A deepening blood feud between the clan of a powerful Afghan provincial security chief and the Taliban has resulted in a series of assassinations in southwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border.
Locals and politicians in Pakistan's restive Balochistan province say that scores of recent murders in the region's northern districts are the result of tit-for-tat killings between the supporters of General Abdul Raziq and Afghan Taliban hiding in Balochistan.
A source from Balochistan’s capital Quetta who requested anonymity told Gandhara that since late last year the Taliban have been systematically targeting people who come from Raziq's clan. Raziq, the powerful security chief of Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province, comes from the Adozai clan, which is a branch of the large Achakzai Pashtun tribe, which lives across southwestern Pakistan and southern Afghanistan.
"Since late last year we have seen an increase in 'kill and dump' murders in Balochistan's relatively peaceful Pashtun districts, which have been home to Afghan refugees for more than three decades," he said. "Almost all of those killed were Pashtuns with links to the administration in Kandahar and Kabul."
Locals said most victims of the killings are members of Raziq's Adozai clan.
A politician in Balochistan, who also requested anonymity, said Raziq's clansmen appear to have retaliated by targeting some Taliban leaders hiding in and around Quetta.
Hundreds of thousands of Afghans live in Quetta. The dusty, teeming city is considered the headquarters for the remnants of Afghanistan's Taliban regime, who fled there and to other parts of Balochistan after they were toppled in the U.S.-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Late last year, two senior Taliban ideologues, Mawlawi Abdul Salam and Maulana Abdullah Zakiri, were killed in Quetta. Zakiri’s funeral reportedly attracted as many as 10,000 mourners, who wowed revenge in response to angry speeches delivered by Pakistani and Afghan clerics.
On July 18, Haji Ibrahim, an Adozai tribal leader, was killed in a Pashtun neighborhood of Quetta. His son, grandson, and a cousin were also killed by unknown assailants outside a mosque.
Local politicians say the violence has forced more than 250 Adozai families to relocate to Kandahar.
When asked who he believes is responsible for the murders, General Raziq blamed not the Taliban, but Pakistani officials, who he says want to intimidate him into cooperating with them.
"They are all carried out by Pakistan's ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence Agency] to pressure us so that we cooperate with them in certain ways," he said. "They have made us several offers to entice us into cooperation with them. They have told us that it will end our problems."
Raziq denied any involvement in the assassination of Taliban leaders in Quetta.
"The Taliban are divided into many factions. Some of them work with the ISI while others cooperate with various militant networks, so these are their internal problems," he said.
Pakistani police have yet to solve the murders.
During the past few years Raziq has emerged as a leading strongman in Kandahar. Having fought against the Taliban while they were in power, Raziq was appointed as the head of the Afghan border police in 2001.
His influence quickly grew because his militia controlled a key border crossing into Pakistan between the Afghan city of Spin Boldak and Chaman on the Pakistani side, one of the most important trade passages in the region.
In 2010, Raziq was promoted to the position of Kandahar's security chief. During the following two years he fought alongside NATO-led international forces to disrupt Taliban attempts to return to their former stronghold.
Balochistan is closely linked to Kandahar and surrounding Afghan provinces because its Pashtun and Baloch tribes span the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Since the early 1980s it has been home to millions of Afghan refugees.
Afghan leaders have repeatedly called on Pakistan to help them in reaching a political deal with the Taliban to put an end to their cross-border attacks.
Further complicating the problem, Balochistan itself has been embroiled in a bloody separatist insurgency since 2004. Thousands of civilians and soldiers have died in the insurrection by secular ethnic Baluch rebels. Kidnappings and assassinations have spiked in recent years amid a general atmosphere of lawlessness.