Punjabi Taliban leader dies but threat still looms large in Pakistan

09:34, August 30, 2010      

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By Syed Moazzam Hashmi &Shahzad Wazir Infighting between two groups of an infamous militant organization "Punjabi Taliban" had left eight dead including leader of the group Usman Punjabi, but the growing threat of rebrand terrorists still looms large in the country plagued by devastating floods and terrorism.

Usman Punjabi was central figure in kidnapping of two former Pakistani intelligence officers and a British journalist, in North Waziristan tribal areas of Pakistan and was nominated in several incidents of terrorism across Pakistan.

The two groups of Punjabi Taliban disputed and killed each other in a bloody clash over the work distribution on Saturday evening in Haji Muhammad Kot area of troubled North Waziristan, about 65 kilometer from Wana. Six militants including group leader Usman Punjabi were killed while two people lost life from the disputing group of militants generally comprising ethnic Punjabi speakers from eastern Punjab province, local sources told Xinhua.

The killed militants were activists of the Punjabi Taliban group also infamous as "Asian Tigers", a splinter group of disbanded extremist Sunni sectarian organizations Lashkar-e- Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba and jihadi rebrand Jaish-e-Muhammad.

Previously unknown, Punjabi Taliban and its leader Usman Punjabi were famed after he had been named in kidnapping of three important people on March 26 this year. One of the abducted men Khalid Khawaja, a former Pakistani intelligence agency, Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI) operative was killed by Punjabi as government failed to meet kidnappers' demand. Khawaja's body was found on April 30 in Karam Kot, 7 kilometers south of Mirali in North Waziristan.

Probably, Khawaja had been killed for his offer of organizing Taliban's talks with government, local analysts believe, as it might have raised suspicions about him. A note was reportedly found on Khawaja's body saying that he was working for Americans and anybody working for them would find the same fate. Khawaja had been persuading Taliban to give up suicide bombing and stop attacking in mainland Pakistani cities.

Taliban frequently execute people on suspicion of espionage in the tribal areas of Pakistan. On Saturday evening two sons and a pedestrian were killed as shop of a local resident Shahbaraz Khan was destroyed in a bomb blast in Angorada, Waziristan tribal area.

The other two including former ISI officer Col. (retired) Amir Sultan Tarar alias Col. Imam and British journalist of Pakistani origin Asad Qureshi were released on May 6. It was not known whether any ransom was paid or what had led to their release. Militants had demanded U.S. 10 million dollars in ransom for the British journalist, but keeping mum about Col. Imam.

The Punjabi Taliban phenomenon is seen as a growing threat in the country. Pakistani government had accused them of conducting various terrorist incidents including the July 1, triple suicide bomb attacks on "Data Darbar", a widely revered 11th century Sufi saint shrine in eastern city of Lahore. Over 50 people were killed and another 200 injured in the widely condemned incident.

The group was also held responsible for attack on visiting Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3, 2009 and bombing of Ahmadi temples in May 28 this year in Lahore that killed over 100 people and a number of other subversions. However, a spokesman of Punjabi Taliban has denied the allegations.

According to Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik, 44 percent of the 20,000 madrassas or religious seminaries in Pakistan are located in Punjab province. The Pakistani government has banned 29 faith-based extremist or jihadi organizations. 729 of the 1,764 people on government's most wanted list also are from southern part of Punjab, the stronghold of extremist militants.

Washington had also expressed serious concerns over the growing threat of Punjabi Taliban in Pakistan, particularly with reference to the U.S. led war against terror in the rugged northwest tribal areas of Pakistan.

Source: Xinhua


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