Hunt for al-Qaeda men begins in South Waziristan Agency - Tribesmen warn of death for aiding US troops

Search for the Taliban and al-Qaeda fugitives began Sunday in the South Waziristan Agency of the Pakistani tribal belt, some 391 km southwest of North West Frontier Province’s capital, Peshawar, with the intimation to tribal chieftains that not to resist the operation else they would have to pay the price.

The tribal chieftains of the Mahsud tribe were called to Razmak by the political administration and addressed by Pakistan Army and US officials, where the troops have established camps.

It is for the first time in the history of Pakistan that the tribes of this region have allowed the Pakistan army to enter. They had even fought against British colonial rule and had always given tough time to the Britons before the country was given independence in 1947.

Even after the independence the tribal belt of Pakistan remained semi-autonomous, keeping its cultural values in high esteem and to the day consider arms as an element of male chauvinism.

A tribal chieftain who attended the meeting told Pravda, on condition of anonymity, said that though they had already told the political administration that they would assist the Pakistan army during the operation but on Sunday, especially, the chieftains of Balalzai and other sub-casts of the Mahsud tribe were called for the meeting at Razmak where the Pakistan army and US commandos have set up camps. During the meeting the tribal elders were told that the operation would be carried out keeping in view the Pashtun cultural and Islamic values and if resisted then the people of the area would have to suffer and without any discrimination the area might come under US sorties.

This tribal area could not produce wheat for being a mountainous terrain and the political administration had time and again used it as a tool against the tribes to keep them under control and a British colonial draconian law called the 40 Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). Under the 40 FCR the political agent, an appointee of the Pakistan federal government, could arrest any body of the tribal area and put him behind bars for three years without any right to appeal and could be extended for another three years.

Another inhumane section of the 40 FCR allows the political agent to seal all the business points and arrest as many as he could even in the settled area governed by the provincial government for the crime committed by any of the fellow tribesman.

The tribal chieftains, already under such pressures, were also asked to extend all possible help to the army and share any information regarding the manoeuvring of any al-Qaeda men in the area.

A chieftain, on condition of anonymity said, that they were told that there were enough information to establish that the al-Qaeda men have used the Shawal area, Tangai, Janata, Lataka, Pir Ghar, Bospa, Zarmilana, Barmal and Angor Ada in South Waziristan Agency to infiltrate into Pakistan from Afghanistan during the heavy US-led sorties in Zawar Killi area some 30 km southeast of Khost and the caves complex.

The chieftains were also told that the troops would also patrol during the night and US Apache attack helicopters would be used so none should try to hamper the operation.

Strict measures have also been taken at all the check posts and Afghan refugees are forbidden to travel in South Waziristan Agency. There were also reports that another group of US commandos have also reached Wana, the agency headquarters, late Saturday night to take part in the operation.

Showing resentment over the presence of foreigners in the tribal area a check post of the US-led coalition forces was set on fire by some unidentified residents of tribal area in the wee hours on Sunday. The post was set up in Afghan territory adjacent to the Pakistani border, which was located in the Larr area of Afghanistan and was set up to check the traffic, travelling from and to South Waziristan while using a strip of Afghanistan.

"There was no body in the check post when put on fire as the coalition troops used to evacuate the post at dusk," said a security official requesting anonymity.

The anti-American elements in the tribal areas have issued a new threat "of killing those helping the US troops”.

Large posters appeared Friday in Miranshah, North Waziristan Agency, threatening death to anyone who helped US troops hunting fleeing al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. The posters read "Killing anybody helping the American commandoes is acceptable".

A local journalist, Rehmatullah Khan said the posters have been issued by a previously unknown body calling itself Mujahideen-i-Waziristan. "This is first time we're hearing about this group. We don't know who is behind it."

This is not the first time that such handouts have been issued against the US and its allies during the six-month-old Afghan unrest. On different occasions and places, Taliban supporters have given vent to their feelings through such posters and pamphlets.

The sentiments in the semi-autonomous tribal areas flared up after reports of joint Pak-US operation. Different dissenting tribesmen have made it clear they do not want to see foreign troops on their soil. Reports say religious scholars in their Friday sermons in the tribal areas, flayed the Pakistani government for allegedly allowing foreign troops on its territory.

Witnesses said the posters, which read "murder of anybody helping American commandos is justified", were pasted on the walls of houses and shops in the northwestern town of Miranshah. Security agencies have been searching the area for months for al-Qaeda and Taliban militants fleeing from US-led military forces in Afghanistan.

Safiullah Gul Mahsud Pakistan

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