Vol. 4 Num 94 Fri. August 29, 2003  

Not all Taliban are bad, say Pak tribesmen

The tribesmen of Mohmand, a hitherto inaccessible strip of Pakistan's porous frontier with Afghanistan, insist al-Qaeda have never been tolerated here.

But their attitude towards ex-Taliban is more ambiguous, and it underscores the difficulties in trying to rein in apparently resurgent Taliban.

"Not all Taliban are terrorists or Osama bin Laden supporters," said Hidayatullah, a white-bearded elder of the Halimzai tribe who lives 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from the border.

"There is no al-Qaeda agent in Mohmand. We don't like terrorism or extremism, and we will not give asylum to people who are terrorists or extremists."

But "it is a matter between governments," whether Taliban constitute terrorists, he said.

On the other side of leatherback mountains skirting the moonscape of Dag Killi in upper Mohmand lies Afghanistan. Until June, there was no other border marking in Mohmand, one of seven tribal districts on the northwest frontier, and its 68 kilometer (42 mile) frontier had never been patrolled.

It was effectively a massive open door in a key frontline in the war-on-terror hunt for al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives.

Infiltration across the porous 2,400 kilometer (1,488 mile) Afghan-Pakistan border is two-way, according to officials across Afghanistan: al-Qaeda and Taliban fleeing US-led forces into Pakistan, and resurgent Taliban back into Afghanistan to wage deadly attacks that killed around 100 people this month.

It was only in June, 20 months into the war on terror, that Pakistans army ventured for the first time into Mohmands border regions, hitherto considered "inaccessible areas," and set up 32 posts along its border.