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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Syed Saleem Shahzad: ON THE MILITANT TRAIL, Part 1

In this series of articles exploring the region that will examine the differing natures and strategies of various Taliban groups, Syed Saleem Shahzad begins his journey in Peshawar.

In December 2007, former premier Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden installed an amir-e-khuruj (leader for revolt) in Pakistan, and since then the militancy has gone from strength to strength.

Against this backdrop, three significant and interlinked developments occurred:
  • Pakistan lost a significant amount of territory in NWFP to militants.
  • Al-Qaeda and Pakistani militants devised a scheme in late 2008 to cut off NATO's supply lines passing through Pakistan. The move has been highly successful.
  • The Taliban are gaining ground in Afghanistan. According to an influential British think-tank, the Senlis Council - now renamed the International Council on Security and Development - in 2007, 54% of Afghanistan was under the control of the Taliban. In 2008, the same think-tank said that 72% was controlled by the Taliban.

  • ***
    A meeting with al-Qaeda
    I received a call on my cell phone from a number I did not recognize, but the voice was familiar.

    "It is not possible to visit you at your guest house. You have to move away from the area," the man said, and then mentioned a famous landmark in the city where I had met the same person last year. I will call him Mohammad.

    I was delayed leaving the guest house and had to walk about 20 minutes to the meeting place. As I approached, Mohammad crossed the road and joined me. I followed him until we reached a waiting motorbike and rider at a crowded bus stop.

    Mohammad sat behind the driver and I squeezed on behind him. We must have been a sight. The front two had very long beards and robes, looking like prayer leaders, while I was wearing modern trousers and a coat. We drove for 10 minutes before reaching a big park.

    "You almost put us in serious difficulties," Mohammad chided me as soon as we got off the motorbike. ....


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