The Forgotten Battle for Tirah Valley

Mar 2013

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LI also lay siege to a number of entry and exit points to areas inhabited by the AI supporters and sympathizers.A shortage of food, medicines and other necessary daily use items ensued, and caused harships for AI. The residents of Bagh-Maidan used the Arhanga-Sadda (Kurram Agency) route to come to Kohat and Peshawar, which is long in distance and costly in terms of transportation.

Saadat Afridi, a spokesman for AI, said that a number of their women, elderly men and children had died because of malnutrition and a lack of access to basic medical facilities over the last few years, after the LI had blocked all the routes leading to Bagh-Maidan and surrounding areas. “The Taliban’s forceful occupation of our strongholds was the most cruel and uncalled for act–we did not launch any offence against them”, he said.

“In fact, we were deceived by the soft attitude of the Taliban when they were trying to entrench themselves in the Kukikhel areas a few months ago”, he said, adding that the AI supporters facilitated the Taliban in transporting arms and ammunition to areas that they captured from the Kukikhel tribe in May of last year. “We had no idea that the Taliban will turn against us and evict us from our homes”, lamented Saadat Afridi.

AI is a banned militant organization according to the government’s official list, but the group has been suspected of having links with both the army and the state authorities. In september of last year, AI helped the government vaccinate over 30,000 children against polio, and some analysts suspect that an aerial attack on Taliban strongholds last month was an indirect indication that the Pakistan Air Force supports the AI. The military’s vacillating relationship with militant groups, including some allied or sympathetic to the Taliban, is nothing new, and could indicate why it is so difficult to deal with the challenge of militants.

Bazaar Gul Afridi, a long time political activist and a keen observer of the situation in Bara cautioned of Taliban advancement into the LI controlled areas after their capture of AI strongholds in upper parts of Tirah valley.

“Taliban had been waiting for an opportunity to come down to the plains of Bara for a very long time. The wanted get easy access to Peshawar, the capital city of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The occupation of Bagh-Maidan has rung alarm bells in the LI ranks”, Bazaar Gul observed–now that the AI is ousted, Gul thinks that the Taliban will try to oust Mangal Bagh, the LI chief, from his base, and thus gain access to the plains of Bara and the Khyber Pass. “But it will not be easy sailing for the Taliban, as the LI still have hundreds of war-hardened supporters, and they will put up a stiff resistance if the Taliban ever tried to reach to the Bara valley that borders Peshawar”, he added.

However, Waheedullah Afridi, Samaa television correspondent in Khyber Agency, is of the opinion that the Taliban would be more interested in their bid to control the historic Khyber Pass in the near future–a passageway that would allow them to disrupt supplies to NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan.

“With the drawdown of the American forces fixed for December 2014, Taliban anticipate massive backwards transport of US supplies via the Torkhum border en-route to the Karachi port. That explains their eagerness in getting access to the 35 kilometer long Khyber Pass and, in inflicting huge losses on both the United States and Pakistani security forces”, he stated.
But Bazaar Gul Afridi believes that even if the Taliban had their eyes fixed on the Khyber Pass, they would be compelled to take on the LI head to head. The Taliban cannot reach the Khyber Pass or the heights overlooking it without overpowering the LI.

The security analyst and retired brigadier of the Pakistan army, Muhammad Saad said that the Taliban poses a threat to all important routes leading to Peshawar because of the strategic location of Bagh-Maidan.

“Now the Taliban can easily maneuver themselves from Tirah Valley to Kurram Agency, Orakzai Agency and even eastern parts of Afghanistan. This makes it easy for them to reach Hangu, Kohat, Darra Adamkhel, and, even, Peshawar from Tirah’s southern borders, and Bajaur and Dir district from its northern borders with Afghanistan”, he said.

Brig. Saad cautioned of a surge in terrorist activities during the coming general elections, especially in Peshawar. “Peshawar is the first target as the Taliban occupation of Tirah will have serious implications for the city,” he warned, and added that the Taliban would also try to reactivate their abandoned bases in the semi-tribal region of Darra Adamkhel, thus increasing security risks in and around Peshawar.

Brig. Saad accused the security forces and security planners for providing enough space to Taliban by abandoning its ‘reactionary’ policy which they adopted in Swat, Bajaur, Mohmand and Buner till 2011.

“The army conducted successful operations under its ‘reactionary’ policy in areas where the Taliban tried to intimidate the local population, or to expand their network,but now they have adopted a ‘selective’ policy which is both detrimental to the security of major cities of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and also damaging the reputation of the security forces. This policy is beyond my comprehension, since the Taliban now enjoys an upper hand,” he said.

Ibrahim Shinwari is a Peshawar-based journalist, and a correspondent for Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper.

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2 Responses to The Forgotten Battle for Tirah Valley

  1. Mohammad zafar afridi on May 2013 at 9:01 AM

    der afsos sa weyam 6 mnga de afridi sra der zulumuna wakru khu in sha Allah Allah pak de tirah ao bara khiar khaiyt sra kolao ki de election de Allah de pa agha sra wa gate 6 kam a mnga agency tarike werki.khyber agency salute kawam

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