QUETTA, Pakistan -- The chief minister of the southwestern Pakistani province of Balochistan says a covert war between Afghan intelligence agents and Taliban militants is creating new security threats in the region.
"There is basically a vendetta going on here, and it is creating new security challenges," Abdul Malik Baloch, the most senior elected official in Balochistan, said this week.
RFE/RL's Gandhara website first reported in August that a deepening blood feud between the clan of a powerful Afghan provincial security chief and the Taliban had resulted in a series of assassinations in Balochistan.
Residents and politicians of Balochistan's northern districts told RFE/RL's Gandhara that scores of retaliatory killings between the Adozai supporters of Kandahar's feared police chief General Abdul Raziq and Afghan Taliban hiding in Balochistan are spreading terror in their communities.
These regions, populated by ethnic Pashtuns whose tribes extend into neighboring southern Afghanistan, have been relatively immune from the Taliban plaguing the neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and tribal areas also inhabited by the Pashtuns.
The southern districts of the Balochistan ― a vast, sparsely populated and resource-rich region ― are already reeling from violence and as a result of Islamabad's clampdown on a decade-old Baloch separatist insurgency by secular nationalists. The government and the rebels accuse each other of grave abuses.
Baloch is the first senior official to acknowledge the presence of Afghan Taliban and their deadly covert war with Kabul in Balochistan. Islamabad has always denied the presence of Afghan Taliban in Balochistan.
Observers say the presence of Afghan Taliban in Balochistan is one of Pakistan's worst-kept secrets. "The whole world knows that the first Taliban convoy aiming at capturing Afghanistan drove out of [Balochistan's provincial capital] Quetta [in the mid-1990s]," says Anwar Sajidi, a senior journalist in Balochistan.
He says locals in the region are worried because of the frequent discovery of unidentified, mutilated corpses in the Pashtun regions. Until late last year, such incidents happened only in the insurgency-plagued Baloch regions.
In recent contacts with local media, several Afghan Taliban sources confirmed their leaders and senior commanders have been targeted by Afghan spies in Balochistan. Kabul has not acknowledged the covert efforts to target the Taliban inside Pakistan.
Sajidi, however, argues that the spate of recent murders can be explained by Taliban infighting.
"The Taliban are now divided into several factions," he says. "When extremist groups fragment into factions, they often engage in rivalries and reprisal killings."
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Khudai Noor Nasar from Quetta, Balochistan.