By Zia Ur Rehman
March 1-7, 2013
Maulvi Faqir, an important Taliban commander from Bajaur Agency, has been arrested by Afghan intelligence in its eastern Nangarhar province.
“On February 18, Faqir was arrested along with four other militants while he was trying to enter Tirah valley of Khyber Agency from Momand Darra district of Nangarhar,” said a journalist based in Jalalabad. He said the arrest was made jointly by Afghan Police and the National Directorate of Security (NDS), Afghanistan’s premier intelligence agency. He is said to be under interrogation at an NDS detention center in Kabul.
Faqir is a key Taliban commander who leads his group in Bajaur Agency and Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan. He was the deputy chief of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) but left the organization in November 2011 after telling Pakistani media that the TTP were holding peace talks with the government. In November 2011, a foreign news agency reported that a ceasefire had been brokered between the military and the Pakistani Taliban, but an army spokesman refuted the report strongly and categorically, calling it “concocted, baseless and unfounded”. But Faqir admitted in December 2011 that “negotiations are in progress” and had been “going very well so far”. “If the talks succeed in Bajaur Agency, then the TTP will sign a comprehensive truce with the government,” he had told reporters.
After the statement, the TTP leadership replaced Maulvi Faqir with Maulvi Jamaluddin, also known as Mullah Dadullah. Jamaluddin was killed in a NATO airstrike in Afghanistan’s Kunar province on August 24, 2012, after which Maulvi Abu Bakar was named the new commander of the TTP Bajaur chapter.
Faqir was a close confidante of Baitullah Mehsud, the former TTP chief who was killed in a US drone strike in August 2009. Faqir announced himself the new chief of TTP after the killing of Baitullah, but withdrew after the Taliban council appointed Hakimullah Mehsud the new chief. Some media reports suggest that Faqir reconciled with the TTP in late 2012, but he was not reinstated to his former position.
Before joining the ranks of Taliban, Faqir was an active member of Tehrik-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM), founded by Maulana Sufi Muhammad. The teaching and preaching of Sufi Muhammad has contributed to the radicalization of a vast area of Bajaur. After the US arrival in Afghanistan that followed 9/11, Sufi Muhammad gathered about 10,000 armed fighters to wage a jihad against US forces in Afghanistan.
Security experts and officials in Pakistan and Afghanistan believe Faqir’s arrest would be a great blow to the insurgency in the region. “Faqir-led militants have operated from their hideouts in Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan since they were forced out of Bajaur by Pakistani military offensives,” said a retired military official who monitors militancy in FATA region.
Confirming the arrest, Pakistani officials said they would ask the Interpol to hand him over to them. “We hope Maulvi Faqir will be handed over to Pakistan as soon as possible because he has the blood of many innocent Pakistanis on his hands,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a briefing.
But Afghanistan declined to hand him over to Pakistan, saying there was no extradition treaty between Islamabad and Kabul.
“During the recent tripartite meeting in London, the Afghan government requested the Pakistani side to return Afghan Taliban prisoners held by it so that they could participate in and support Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation efforts,” Janan Musazai, the Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman, told Pajhwok News.
“The Afghan government still believes the return of Afghan Taliban prisoners to Kabul is in the best interest of a meaningful peace process, and the Afghan government is prepared to discuss this with Pakistan,” he said.
Both countries accuse each other of harbouring wanted militants. Stopping the free movement of fighters across the porous border is high on the agenda of any talks between the neighbours. The Afghan government alleges that Pakistani militants operating in FATA carry out subversive attacks in Afghanistan, and that the Pakistani government is protecting the Haqqani Network in North Waziristan. Pakistan alleges that Maulana Fazlullah, Hakimullah Mehsud and other TTP men use the Afghan soil to carry out attacks in Pakistan.
Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai, a security analyst based in Peshawar, said the Kabul government had declined to hand Faqir over because there was no prisoner exchange agreement between the two countries. Islamabad had also declined to hand over Mullah Baradar to Afghanistan despite several official requests.
Security analysts in Afghanistan say the killing of Maulvi Nazir in a drone strike and the arrest of Maulvi Faqir will benefit Afghanistan and the NATO forces, because their men had peace deals with Pakistan and were targeting Afghan and NATO soldiers.
Local tribal elders say the capture would significantly hurt militancy in Bajaur area. “Although Faqir did not have a position in the TTP after he began talking to the Pakistani government, and his men were not carrying out attacks inside Pakistan, his detention will affect militancy in the area,” said a Salarzai-tribal elder in Bajaur.
The writer is a journalist and security analyst. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter: zalmayzia.