BAJAUR, Oct 27: Thousands of armed volunteers of the Tehrik Nifaz-i-Shariat Muhammadi (TNSM) reached here on Saturday on their way to Afghanistan to fight for Taliban.
The volunteers numbering around 10,000 were led by TNSM chief Maulana Sufi Mohammad. They were armed with Klashnikovs, rocket launchers, missiles, anti-aircraft guns, hand grenades and swords.
The volunteers’ convoy comprising 300 vehicles had left the TNSM headquarters Maidan, lower Dir district, at 8 in the morning and reached Bajaur Agency in the afternoon. They were warmly received by thousands of tribesmen.
When the Jihadi volunteers reached the agency headquarters, Khar, the local traders closed their businesses and extended warm welcome to them. Hundreds of workers and leaders of different parties held a protest meeting to condemn the US-led airstrikes on Afghanistan. They raised slogans in favour of Osama bin Laden and Mulla Mohammad Omar.
According to latest reports, around 4,000 armed tribesmen have also joined the TNSM’s volunteers and they have reached the Ghaani Pass on the Pakistan-Afghan border. They were expected to cross into Afghanistan at 6pm.
The political administration of Bajaur Agency allowed the TNSM workers to pass through the agency jurisdiction on their way to Afghanistan.
According to TNSM chief Sufi Mohammad, volunteers would go to Taliban’s headquarters, Kandahar.
DEPARTURE FROM DIR: Earlier thousands of activists of the TNSM left Dir for Bajaur on Saturday morning.
Riding in over 300 pick-up trucks, buses and cars, over ten thousand TNSM activists led by Maulana Sufi Muhammad left Timergarha enroute to Bajaur Agency to cross over into Afghanistan.
The government had taken elaborate measures to deal with any law and order situation but did not create any hurdles in their journey to Bajaur, eye witnesses said.
A TNSM spokesman put the figure of activists going to Afghanistan at 30,000.
The TNSM has long been campaigning for the enforcement of Shariat in Malakand division. It mounted a bloody rebellion against the state authority in 1994 by seizing the civilian airport in Saidu Sharif, Swat and taking over district courts and police station. Several people lost their lives when the government launched a military operation to quell the rebellion.
A party spokesman contacted at the border area by telephone said the tribesmen numbered around 10,000, adds AFP.
“We will resist if the authorities try to stop us. The jihad (holy war) will start here,” said spokesman Qazi Ihsanullah.
Police in the vicinity said the tribesmen were carrying Kalashnikovs, small machine guns, rocket launchers and locally manufactured shotguns.
Senior interior ministry officials, who refused to comment further on Saturday, said last week that extra paramilitary troops had been sent to tribal districts bordering Afghanistan. Local authorities said they were unsure how to deal with the weapon-toting crowd but they expected the tribesmen to enter Afghanistan on Sunday.
“The tribesmen will stay overnight in the camp and intend to cross the border on Sunday. The authorities have not intervened or tried to stop them,” a border official told AFP by telephone.
The official said the convoy was eight kilometers from the border near the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar.
Pro-Taliban sentiment runs deep in the tribal region bordering Afghanistan and anti-American demonstrations have been staged almost daily since the US military operation began in Afghanistan on October 7.
The Taliban leadership had asked the tribesmen to wait for a signal from the militia’s supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, before making their move.
“Initially Mullah Omar advised us to wait and come to Afghanistan only when necessary but we have told them that we will stay in Afghanistan as a reserve force,” TNSM official Ihsanullah said on Saturday.
“We have also told the Taliban that we will depend for our living on our own resources as we are carrying food and other essential goods from here.”
Omar has appealed to tribes in Pakistani border provinces to provide thousands of men to fight the US-led coalition bombing Afghanistan in its war on terrorism.
His appeal was delivered through Abdul Bari Maroofi, a chief of the Rodi Alizei tribe, and relayed throughout the fiercely independent clans in Balochistan province.
There are about 50 main tribes of the ethnic Baloch and Pashtun groups which can cross Pakistan’s porous borders with Afghanistan and could swell Taliban ranks by between 10,000 and 20,000 men.
This would bolster Taliban troop strength to about 65,000 men who can easily move around the rugged mountain ranges that dominate Afghanistan’s interior.