Taliban shifts to southwest Pakistan

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QUETTA, Pakistan

Talibanization, long a serious problem in Pakistan’s northwest, is accelerating in and around the southwestern city of Quetta, undermining secular parties and posing new threats to both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Outside the popular Baig snack bar, a sign now reads: “Woman are not allowed, only for gents.” The Taliban forbid mingling of unrelated men and women.

Attacks on minority Shi’ite Muslims are also on the rise. In January, Hussain Ali Yousafi, leader of the Hazar Democratic Party, was killed, apparently by Sunni fundamentalists.

While the Pakistani government has blamed Baluch ethnic nationalists for the kidnapping last month of American John Solecki, a local representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, nationalists have denied this and said the Taliban was involved.

Sanaullah Baluch, a spokesman for the Baluchistan National Party (BNP) and a former senator, accused Pakistani intelligence agencies of supporting Talibanization to undermine ethnic nationalists.

“Taliban and their supporters are consolidating their grip around Quetta while the government has become a facilitator of this process of Talibanization,” he told The Washington Times.

He said Taliban supporters have acquired land worth $2.5 million in the eastern and western parts of Quetta with the covert support of the “establishment,” a euphemism for Pakistani intelligence agencies.

The Taliban has set up scores of Islamic schools, or madrassas, in what have become safe havens for the Taliban and no-go areas for Baluchis, he said.

The government denies supporting the Taliban. A government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic said, “There has been some problem with radical elements cropping up around Quetta, but the government has kept its eye on it and would never allow them to become a threat.”

Secular Baluch nationalist movements have been active in the province since the 1960s and seek greater economic and political rights for their ethnic group. Successive Pakistani governments, dominated by the country’s largest ethnic group, the Punjabis, have long viewed these movements as unpatriotic and periodically launched operations to suppress them.

The government is aided by the fact that Baluchistan’s population is almost equally divided between Baluchis and Pashtuns. Taliban members are largely Pashtuns.

Sanaullah Baluch and other Baluch leaders base their contention that the Pakistani security forces are promoting the Taliban in Quetta in part on the fact that the government has not carried out any military operations against the group.

“Billions of rupees were being spent on eliminating the Taliban and their supporters” in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North West Frontier Province, he told a Pakistani newspaper, while the government ignores the “alarmingly dangerous moves” of the Taliban in Baluchistan.

Security specialists in Pakistan have long said that the Pakistani security apparatus, which helped create the Taliban in the 1980s, continues to regard the movement as a strategic asset to pursue Pakistani interests in Afghanistan and in Pashtun and Baluch areas of Pakistan.

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