LANDI KOTAL, June 29: Security forces on Sunday pushed on with their offensive against militants and destroyed several hideouts and an FM radio station in the Bara tehsil of the Khyber tribal region.
However, there are indications that the militants had moved out of the area before the offensive was launched.
Paramilitary forces are reported to have destroyed four hideouts of Lashkar-i-Islam and Ansarul Islam on Sunday without encountering any resistance.
Prime Minister’s Adviser on Interior Rahman Malik, who attended briefings on the law and order situation at the Governor’s House and the Frontier Corps headquarters at the Bala Hisar Fort, told journalists that the area was under the control of the government and its writ had been established.
Rejecting reports that the area had been handed over to the army, he said the operation was being carried out by civilian law-enforcement agencies. He claimed that several torture cells had been found in Bara. The entire Bara sub-division was calm but tense with all markets and educational institutions remaining closed. The area has been under curfew since Saturday.
When this correspondent visited Bara and adjoining areas, local people said that Mangal Bagh, who is spearheading the campaign against the government, had already moved to the remote Tirah Valley.
Flags of Lashkar-i-Islam were seen flying above houses and school buildings in Bara. Some local people said that the operation was just an eyewash and Mangal Bagh was being supported by the administration.
According to them, Mangal Bagh had used radio broadcasts to order his supporters not to attack security forces or hinder their movement. “He asked his supporters to let them (troops) go wherever they wanted,” a man told this correspondent.
Khan Mohammad, who was guarding one of the destroyed Lashkar-i-Islam’s centre in Bara, said: “The Amir knew about the operation and had asked his supporters to move out of the area and take shelter in the Tirah Valley before it started.”
He said: “People will do as they are told and that is why there is no resistance.”
Officials said that the operation had been extended to Arjali Nadi, west of the Bara bazaar on Sunday morning where security forces blew up a centre vacated by the Ansarul Islam. The Arjali Nadi centre was occupied by the Mehsood Scouts in late 2006 after fierce clashes between Ansarul Islam and Lashkar-i-Islam.
Security forces demolished the house of Haji Mesri Khan, a member of the Lashkar Shura, in the Shalobar area.
Tayyeb Afridi, Lashkar Islam’s ‘chief commander’, was told to vacate his house in the same area.
Security force fired in the air to disperse local youths who had gathered to see the demolition of houses. Ironically, no Lashkar activist has been arrested during the operation.
Lashkar sources in Bara claimed that most of their activists were engaged in fighting the Ansar group in Tirah valley. The week-long fighting has so far claimed the lives of 40 people from both sides.
Mangal Bagh continued his propaganda broadcasts from the Tirah Valley. He told his supporters not to put up any resistance to the security forces and urged them to remain calm. He said the “army operation will not help the government achieve its objectives” or stop him from purging the Bara of “all anti-social elements and providing justice to the poor”.
Haji Namdar, head of another militant organisation, Amr Bil Maroof wa Nahi Anil Munkir, also criticised the operation and called for resolving the issue through talks.
Speaking on his own FM station, he said the operation had added to people problems and urged the local administration to immediately stop it. Meanwhile, Additional Chief Secretary Fata Habibullah Khan told a press briefing in Peshawar that security forces had been authorised to eliminate all pockets of resistance in Bara. He said that the operation was in full swing and the government would not allow any group to establish a parallel administration.
“The Lashkar was not involved in terrorism but was working to oust criminal elements,” his 50-year-old brother Sacha Gul said.
Staff Correspondent Zulfiqar Ali contributed to this report from Peshawar.