Baitullah Mehsud sent a message to the entire frontier region today: Pakistan no longer has sovereignty in those territories. His Taliban forces had kidnapped 22 pro-government tribal leaders from a “peace committee” who had assisted Islamabad in combating radical Islamists in the region. They turned up dead today with gunshot wounds and slit throats, a message to others who take the side of Pakistan against the Taliban with whom Islamabad is negotiating:
Pakistani Taliban militants killed 22 pro-government tribal elders who were kidnapped during battles for control of a strategic town near the Afghan border, officials said Wednesday.
Their bodies were found near the garrison town of Jandola, adjoining the South Waziristan tribal district, where rebels loyal to top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud have been fighting tribesmen loyal to the government.
The violence underscores Western concerns about the Pakistani government’s negotiations with Mehsud, who was blamed by the previous government and US officials for the December assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto.
“According to our information 22 bodies of peace committee members have been found in Kiriwam village,” district administration official Barkatullah Marwat told AFP, adding that the men were abducted a day earlier.
Will the Pakistani government allow Mehsud to kill its allies with impunity? So far, that seems to be the message, but that could change. The new government has yet to react to this provocation, but the army has taken positions in Jandola where Mehsud’s forces had attacked pro-government tribesmen over the last few days. Residents say that the standoff is very tense and could collapse into open fighting soon.
Sooner or later, the Taliban and radical Islamists go too far. The same thing happened in Iraq when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi turned Sunnis against the radicals with brutal and outright lunatic violence. Iraqis predisposed to support Muslims over the American occupiers got so sick of the terrorists that they sided with the infidels for their own protection.
The local tribes in the Waziristans and NWFP may soon come to a similar conclusion, and Islamabad may learn quickly that Mehsud is not a partner for peace. Pervez Musharraf could be excused an I-told-you-so smile when that happens. Mehsud will not moderate for the sake of a nebulous autonomy, and the new government in Pakistan may just be realizing that he means to replace them, not live in peaceful coexistence. Eventually, they would suffer the same fate as their tribal leaders, and even if that doesn’t move them, the blood debt Mehsud just racked up will mean war on the western frontier areas anyway.