Pakistan marks pro-Al Qaeda clan

Pakistani troops began bulldozing Yargul Khel homes Monday to punish those harboring militants.

The Pakistani military is refining its tactics in the ongoing battle to capture Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in this semi-autonomous tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

It's targeting a specific clan, the Yargul Khel, and Monday began bulldozing all their mud houses as a punishment for a group of clansmen providing shelter to the "foreign terrorists," as Pakistani authorities describe them.

The markets of South Waziristan's capital of Wana Monday were a scene of panic, as businessmen of the clan frantically emptied hundreds of shops ahead of a 48-hour deadline to turnover the "terrorists" or face the destruction of all tribal property.

"If few people of the tribe have committed any crime or sin then why there is destruction to the whole tribe? This is no justice. I have never supported Al Qaeda.... My only crime is to be a member of the Yargul Khel," says enraged shopkeeper Mohammad Tahir while packing garments and imported crockery.

Pakistan's approach is similar to 19th-century tactics used by the British when they ruled the subcontinent. The shift is seen as a move to diffuse anger among the other clans in the region, and a recognition that after a week of continued fighting, an estimated 500 militants are putting up unexpectedly fierce and enduring resistance.

"It is a two pronged strategy. The punishment against the Yargul Khel clan will isolate it as a target and will defuse the prevailing anger among all the tribesmen who perceive ongoing military actions against them and their motherland," says Mohammad Tahir Khan, a local tribesman involved in agricultural development.

"It is also an attempt to pressure tribal elders of the Zali Khel tribe [of which Yargul Khel is a clan] to hand over the most wanted men belonging to their tribe and expel foreign terrorists from their areas," he says. "By continuing targeted military actions, the authorities want to tell them that they have no other choice."

The 600,000 inhabitants of South Waziristan practice archaic tribal law separate from the Pakistani state. The rules and regulations currently governing the relationship between the state and the tribes follows those formulated by the British Raj in its bid to control these tribesmen.

Under the system, if any member of the tribe commits a crime and is not handed over to the authorities, then the whole tribe can be punished under the clause of collective responsibility.

"The tribe has failed to fulfill its responsibility for months, so their tribesmen have to suffer according to tribal rules," says Azam Khan, a top government official in South Waziristan.

"The tribe members are providing shelter to foreign terrorists, its members are fighting for Al Qaeda," Mr. Khan says. "Their elders promised and promised but never delivered. That is why the operation was launched. It is high time for them to cooperate, otherwise there will be further destruction in the region."

There are two main tribes, Ahmed Zai Wazir and Mehsud, living in South Waziristan - and they are rivals. Most of the tribesmen belonging to the Ahmed Zai Wazir tribe are illiterate and staunch Islamists. Thousands participated in the battles against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The ongoing Pakistani military operation was launched in the areas where the Ahmed Zai Wazir tribe lives. Yargul Khel is a sub-clan of the Zali Khel tribe which is part of the Ahmed Zai Wazir tribe.

The shift in Pakistan's military tactics comes as its 5,000 troops continued its biggest-ever operation in the region. On Monday, a Pakistani Army convoy was ambushed in a rocket attack as it tried to bring in reinforcements to Wana. And security forces killed three "foreign terrorists" said to be Uzbeks. They were found hiding in the bunker of a mud house in the nearby town of Kallu Shah.

Two Chechens were reported killed on Sunday. In the early hours Monday, a group of "terrorists" attacked a military base in Wana with rockets and heavy fire. Pakistani forces retaliated with heavy artillery for several hours and sent in gunship helicopters against the guerrilla hideouts.

A delegation of 22 Zali Khel elders spent Monday visiting the affected towns and villages trying to negotiate for the surrender of four wanted Yargul Khel tribesmen fighting along with Al Qaeda against Pakistani security forces.

The mission was the result of a meeting Sunday between 150 tribal elders and government officials in an effort to bring a halt to military actions in South Waziristan.

Local tribal sources say the "foreign terrorists" have the backing of 1,500 to 2,200 trained and armed tribesmen, known here as the Men of Al Qaeda.

"The terrorists are trying to cash in on human miseries to collect sympathies. They often make civilians human shields. Now if the villages are vacated, then they will try to attack security forces to make them hostile. The security forces would want to isolate them and avoid civilian casualties. It will be a battle of nerves now," says a tribal elder, Malik Behram Khan.

Thousands have fled the troubled towns and villages with white flags hoisted on their carts, trucks, and cars to take refuge in safer places, while hundreds of families are still trapped.

Perhaps explaining how militant leaders may have escaped an army cordon thrown around the area, Pakistani troops have discovered tunnels - including one that was a mile long - under the fortress-like compounds in the town of Tellu Shah.

Local sources and a government official in South Waziristan say communications equipment and tunnels were found in the house of Sarwar Khan, a tribal elder of the Yargul Khel clan.

Ret. Brig. Gen. Mahmood Shah, who is secretary of security in the tribal areas, told reporters in Peshawar that the Pakistani forces had discovered "a 2-kilometer long tunnel running between the houses of two wanted tribesmen and leading to a stream."

Authorities were also doing DNA tests on six bodies recovered from the battle to determine their identities.

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