Militants have used fear and intimidation to clear a swathe of territory in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to establish training camps and for taking sanctuary, and have set up their headquarters in Maidan, in the rugged, green hills of the Upper Dir valley.
One thing’s for sure: the hills aren’t alive with the sound of music.
“We know the local militants but we don’t know the foreigners and outsiders who have arrived here. They are the mostly hardline, well-trained fighters,” said Hussain Shah, a local leader from the NWFP’s ruling Awami National Party (ANP).
The Taliban encroachment has seeped from Pakistan’s seven tribal areas into adjacent areas nominally under full government control. In Maidan The Daily Telegraph witnessed armed Taliban fighters in fields surrounding the town.
Last week 20 more locals were killed and 30 wounded when militants hurled grenades and fired indiscriminately into a Dir mosque.
At a funeral service held two weeks ago in Maidan fear had silenced the mourners. Prayers were said for Mehmud Jan, the right-hand man of Sufi Mohammed, a former leader of a rival militant group, Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e- Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM).
A friend said that Jan had been “courageous to talk against the Taliban”. Militants riddled Jan with bullets in front of his house as he set out to pray in a nearby mosque.
“Nobody knows who to trust. Fear is everywhere. We do not look anybody in the eye,” said Jan’s friend.
The arrival of militants better known for fighting in Afghanistan comes at a watershed moment for Pakistan’s counter-insurgency operations.
Washington and London are frustrated that Pakistan has failed to formulate a comprehensive counter insurgency strategy or a plan for governing its lawless, border tribal areas.
America is forging a new, more aggressive military strategy to tackle terrorist sanctuaries in Pakistan. Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said last week that “time is running out” in the battle against the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. […]
America views Pakistan’s policy of engaging militants in limited battles and then striking peace agreements with them as inadequate. Pakistan views its role as one of “containment” and has been loath to sever its links with its old Afghan Taliban and jihadi proxies….