The members of the media who were flown in to Waziristan over the weekend1 courtesy of the Pakistan Army are writing up their reports of what they saw and they are really interesting. Zaffar Abbas, writing about Spinkai2 in South Waziristan, describes an abandoned compound that was, according to Major-General Tariq Khan, “[…]like a factory that had been recruiting 9- to 12-year-old boys, and turning them into suicide bombers”.
Army officers stationed there admit that until the operation started they only had some idea about such activities, and it was only in January that they discovered how organised these militants were in their mission to recruit, indoctrinate and launch suicide bombers. The computers, other equipment and literature seized from the place, some of which were shown to us, give graphic details of the training process in this so-called ‘nursery’. There are videos of young boys carrying out executions, a classroom where 10- to 12-year olds are sitting in formations, with white band of Quranic verses wrapped around their forehead, and there are training videos to show how improvsided explosive devices are made and detonated.
Now this entire area is under the control of army, which by local tribal traditions and laws of the semi-autonomous territory is being treated as an occupation force. But this all may soon change, as the new political governments at the centre and in the NWFP are attempting to negotiate a peace deal, part of which would mean withdrawal of army from the tribal area, and return of the displaced Mehsud tribals to Spinkai and other towns and villages
AP writer Ishtiaq Mahsud explains why the journalists were flown out there in the first place3 (emphasis added):
“Right now, there is nothing that moves inside that area except my troops,” said Maj. Gen. Tariq Khan, the stout commander of the operation. “Villages have been completely wiped out.”
Mehsud, he insists, has entered the new government’s nascent peace process severely weakened.
But plans to pull back Khan’s men to let the families return to their mountain valley are being scrutinized in Western capitals for signs that Pakistan is going soft in the war on terrorism.
To counter such an impression, army officers took the unusual step of escorting a small group of journalists by helicopter and pickup truck to Spinkai on Sunday.
But Khan insists Mehsud has made himself deeply unpopular with his fellow tribesmen because his activities have drawn a painful response from the army in places like Spinkai.
Before moving in, the troops dropped leaflets telling the civilian population to flee.
Army tanks then rumbled up the dry riverbed and helicopter gunships and artillery supported the troops who stormed hilltop bunkers and fortified compounds, Khan said. About 30 militants and six soldiers died, with many more wounded. Hundreds more militants escaped to the west.
He said two ethnic Uzbeks were among the militants killed, but said there was no evidence of “hard-core” al-Qaida fighters, despite the caches of arms and explosives found in several buildings.
Here is another Associated Press of Pakistan article (via the Business Recorder)4 about General Abbas’ statements during the media briefing.
He said that the Army was constructing roads, providing electricity, food and ensuring other facilities of life to the people of South Waziristan to bring them into national mainstream. In order to reduce the influence of Talibanisation, three FM Channels have been set up to provide wholesome and meaningful programmes, he informed.
1(May 19, 2008). “Army relocation to allow return of displaced people”. The News.
2Abbas, Zafar. (May 19, 2008). “Taliban ousted, but Spinkai is now a ghost town”. The Dawn.
3Mahsud, Isthiaq. (May 19, 2008). “Ghost village haunts Pakistani plans to make peace with tribal militants”. International Herald-Tribune.
4(May 19, 2008). “Army not withdrawing from South Waziristan: General Abbas”. Business Recorder.