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Pakistan: New Attacks Raise Fears Of A Taliban Return

FILE: Security officials inspect the vehicle of a tribal who was killed when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in Bajaur district in November 2015.

Recent bomb attacks in a northwestern Pakistani district have raised fears about the possible return of the Taliban.

Residents of Bajaur are worried that two recent fatal bomb attacks might herald the reappearance of the Taliban, whose violence wreaked havoc in the region bordering Afghanistan more than a decade ago.

Since the beginning of the month, two prominent locals have been killed in attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which was a signature tactic of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that controlled large swathes of Bajaur between 2006 and 2009.

Fazal Aleem Jan and Malik Gul Dad Khan were killed in IED attacks in different parts of Bajaur on September 3 and September 1, respectively. Both were members of the peace committees or anti-Taliban volunteer groups that played a prominent role in pushing the Taliban out of Bajaur.

Nisar Baaz, a local activist, says a string of attacks in recent months has worried residents.

“People are deeply concerned,” he told Radio Mashaal. “They are looking toward the security forces who have established pickets and check posts everywhere but appear unable to stop these attacks.”

Bilal Yasir, a local journalist, however, says the situation has improved markedly compared with a decade ago when the insurgency was at its peak.

“The IED attacks have caused fear among people, prompting tribal leaders to talk to the security forces,” he told Radio Mashaal. “The situation will hopefully improve soon.”

On September 5, Ghulam Muhammad Malik, a senior army commander in the region, told leaders of Bajaur’s Uthmankhel and Tarkhani Pashtun tribes that the security forces are determined to keep terrorists out of the district.

“A handful of anti-state elements are out to disturb the peace once again, but we would not let them enter the district,” he was quoted as saying by Pakistan’s English-language daily The News.

In January 2006, a reported U.S. air strike against Ayman Al-Zawahiri, then Al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, in a remote Bajaur village brought the region to the fore as a militant hideout. By 2007, the Taliban had established control in parts of Bajaur.

A large military operation that began in August 2008 ultimately ousted the Taliban by the spring of 2009. Operation Sherdil, however, displaced more than 300,000 Pashtun civilians in Bajaur. Civilians also formed a large part of the estimated 4,000 casualties in the region.