Pakistani Tribal Chiefs Threaten To Join Taliban

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Pakistani Tribal Chiefs Threaten To Join Taliban

US warned of uprising if armed incursions continue. New counter-terrorism policy backfires on Washington.

by
Saeed Shah

Members of civil society Concerned Citizen of Pakistan hold a rally to condemn U.S. strikes in Pakistani tribal areas along Afghanistan border, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2008 in Lahore, Pakistan. Pakistan is backing off suggestions it might confront U.S. troops making raids into its territory in search of Islamic militants, saying Saturday it will deal diplomatically with Washington over the stepped-up tactics. (AP Photo/K.M.Chaudary)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A controversial new US tactic
to mount counter-terrorist operations inside Pakistan has met with
fresh hostility, it emerged yesterday, as Pakistani tribesmen
representing half a million people vowed to switch sides and join the
Taliban if Washington does not stop cross-border attacks by its forces
from Afghanistan.

Reacting to American missile attacks in north
Waziristan last week, which followed an unprecedented cross-border
ground assault earlier this month, tribal chiefs from the area called
an emergency meeting on Saturday.

"If America doesn't stop
attacks in tribal areas, we will prepare a lashkar [army] to attack US
forces in Afghanistan," tribal chief Malik Nasrullah announced in Miran
Shah, north Waziristan's largest city. "We will also seek support from
the tribal elders in Afghanistan to fight jointly against America."

The
development threatens to widen the conflict, with previously moderate
people from Pakistan's tribal border region with Afghanistan in danger
of joining Taliban militants based in the area. They have reacted
furiously to intensified American missile attacks on targets in the
tribal territory in recent weeks.

The issue is likely to feature
in talks between Gordon Brown and Pakistan's new president, Asif Ali
Zardari, this week. Zardari, who is on a private visit to Britain, is
due to meet Brown tomorrow. The prime minister is likely to press for
greater Pakistani action against militants in the tribal area and may
go along with US calls to integrate the tribal territory into the
conflict in Afghanistan as one theatre of war, an idea Pakistan will
fiercely resist.

Zardari and Pakistan's prime minister, Yousaf
Raza Gilani, said in a joint statement at the weekend: "The sovereignty
and territorial integrity of the country should be respected at all
cost." During the past month, there have been seven US missile strikes
in the tribal area, about the same number as in the whole of last year.
A US ground assault in south Waziristan provoked a sharp rebuke from
the Pakistan army.

Washington believes that Taliban and al-Qaida
militants fighting the western coalition in Afghanistan are using
Pakistan's tribal area as a safe haven.

But Ayaz Wazir, a
retired Pakistani diplomat who is a tribal chief from south Waziristan,
warned: "If the Americans are coming to sort it out with force, they
would create more enemies. The Americans might have supersonic jets and
we might have to fight with stones in our hands, but we will stand up."

Up
to now, only a tiny minority of the tribesmen have joined the Pakistani
or Afghan Taliban movements, but incursions by the US could ignite the
area.

The heightened US activity comes just as some Pakistani
tribes have risen against the Taliban in the border areas of Dir and
Bajaur. But hatred of America would far surpass any dislike for Islamic
extremists.

 

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