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Terrorism & Security

Pakistan captures Taliban spokesman

The arrest of Maulvi Omar, a high-profile spokesman for leader Baitullah Mehsud until his recent death in a US drone strike, is another blow to the Taliban.

By Huma Yusuf / August 18, 2009



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Military officials in Pakistan Tuesday confirmed the capture of Maulvi Omar, a senior aide to Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud.

The arrest is the latest blow to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has been in disarray since Mr. Mehsud was killed in a US drone attack earlier this month. Mr. Omar was the main spokesman for the TTP, but had gone into hiding as the Pakistani military launched an offensive against the Taliban.

The Associated Press reports that Omar confirmed Mehsud's death to his Pakistani interrogators. Since the Aug. 5 drone strike, some Taliban members had claimed Mehsud was still alive, though the US said he was almost surely killed. Omar's capture comes at a time when the discovery of mass graves in Swat Valley is raising questions about how the Pakistani security forces are dealing with militants.

English-language Pakistani daily The News reports that Omar was arrested Monday evening in Mohmand Agency, a tribal region in the northwest of Pakistan, as he was on his way to a meeting a Taliban commanders.

According to The Times of London, Omar was arrested through the help of local anti-Taliban militias. The arrest is seen as another success for Pakistan's military, which is currently gearing up to launch a ground operation in the South Waziristan tribal region, reports the BBC.

Correspondents say Maulvi Omar's importance has diminished in recent weeks because of Army advances in his stronghold of Bajaur, in north-western Pakistan….
But the BBC's Aleem Maqbool, in Islamabad, says Maulvi Omar's detention will be seen as another success for the Pakistani military.
He was a senior aide to Baitullah Mehsud, and Pakistan will be hoping the removal of key leadership figures will plunge the Taliban into disarray, our correspondent says.

On Monday, Pakistani police also arrested Qari Saifullah, another Taliban commander who is accused of planning terrorist activities in the capital Islamabad, reports The Daily Times, a Pakistani daily.

The [police] official said Qari Saifullah, who was found injured and is being treated at a hospital, was a member of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. He said Saifullah was a close associate of Baitullah Mehsud and an accomplice of another high-profile terrorist, Fidaullah, who had been arrested by the police two months ago.

The arrests of high-profile Taliban commanders come at a time when the Pakistan security forces' handling of militants is under scrutiny after the discovery of mass graves in the Swat Valley by a fact-finding mission of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) over the weekend. Pakistan launched an offensive in the area in April to drive out the Taliban.

In an opinion piece for The News, a Pakistani daily, prominent Peshawar-based journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai writes:

There is a strong argument that Pakistani courts cannot be expected to punish the militants and could even bail them out. This may be partly true but it still cannot justify extrajudicial killings … because such actions violate the law and replicate the Taliban's actions.
HRCP chairperson Asma Jehangir ... in a press release noted ...
"It is vital for the success of the military operation against terrorists that the security forces' actions are distinguishable from the atrocities by the Taliban…. Human-rights violations by security forces can only be discouraged if the state puts in place a transparent mechanism to monitor violations both during and post-conflict and fulfil its obligations of providing justice through due process."

The military has denied any responsibility for the bodies or mass graves.

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