extortion system works, tells the Herald that the Taliban usually have detailed information about the wealth, income and assets of the people they call to demand bhatta. “First they [the militants] make a call to their target and ask for money. If the receiver of the call says that it is impossible for him to arrange the huge amount of money being demanded, he is provided with all the information about his assets including his bank balance,” the source says. At the next stage, an explosive device is blown up in his car or near his house, in order to make him realise that he has no option but to pay, he adds.
In one such case, according to the IB official, the Taliban sent a message to a Matani-based hundi operator and demanded three million rupees as bhatta which the Taliban usually dub as donation for their “holy cause”. After the businessman did not pay the money, the militants blew up a bomb near the entrance of his house, killing a women working in the house. Officials say such terror tactics also force most people paying bhatta to avoid registering cases with the police.
In the latest flaring up of tensions between Islamabad and Washington, Pakistan’s civil and military leaders are blaming the America-led foreign forces in Afghanistan for their failure to stop the cross-border incursions from Afghanistan into Pakistani territory. Government and intelligence sources in Peshawar go to the extent of claiming that the Afghan National Army and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) are actually supporting and sponsoring these attacks. Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the spokesman of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, has, in fact, made public statements to the effect that both the Afghan National Army and Nato supported the attacks inside Pakistan. He says there is a popular perception in Pakistan that attacks are being orchestrated to force Pakistan into launching a military action in the North Waziristan tribal agency.
Many people in Chitral andUpper Dir, where these cross-border encounters have taken place, also believe that the incursions could not have taken place without the support of the forces on the other side of the border. Some local residents described that the militants involved in the assaults were wearing the Afghan National Army uniform. They also claim having witnessed unusual movement of the Nato’s planes while the attacks were launched.
“The attacks show that the militants had strong backing,” says Sardar Mohammad Khan, a former military officer who has also served two stints with the Chitral Scouts and is a resident of Chitral. Every insurgent, he explains, would have carried about 50-kilogrammes of arms and ammunition. “In a mountainous terrain it is very difficult to move with such a heavy load [without any logistical support],” he says. That it would have taken the attackers many days to amass the weapons at the border on the mountain peaks and then cross intoPakistansuggests that it is impossible that the forces inAfghanistanremained unaware of their activities all this while, he says. But Sardar Mohammad Khan also acknowledges thatAfghanistan’sNuristanprovince, where some of the attacks are being launched from, is under the complete control of the Afghan Taliban, with no influence of the Nato or the Afghan army there.
A well-placed intelligence source, however, points out that Nato has a massive presence inAfghanistan’s Kunar province which is adjacent toNuristanas well as Chitral and Dir in Pakistan and is a source of many encounters. “We have credible reports that the Tehrik-e-TalibanPakistancommander for Mohmand Agency, Abdul Wali (alias Umar Khalid), frequently visits Topchi Kandak [where Nato has one of its biggest bases in the region] and has even held meetings with the American officials inKabul,” says the intelligence source wishing to remain unnamed. He claims that Fazlullah Wahidi, the governor of Kunar, allowed the Swat Taliban to take shelter in his province after they were uprooted from Malakand division during the military operations of 2009 and 2010.
The source claims that Rozi Khan, the director of the Afghan Reconciliation Commission for Kunar province, has recently arranged a meeting of some Bajaur Taliban leaders including Jan Wali (alias Sheena), Faisal and Ali Rahman with American officials in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar. He wonders why the Americans so successfully target the al-Qaeda men in Pakistan’s tribal areas but fail to do anything against the militants operating in Afghanistan. “Why don’t they (Nato) deploy their troops on the border or allow us to fence the border [as Pakistan has been demanding for years]?” he asks.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government spokesman Hussain says the attacks demonstrate that either the Nato forces are incapable of curbing the militants or that they lack the will to do so. “In both cases, the situation proves to be very dangerous,” he says. He puts it to the deep-rooted “mistrust” among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States. “It is beyond comprehension that all the three countries have military presence on the border but still they cannot contain cross-border terrorism.” For him, all sides need to stop distinguishing between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. “If the three sides continue protecting the Taliban they believe to be good, the Taliban in general will continue finding breathing space and attacking their targets both in Pakistan and Afghanistan,” he remarks.