Pakistani Unrest Is Taliban Boon ; Ethnic Ties, Separatist Tradition Help the Militia Blend into Pakistan's Baluchistan Region

By Scott Baldauf and Owais Tohid | The Christian Science Monitor, December 24, 2003 | Go to article overview

Pakistani Unrest Is Taliban Boon ; Ethnic Ties, Separatist Tradition Help the Militia Blend into Pakistan's Baluchistan Region


Scott Baldauf and Owais Tohid, The Christian Science Monitor


Driving through a market full of turbaned Pashtuns just an hour outside of Quetta, taxi driver Abdul Salam says he doesn't believe the Pakistani government when they say they cannot find any Taliban.

"They are everywhere," says Mr. Salam. His beefy hands steer the beat-up Toyota past a collection of young men, wearing the distinctive black turbans of Islamic seminary students. "Not everyone here is a fighter, but everyone here supports the Taliban."

It's easy to see why Baluchistan would become a haven for the Taliban. Along the 500 mile border with Afghanistan, Pashtun tribesmen are dominant and provide easy cover for their Pashtun relatives who make up the majority of the Taliban fighters.

But along with the anonymity of tribal garb, a long tradition of antigovernment sentiment here is aiding the Islamic militia. Since Pakistan's inception, a significant - and at times violent - independence movement has festered in Baluchistan. While these nationalists have been sidelined of late, they have been replaced by a religious coalition that supports the Taliban agenda and denounces the US presence in Central Asia.

Now Baluchistan, which also borders Iran, is being viewed by many as the home of a political and social movement that forms an underground railroad responsible for ferrying supplies, money, and men to fight against the Afghan government and its international supporters.

"We are not in the business that these people [the Taliban] should think that this is a safe haven for them," says Shoaib Suddle, Baluchistan's inspector general of police, a job overseen by the central government. "But at the same time, it is difficult for us to identify who is who. It is so easy for them to mix with the local population.... They disappear."

Sitting at his office in downtown Quetta, Maulana Noor Mohammad is hardly invisible. He's a member of Pakistan's National Assembly and part of the ruling coalition of religious parties that controls Baluchistan.

"The Taliban [retreated] because they wanted to avoid the bloodshed, and we decided to fight by guerrilla war," says the Maulana Mohammad. A visitor asks the maulana whether he meant to say "we" or "they" when describing the Taliban. He says "we."

"Now in the whole of Afghanistan, there is not a single place where there is peace," the Islamist lawmaker says proudly. "It took some years to defeat the Russians, but it won't take much time to defeat America."

A few moments later, a local reporter's mobile phone rings. The caller is a commander in the Taliban, and he asks the reporter to hand the phone to Maulana Noor Mohammad for a quick chat. …

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