Fierce clashes erupted in Shahkas area of Jamurd, Khyber Agency between the heavily armed activists of Lashkar-e-Islam and a sub-clan of Kukikhel tribe, in the evening on Wednesday.
Both the sides have been preparing for an armed confrontation in the past two months by hiring veterans of Afghan civil war and purchasing and deploying heavy weapons including RPG-7s and long-range machineguns.
Tension had increased between the two groups when Mangal Bagh, the head of Lashkar, asked drug sellers to closed down their businesses as soon as possible otherwise a cleanup operation would be launched against them. They blamed a particular family for providing shelter to criminals, asking it give up the practice.
This forced the target family to hire people for its protection by establishing bunkers along the main Jamrud road. A week earlier, tension further increased when the Lashkar seized a hujra and mosque of its opponents in the area and deployed its armed volunteers there.
On Wednesday, in Takhta Beg area clashes started when armed rivals came face to face and opened firing at each other. The gun battle soon spread to other parts. This forced the shopkeepers in Jamrud Bazaar to close down their shops.
According to The News editorial comment, President George Bush has stated the next 9/11 will come from the FATA areas of Pakistan. Richard Boucher, a key point man for the US State Department on Pakistan has said militants based in the belt along the Pak-Afghan border need to be 'squeezed' from both sides and there have been warnings from various quarters that this region is now among the most dangerous in the world. This is a reality most in Pakistan are well aware of. Reports that have followed various terrorist attacks suggest that suicide bombers and other killers are receiving their training at madressahs in Waziristan and other tribal areas. The fact that the FATA areas of Pakistan are among the least developed in the country, with literacy levels frequently sinking to the 30 per cent mark and standing at just over three per cent for women, is a key factor in the growth in terrorism. The pouring in of arms into the area after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the creation of militant armies under US and Pakistan government policies has had a strong impact in a part of the world where little else, in terms of employment or opportunity, is available to people.
The question now is how the problems that have taken root in Pakistan's tribal areas can be overcome. The new governments, in both the centre and NWFP, have spoken of adopting a new policy for this purpose -- although it is unclear what this policy is to be. The young chief minister of the Frontier, Amir Haider Hoti, has given some indication in his talk of defeating terrorism, but not "at the cost of people's lives'. Human rights monitors have long pointed out that the destruction of homes, the deaths of civilians and the indiscriminate bombing raids carried out in the area have made already entrenched problems harder to solve. This is all the more true when the raids are carried out by US drones. It is obvious that any further US intervention in the region will aggravate rather than resolve problems.
Pakistan must therefore devise its own solutions. The statements from the ANP that now heads the government in NWFP, regarding plans to open talks with tribal elders and acquire their support to help isolate and marginalize the militants, offer potential for a positive start. The fact that the ANP has clearly studied the terrorist issue and considered solutions in some depth is also encouraging. But as all of us know, plotting out strategies on paper is one thing; putting them into effect quite different. The suicide bombing that killed over 30 members of a 'jirga' held earlier this year in Darra Adam Khel to discuss plans to drive militants out of the area, is but one example of the pitfalls that may lie ahead. The 'jirga' was obviously targeted by militants eager to send a clear-cut message to tribal leaders.
Many other such difficulties will need to be overcome if terror is indeed to be driven away from Pakistan's tribal belt. In this regard one must hope the promises of the new government go beyond words and policies can be put in place that in time allow Pakistan to escape the unenviable reputation of being the world's breeding ground for militancy and extremism.