Taliban, screwups, lecture, ammo recovery
From his hilltop headquarters in the center of the southern Afghan town of Musa Qala, former Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Salaam has a sweeping view over dusty flatlands in northern Helmand Province. But Musa Qala is like a ghost town now compared to the bustling center it had been under Taliban control last year.
Just before NATO led an offensive in December to wrest Musa Qala from the Taliban, Salaam defected to the side of the central government. Afghan President Hamid Karzai later appointed him as the district chief in Musa Qala.
As a former Taliban commander, he still has a penchant for quoting the Koran — whether he is speaking to journalists, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, or NATO military officers. But now, he is also lecturing the Taliban leadership on the meaning of the Koran and Islam. “We must ask what is the goal of those who are fighting our government and the people of this country? What do they want?” Salaam says.
In exclusive interview with RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, Salaam says he decided to support the Kabul government after he became convinced that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and his followers were violating the “orders of God” as revealed in the Koran.
“My brothers,” Salaam says, “these were the first five verses of the Koran that were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad at Mount Hira: ‘Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created all, has created man from a blood clot. Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, who has taught by the pen, has taught man that which he knew not.’”
Salaam says those verses led him to question who the Taliban really are after seeing them “taking pens from our children and taking away schools and education.”
‘Take Up The Pen’
“If we take action based on the Koran and based on God’s orders, God says to take up the pen,” Salaam says. “But if the Taliban does not allow us to take up the pen, then I must demand to know what they are inspired by.”
Salaam says he knows from his days as a Taliban commander that Mullah Omar still sends orders to militants in the form of audio recordings from a cave where he hides.
But he thinks legitimate Islamic scholars would reject Omar’s claims of authority. He says that’s because Mullah Omar relinquished his authority before he fled Kandahar in late 2001 — passing his powers on to a commander named Naqibakhond who has since been killed by coalition forces in Afghanistan.
“So Mullah Omar has resigned his authority as emir,” Salaam concludes. “Islamic scholars know that an emir who has given his authority away can no longer claim to be an emir. And now, [Omar] is so weak that he is hiding in a cave. He gives his orders on an audio recording. And he orders the killing of teachers and students and the destruction of schools. This is not the Islamic way. And it is not the Islamic way for an emir to resign and then claim that he still has authority as an emir.”
The Taliban is not happy about Mullah Salaam’s defection and already has tried to kill him. Salaam survived one attempted assassination in January when a suicide bomber managed only to injure several of Salaam’s bodyguards.
The town of Musa Qala is still struggling in the aftermath of the December offensive. Thousands of residents were forced from their homes by the fighting.
Many of the displaced tell RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that they prefer living on the dusty, rural plain outside of the town for now. Fearing fresh fighting between NATO and the Taliban in the spring, they say it is too early to start rebuilding what is left of their community.
Pulling a threatening Taliban letter from his pocket — which was posted anonymously at night on the walls and doors of buildings in Musa Qala — Salaam says he doesn’t think last month’s attack will be the last against him.
“I have a short night letter in my pocket and you will see that even in this letter, they humiliate the Koran of God,” Salaam says. “They posted this on people’s homes and signed it at the end. The author doesn’t know the Koran. At the beginning, he writes, ‘The Great God says in the Koran….’ But although they talk about what the Koran says, they don’t follow the Koran. I say they should stop deceiving themselves. They should not pervert the Koran like this. They should not sell Islam.”
When locals talk about Salaam’s defection from the Taliban, they are careful to avoid expressing personal opinions — fearing possible retaliation from both the Taliban and government forces if they support one side or the other.
With Taliban fighters still positioned within 2 kilometers of Musa Qala, most residents say they hope their town eventually will be firmly behind only one side — rather than being split by loyalties to both the Taliban and the Afghan government. Meanwhile, they also anxiously await the arrival of reconstruction aid promised by NATO forces in Afghanistan.
With so many residents and shop owners still away from Musa Qala, the town’s central bazaar stands almost empty. It is a dramatic contrast to the bazaar’s appearance under Taliban control last year when it was bustling with activity. And since December, the prices of basic foods already have doubled. Still, under the Taliban, most traders at the bazaar had sold weapons or large bags of heroin and opium.
The government in Kabul has responded to Salaam’s earliest request — to deploy hundreds of Afghan police and troops to Musa Qala. Those forces now comprise most of the security guards posted around Salaam’s hilltop headquarters. Of some 300 fighters form Salaam’s own militia force, only the most trusted are allowed to carry weapons through the checkpoints and into the headquarters.
His 19-year-old son, who still wears the black turban of the Taliban, is Salaam’s most trusted companion. He accompanies Salaam to all of his official meetings and even carries his father’s mobile telephone.
For his part, the 45-year-old Salaam continues to wear the long, black beard and the turban that he donned during his days as the Taliban regime’s governor of nearby Oruzgun Province.
That could help him maintain his credentials as an Islamist and tribal leader. And with the government hoping more moderate Taliban will join him and support Kabul, it also gives Mullah Salaam the appearance of being what some Afghans now call “good Taliban” as opposed to “armed Taliban.”
(RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Saleh Mohammad Saleh contributed to this report from Musa Qala in Afghanistan.)
By Ron Synovitz
Source Radio Free Europe
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxTaliban, troops clash in SWA
Blast damages PAF truck
PESHAWAR: Security forces and local Taliban have traded severe fire in Srakha area in the troubled Matta tehsil, the once hub of Maulana Fazalullah's Shaheen Force in Swat district.
Security forces also clashed with militants in areas surrounding Kot Kai in South Waziristan Agency.
The Post published a story Wednesday quoting reliable sources that a bunch of Taliban, loyal to defiant cleric Maulana Fazalullah, had resurfaced in the Srakha area in Tehsil Matta.
No casualties were reported as a result of heavy exchange of gunfire between the insurgents and security personnel. Security forces claim to have taken complete control of the troubled Matta Tehsil. However, they admitted that pockets of resistance were still there in some mountainous parts of the area. Taliban are now more inclined to ambush attacks, said an official in Swat. Local sources told this correspondent that Taliban in small groups usually appear after dusk and patrol some areas to show their presence, but quickly go underground to avoid arrest. Security forces could not establish the writ in the Gat Peochar area from where Taliban are putting resistance. It is said that Maulana Fazalullah along with his key commanders and close aides had been hiding in the Gat area.
As life is coming to normal in the Swat valley, people are still living under of fear of being bombed and killed in the crossfire. They still cannot move freely due to curfew. On the other hand, elections are fast approaching but no polls-related activity is seen in the area and people are sceptical about the holding of elections in Swat district.
The recently formed Qaumi Aman Jirga (National Peace Council) is struggling hard to reach a negotiated settlement between Taliban and security forces.
So far, the Jirga has managed the surrender of 34 suspected militants. Security personnel have also arrested an alleged commander of the Sheen Force, Sultanat Shah, who is said to be a close aide of Maulana Fazalullah.
In South Waziristan Agency, the ISPR said miscreants have suffered heavy casualties and huge caches of arms and ammunition have also been recovered during operations around Kot Kai. Sources said that security forces also conducted operations on the hideouts of militants located in the areas of Kot Kai, Kani Goom, Makeen and Brown and kept their pressure on the hideouts of militants through out the night while the militants equally resisted the onslaught with equal tenacity.
A group of journalists visited the areas which have been cleared by security forces and were shown the trenches and caves which were used by the miscreants. Security forces have also established relief camps in Jandola and surrounding areas to provide relief to the displaced people of the area.
Bomb explosion: In a separate incident, a truck of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was partially damaged in a roadside bomb explosion on main Grand Trunk (GT) road in Akora Khattak, some 42 kilometre east of this provincial capital on Thursday.
The driver of the truck, Salahuddin, and two PAF officials who were identified as Mohammad Habib and Shafqat remained safe in the attack, occurred at 9:40 in the morning.
A PAF truck carrying spare parts and other such goods from Chaklala Airbase, Rawalpindi to Badabher Scheme in Peshawar was attacked with a remote controlled explosive planted in the dividing portion between two roads near Khushal Khan Khattak library in the main Akora Khattak town.
The explosion completely damaged the front of the truck but the PAF staffers remained safe. Soon after the blast, police and army personnel reached the spot and blocked the road for traffic for few minutes. After collecting pieces of the bomb and shifting the truck to Akora Khattak police station, the road was reopened for traffic.
Initial investigation says it was a local made bomb, however, it could not be ascertained immediately if the PAF truck was the main target of the alleged miscreants.
An air force official confirmed the bombing and "slight" damage to the truck.
Ammunition recovered: Another report said that the security forces and political administration claimed to have recovered official ammunition seized by militants on January 24, 2008, during an ambush on the security convoy in Darra Adamkhel.
Officials in Kohat told The Post that three of the four trucks hijacked by militants had been recovered during search operation by the security forces in Kot Chapper area, the place from where soldiers recovered the bodies of 13 slain security personnel the other day.
As the search operation in Dara Adamkhel is continued, the security personnel are patrolling the bazaars and streets to reassure the locals that the situation was under control.
Hundreds of locals who had fled the area due to military operation are now coming back. However, many of them still fear another backlash in their area.
On the other hand, the security forces, engineers and the Pak-Japan Friendship Tunnel staffers had been busy in restoring traffic flow via the tunnel. However, due to electricity and other technical problems the tunnel could not be reopened completely. Officials said that complete restoration of traffic could take a couple of days.