MIRAMSHAH, March 2: Tension gripped the North Waziristan agency on Thursday as Taliban took over government buildings, occupied the area’s telephone exchange and patrolled the streets of the tribal agency’s regional headquarters.
Eyewitnesses and government officials said that after Wednesday’s heavy gunbattle between security forces and Taliban remnants, a large number of families started moving to other places in the troubled agency.
Sources said that the Taliban elements had taken over the telephone exchange in Miramshah.
The exchange had already been shut down by the military to disrupt communication between militants.
The Taliban also took over the irrigation department building, snatched government vehicles and occupied rooftops of buildings near the main market.
Political authorities pulled out paramilitary troops from the main bazaar as the Taliban took positions at key points in the town. Paramilitary forces restricted their movement to bases and government buildings.
Mirali and other parts of the tribal region, were also tense, although calm, the sources said.
Scared shopkeepers in Miramshah pulled shutters as hundreds of militants entered the town on trucks fitted with on machine-guns at noon, shouting “God is Great” and “Death to America and its friends”. Offices remained closed and traffic was very thin in the area.
“There is chaos. The administration has left the area at the mercy of the Taliban,” said a security official.
Governor NWFP Khalilur Rehman told Dawn in the evening in Peshawar his administration in Miramshah had been able to bring the situation under control by getting a local jirga involved.
“The jirga went to those people and asked them to come down. They have since abandoned their positions and have walked away. This was the right approach. For the first time a political process was used to defuse the situation and it worked,” the governor said.
But a government official said that a few of the Taliban continued to guard the telephone exchange while others were waiting it out at the Gulshan-i-Uloom Madressah just across the road.
Asked who was in control of Miramshah, the official said: “No-one really. The Taliban have (apparently) left, yet they are still there, and the government is there but is not in total control.”
On Wednesday night, suspected militants fired rockets on troops who responded with artillery fire.
It may be mentioned that security forces hit a suspected compound in Dandy Sidgai area near Afghan border on Wednesday, killing more than 40 people and wounding 30 others, which triggered clashes in Miramshah.
Independent sources contradicted government’s claims that most of the dead were foreigners and said that residential compounds had been targeted from helicopter gunships.
A doctor said that more than 15 wounded, a number of women among them, were treated for multiple injuries in the agency headquarters hospital in Miramshah and all of them were locals.
“We did not treat a single foreigner,” said the doctor.
Official sources said that residents of Dandy Sidgai had found a gun and a door of a military helicopter which might have been hit by militants’ fire.