A pro-government tribal military has inflicted heavy losses on the Taliban in the remote tribal agency of Kurram over the past six days, killing 37 fighters while taking only three losses.
A tribal militia, or lashkar, killed 21 Taliban fighters today in the Nekah Ziarat region in Kurram after holding a jirga, or council. No lashkar members were reported killed.
The tribal militias in Kurram have battled the Taliban at least two other times this week. On March 17, 10 Taliban fighters and three militia fighters were killed in a clash. On March 13, a militia dumped the bodies of six Taliban fighters in Kurram.
Over the past several months, Kurram has become a hotspot in Pakistan's tribal areas. Large elements of the Taliban in the Mehsud regions of South Waziristan have relocated to Kurram, as well as to nearby Hangu, Arakzai, and North Waziristan, after the Pakistani Army launched an operation in October 2009 [see LWJ report, "Pakistani military hits Taliban in Arakzai"].
Two powerful Taliban commanders, Maulvi Noor Jamal and Fazal Saeed Utezai, operate in the tribal agency.
Jamal, who is also known as Maulvi Toofan, is the Taliban commander in Kurram. Jamal is known as a brutal and effective leader. After Hakeemullah Mehsud was reported killed in late January 2010, Jamal denied rumors that he had taken control of the Pakistani Taliban. In fact, Jamal claimed Hakeemullah is still alive.
Utezai is a deputy to Hakeemullah and leads Taliban fighters in the Kurram tribal agency. His forces have been behind some of the worst sectarian violence against the Shia tribes in Kurram and beyond.
Kurram has a significant Shia population which has been under a relentless assault by the Taliban in the remote tribal agency. In 2008 and 2009, the Shia in Kurram were under siege by the Taliban while Pakistani security forces looked on. The Shia's only outside lifeline was through Afghanistan, as the Taliban blocked the major routes from the tribal areas into the settled district.
Throughout the northwest, the Taliban have responded aggressively to efforts by tribal leaders to oppose the spread of extremism in the tribal areas. Tribal opposition has been violently attacked and defeated in Peshawar, Dir, Arakzai, Khyber, and Swat. Suicide bombers have struck at tribal meetings held at mosques, schools, hotels, and homes [see LWJ report, "Anti-Taliban tribal militia leader assassinated in Pakistan's northwest," for more information on the difficulties of raising tribal lashkars in Pakistan's northwest].
The Taliban perfected this strategy in North and South Waziristan. Tribal leaders who opposed the Taliban were brutally liquidated. The Taliban would execute the leaders and dump their bodies on the roadside with notes pinned to their chests branding them as "US spies" and traitors. The bodies were often mutilated and beheaded.
The Taliban have made very public examples of local leaders who have dared to resist. In December 2008, the Swat Taliban executed a local tribal leader named Pir Samiullah, then returned to the village to dig up his body and hang it in the town square. The villagers were warned not to remove his body or they would face the same fate [see LWJ report, "Video: Taliban execute Swat tribal leader"]. In early January of this year, in nearby Arakzai, the Taliban torched an entire village for cooperating with security forces.
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