TOPICS : Pakistani intelligence outfits behind militancy?

Pakistan’s ruling Awami National Party (ANP) has been pushing a peace agenda for the North West Frontier Province (NWFP), but militancy in the region bordering Afghanistan shows no signs of abating. A frustrated ANP has now accused Pakistan’s intelligence agencies of being behind the armed Islamic militia, including pro-Taliban groups, in the NWFP and neighbouring Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Afghanistan’s Taliban are believed to have fled to this lawless area after the collapse of their regime in Kabul in end-2001.

“The intelligence outfits are responsible for creating a law and order situation in the FATA. The federal government must rein them in to control the soaring militancy in the region before it’s too late,” warned the ANP’s Abdul Lateef Afridi, a lawyer who is in charge of FATA, at a news conference in Peshawar. The ANP is part of a coalition government in the NWFP along with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Benazir Bhutto, the PM minister who was assassinated at an election meeting last December.

“The people of the tribal areas have been bearing the brunt of the ill-directed and flawed policies of the federal government,” he said. “We have to maintain peace, because being in government, we are responsible for the protection of lives and the properties of people,” he added. The ANP, which swept to power in elections in February, ousting an alliance of Islamic parties, has been holding peach talks with pro-Taliban fighters. On May 21, after several rounds of negotiations, the provincial government brokered a peace deal in Swat and Malakand, NWFP, with a radical Taliban faction.

On July 19, Baitullah Mahsud, leader of the outlawed Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a Pakistani Taliban group, issued an ultimatum threatening more violence unless the NWFP government steps down within five days.

This was in retaliation for the arrest of five TTP men in the province’s Hangu district following a military operation two weeks ago to flush out militia. Later the Taliban besieged the local police station and killed 17 personnel of the Frontier Constabulary.

The provincial government has refused to call off the operation in violence-torn Hangu saying that it was determined to restore law and order. Mahsud has been held responsible for the assassination of former premier Bhutto. ANP’s Afridi blames the escalating violence on Pakistan’s decades-long political involvement in Afghanistan. “Pakistan’s continuous interference in the affairs of neighbouring Afghanistan coupled with its association with the so-called Taliban has imposed a dangerous war on the tribal population,” he said.

US President George W. Bush’s ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan has spilt over the porous border into Pakistan with the US sending unmanned aircraft to bomb so-called Taliban hideouts in FATA. According to the US military, Pakistan’s indigenous militias have sheltered Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda chiefs in

the tribal belt. — IPS