Resurgence of militants: Lower Dir tribesmen refusing to pay extortion are on Taliban’s target

Report Muhammad Israr

On the night of October 1, 2020, unidentified gunmen opened fire on the car of Malik Ataullah, a political leader in the Maidan area of ​​Lower Dir District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killed his driver, Muhammad Saeed.

There have been a number of such incidents in the area in the past month that have forced some locals to relocate. One of the incidents took place on the 24th of last month, in which a key member of the local Durrani tribe, Khan Badshah – who has also led a local militia fighting the Taliban – was spotted at the Burju Gut. Was attacked with a remote-controlled bomb. The blast injured two of his bodyguards, Bilal and Saeedullah, and completely destroyed the front of his car.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack on one of its websites and threatened local tribal leaders that more such attacks could take place if they did not pay extortion charges. Police also recovered three remote-controlled bombs from the roadside in the Bishgram area the day before. The local administration believes the bombs were planted to target the vehicles of tribal leaders.

A few days earlier, the house of former District Council member Lower Dir Abdullah Shah was bombed, causing severe damage to part of the building but no casualties. The attack was apparently carried out by the Taliban because Abdullah Shah refused to pay them. To avoid further such attacks, Abdullah Shah has now left Lower Dir and moved to a secret location.

A remote-controlled roadside bomb in Bishgram 

Similarly, on the night of August 31, a mobile van belonging to a local police station, Haya Serai, was hit by a remote-controlled bomb while the policemen on board were on a routine patrol. The attack injured three policemen, including a guard, and severely damaged the vehicle. Earlier, unidentified gunmen opened fire at a police check post in Kambar Bazaar in the middle of the night, but when the police returned fire, the assailants hurled rockets at the check post and fled.

Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Mohammad Zaman Khan, stationed at the Lower Dir Headquarters Timergara, told Sagag that he had regularly informed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Anti-Terrorism Agency about all these incidents. This is because the authority to investigate terrorist incidents does not lie with the local police but with the agency itself. However, Barkat Khan, the local in-charge of the anti-terrorism agency in Lower Dir, declined to comment on the attacks.

Residents of Maidan say Taliban operations in their area pose a major challenge to Pakistan’s defense establishment, although they say the local administration has banned motorcycling from 6pm to 6am. Besides, no special steps have been taken to ensure the safety of the people.

The Taliban’s presence on the ground is also a cause for concern because the area has been a stronghold of religious movements in the past. In the 1990s, there was a turn of the Sufi Muhammadan Movement for the Implementation of the Shariat Muhammadiyya, which gathered an big number of his followers to fight in Afghanistan and tried to establish its own justice system in the nearby district of Swat. At that time, most of the local men were seen wearing black turbans on their heads, which was a sign of the movement for the implementation of the Shariat of Muhammad.

A threatening rak’ah sent by the Taliban to tribal leaders

But since 2007, the Taliban have taken control of much of the region. At that time, there were incidents of terrorism on a daily basis, which ended the government writ.

When the army launched an operation here in April 2009, it had several skirmishes with the Taliban, using heavy weapons on both sides. The clashes forced a large number of locals to flee the area.

Within months of the military operation, the Taliban were defeated and most of their members fled to Afghanistan. The military has been responsible for maintaining law and order in the area for the next nine years so that the Taliban do not regain control.

Although all the military posts set up here were handed over to the police and civil administration in April 2018, some army troops are still present in local barracks.

Warning for tribal leaders on Taliban website

Muhammad Israr has been a journalist for more than two decades. During this time he has worked as a reporter in various local and foreign media organizations.