Taliban pushing into rest of Pakistan

NY Times:

The Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was warned this month that Islamic militants and Taliban fighters were rapidly spreading beyond the country’s lawless tribal areas and that without “swift and decisive action,” the growing militancy could engulf the rest of the country.

The warning came in a document from the Interior Ministry, which said Pakistan’s security forces in North-West Frontier Province abutting the tribal areas were outgunned and outnumbered and had forfeited authority to the Taliban and their allies.

“The ongoing spell of active Taliban resistance has brought about serious repercussions for Pakistan,” says the 15-page document, which was shown to The New York Times. “There is a general policy of appeasement towards the Taliban, which has further emboldened them.”

The document was discussed by this country’s National Security Council on June 4 while General Musharraf was present, the document notes. It appears to be the first such document to emerge from the Pakistani government formally recognizing the seriousness of the spreading threat here from Al Qaeda and the Taliban, according to a Western diplomat.

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Indeed, the recognition of the scope of the extremists’ authority comes after heavy pressure on Pakistan from the United States to contain the lawlessness in the tribal areas. Washington has poured some $1 billion a year into Pakistan in the last five years for what are described as reimbursements for Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts along the border with Afghanistan.

The prime purpose of the sizable financial support has been to stop the area from becoming a haven for the Taliban and Al Qaeda as they wage their insurgency in Afghanistan.

But now the Interior Ministry is telling General Musharraf that the influence of the extremists is swiftly bleeding east and deeper into his own country, threatening areas like Peshawar, Nowshera and Kohat, which were considered to be safeguarded by Pakistani government forces.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, the prime mover behind the document, narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack in April by extremists in his home area of Charsadda, 18 miles northeast of Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province.

The attack on Mr. Sherpao shook his confidence in General Musharraf’s policy toward the militants, which has included a series of peace deals.

Since the peace accords have been signed, the militants have filled a vacuum left by tribal leaders, who have taken a back seat, and by the military, which has retreated to its barracks, the president’s critics say. The policy has been questioned by the United States and by some of General Musharraf’s own officers.

“It’s a policy of appeasement,” said Brig. Mahmood Shah, who was the senior Pakistani government official in charge of security in the tribal areas until last year. “It hasn’t worked. The Talibanization has increased in the past year.”

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Brimming with details, the Interior Ministry document gives the names of well-known Taliban commanders in this country — like Mullah Muhammad Nazir, also known as Maulavi Nazir, who has close links to the Afghan Taliban — but also lesser-known militants who lead the Taliban patrols responsible for assassinations and suicide bombings in smaller jurisdictions in North-West Frontier Province.

The mention of lesser-known but potent Taliban figures by name shows that the Pakistani government is aware of the far-reaching tentacles of the Taliban and other extremists but cannot do anything about them or chooses not to do anything, the Western diplomat said.

Among the particulars, the document says the Taliban have recently begun bombing oil tank trucks that pass through the Khyber area near the border on their way to Afghanistan for United States and NATO forces. A convoy of 12 of the trucks was hit with grenades and gutted on Thursday night in the third such incident in a month.

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In an illustration of the surge in violence, the report said Taliban fighters had gone on a rampage in Tank, ransacking banks, schools, gas pumps and checkpoints after an assistant to a Taliban leader who was enrolling students for jihad operations was killed by the police.

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There is much more. Musharraf has badly miscalculated the price of his appeasement with the Taliban. Many in the west have been saying for months that the Taliban were taking over whole regions of the country and the episodes of the religious bigots at the red mosque attacking in Islamabad demonstrate how deeply the Taliban have infested the country. It appears that the Taliban are doing to Pakistan what they did to Afghanistan, except a takeover of Pakistan would turn them into a nuclear power as an ally of al Qaeda. This would be disastrous for Pakistan because neither the US or India would tolerate such a takeover. Musharraf's best strategy would be to invite NATO in to help clean up the Taliban and al Qaeda.

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