Monday, May 11, 2009

Taliban - Still Around, Still Trouble!

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Civilians say they're casualties of Pakistan's fight against the Taliban
By Saeed Shah McClatchy Newspapers
May 14, 2009
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/227/story/68213.html
MARDAN, Pakistan — The Pakistani army denies knowing that its war against Islamic militants has caused civilian casualties, but patients and family members at a local hospital told McClatchy Thursday that multiple relatives were killed when the military shelled or bombed their homes.
So far, there appear to be just a handful of civilian casualties from the fighting in Swat, a valley 100 miles from Islamabad. More of them, however, along with damage to homes and businesses and the plight of the hundreds of thousands who've been displaced by the fighting, could undermine hard-won public support for fighting the Taliban.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani recognized the danger, telling parliament Thursday: "Militarily we will win the war, but it will be unfortunate if we lose it publicly."
On a visit Thursday to the District Headquarters (DHQ) hospital in Mardan, the first major town reached by those fleeing the war zone, a McClatchy reporter found doctors and nurses struggling to cope with civilian casualties
Fareedon, a 36-year-old who goes by one name, was lying in a bed at the simply equipped and poorly maintained DHQ hospital. He said that he lost three of his children, a 12-year-old boy and girls aged 8 and 5, when a mortar hit their house in Landkhai village in the southwest corner of Swat. He said that 10 to 12 houses and a school in the village were shelled on May 11. He was injured in the foot and the thigh.
"It (mortars) is falling on our houses," said Fareedon. "Ordinary people die. Not one Taliban has been killed."
At Aboha village, also in southwest Swat, a shell killed six people, said Sajjad Khan, 18, who'd brought his injured 13-year-old brother, Sohail, to the hospital. They said they lost a sister and a cousin, and another wounded cousin lay on a nearby hospital bed.
"What is this child guilty of?" said Sajjad, pointing to his brother. "What is the guilt of those that died?"
He said they tried calling an ambulance but none would come because of a curfew.
In another bed was 8-year-old Aktar Mina, with a broken leg. In a two-hour attack, missiles or bombs from fighter planes hit several homes on Sunday in her village in Gut Peochar, a remote part of Swat that reputedly is a Taliban stronghold, according to relatives crowded around her bed.
Her mother carried her for four days until they could find transportation, said the girl's cousin, 30-year-old Saeed Afzal. Eight people were killed, including the girl's aunt and seven of the neighbors' children who were taking shelter in the house, he said.
"When the fighting began, the Taliban all vanished. It is ordinary people being bombed," said Afzal.
There was no way to verify the stories independently, and according to doctors at the hospital, there are only a few patients with injuries from the fighting in Swat, with four admitted on Wednesday, for instance.
"We were expecting much more than this. There's no rush of the injured. It is a mystery," said Dr. Wajid Ahmed, of the casualty department.
It's possible that the badly injured haven't been able to make it out of the war zone, said doctors, who're also coping with an outbreak of disease among the "internally displaced people" who're living in giant camps on the city outskirts.
The hospital's main concern now is a flood of people with diseases caused by poor hygiene and overcrowded conditions. Out of the 582 patients seen at the hospital Wednesday, 283 were refugees from the fighting in Swat and the surrounding districts, and most fell ill in the camps.
There were three or four babies and young children on most of the mattresses in the children's ward, where 28 exhausted little patients occupied the 10 beds. All the children were suffering from dangerous acute diarrhea.
"Let's hope this (war) ends soon. Otherwise, as the weather gets hotter, it will be a disaster," said Ahmed.
The Pakistani army has either declined to answer questions about civilian casualties or said it has no record of any. However, the army has produced precise claims for the number of Taliban it's killed. Earlier this week, the army said 751 militants had been killed, and Thursday officials added 54 more.
Past Pakistani military operations against Islamic militants in Swat and in the tribal belt along the Afghan border have caused significant civilian casualties and collateral damage to houses, businesses and other buildings.
Human Rights Watch warned earlier this week that the army must avoid civilian casualties, and the army repeated its pledge to take care of civilians.
"The security forces are making all efforts to minimize collateral damage, and therefore we have changed some of our plans to ensure that we do not cause collateral damage," said Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the army's chief spokesman, at a news briefing Thursday. "We have taken all measures to avoid fighting in populated areas so far."
Thousands of residents remain trapped in Mingora, Swat's biggest town, which has no electricity, no running water and dwindling food supplies. Many Taliban militants are believed to be holed up there, and Abbas said that the army wants as many people as possible to be leave Mingora before the anticipated "street-to-street" fighting begins in the town.
On May 8, the Pakistani army launched its "full-scale" operations to wrest back control of Swat valley from Taliban extremists. Some 15,000 troops are involved.
Since the fighting began, the army said that some 750,000 people have fled Swat and the surrounding districts, increasing Pakistan's population of "internally displaced people" to 1.3 million. Hundreds of thousands already had been made homeless by anti-Taliban operations elsewhere in the northwest part of the country.
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CIA and ISI together created Taliban: Zardari
11 May 2009
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/CIA-ISI-together-created-Taliban-Zardari/articleshow/4508279.cms
WASHINGTON: In a new revelation, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari has said that the CIA of the United States and his country's ISI together created the Taliban.
"I think it was part of your past and our past, and the ISI and CIA created them together," Zardari told the NBC news channel in an interview. In the interview, which was given to the NBC on May 7, Zardari also accused the US of supporting the military rule of Pervez Musharraf who was alleged to be taking sides of the Taliban. He disagreed with the popular belief in the US that the Pakistan military and intelligent services still have sympathies for the Taliban. "I think General Musharraf may have had a mindset to run head and hand with the hound but certainly not on our watch. We don't have a tough process at all," Zardari said.
Asked about the influential role of the Pakistan army, Zardari said he is in control of everything in the country, including the military. "The Parliament has final say. It's the Parliament form of government, and I am a product of the Parliament," he said. Earlier, Zardari in an another interview had said that India was not a "threat" to his country and that Pakistan had moved some of its forces from its Indian border to western frontier to eliminate Taliban in its tribal belt.
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Pakistan says 700 Taliban dead; refugee camps grow
Riaz Khan, Associated Press Writer – 11 May 2009
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090511/ap_on_re_as/as_pakistan
MARDAN, Pakistan – Pakistani warplanes bombed suspected militant positions in a stronghold close to the capital Monday, pressing ahead with a fierce offensive that has driven hundreds of thousands from their homes, many into crowded refugee camps.
The government claimed 700 insurgents had died and the Taliban were on the run.
In one camp in the town of Mardan, just south of the battle zone in a barren field, hundreds of displaced people lined up for hours to register with the U.N. to get tents, food and medical treatment.
"In this camp, I am not seeing anything that will give us much relief," said a new arrival, Iftikiar Khan, fearing the facilities there were insufficient. Like most of those fleeing, Khan said he ultimately hoped to stay with relatives.
The United Nations said 360,600 refugees had fled Swat and neighboring Dir and Buner districts since operations began last week. That number is on top of some 500,000 people displaced by past offensives — a major humanitarian challenge for the weak government that could test public support for the offensive. Most of the refugees are staying with friends and relatives or in rented accommodation.
Islamabad's tough military response has drawn praise from the U.S., which wants al-Qaida and Taliban militants rooted out from havens where they can plan attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan as well as destabilize nuclear-armed Pakistan.
The military launched the offensive after the insurgents in Swat used a peace deal to impose their reign in other neighboring areas, including a stretch just 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik said 700 militants had been killed around Swat in the last four days.
Addressing parliament, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said the army had cleared mines planted by insurgents in the region's main town, Mingora.
"The operation will continue until the last Talib," Malik said in the capital, Islamabad. "We haven't given them a chance. They are on the run. They were not expecting such an offensive."
Malik's casualty number — which exceeds those given by the military on Sunday by at least 200 — and his claims of success could not be independently verified. The military is restricting access to the battlefields and many local journalists have also left. The government has not given figures for civilian casualties, but accounts from refugees suggest they are significant.
Jawad Khan, a university student who lives in the Kabal area of Swat, said jets bombed the nearby Dhada Hara village Monday morning.
"I saw smoke and dust rising from the village," Khan said, adding he didn't know about casualties because of curfew restrictions, which have been enforced again after being briefly lifted Sunday to allow more civilians to flee.
A police official in Mingora said jets bombed the Matta area of Swat on Monday as well.
The official said he was confined to his station but could see a decapitated body lying outside along a road where a clash between military forces and the Taliban on Sunday left six militants dead. He requested anonymity because of security reasons.
Swat lies near the Afghan border as well as the wild Pakistani tribal areas, where al-Qaida and the Taliban have strongholds and where U.S. officials believe al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden may be hiding. The army says 12,000 to 15,000 troops in Swat face 4,000 to 5,000 militants, including small numbers of foreigners and hardened fighters from the South Waziristan tribal region.
Many in the northwest have little faith in the government's ability to help them, a challenge to Pakistan's leaders because disillusioned refugees could prove fertile recruiting ground for the Taliban. Malik said the government was providing sufficient funds to help the displaced Pakistanis and was checking for militants who may be hiding among new arrivals at camps.
Elsewhere in Pakistan's northwest Monday, a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle at a checkpoint, killing six civilians and two members of the Frontier Constabulary security force, police said. The bombing occurred between the main northwest city of Peshawar and the town of Darra Adam Khel, police official Arif Khan said.
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Taliban's strategy in Pakistan -- drive out the landlordsLand worth billions given to Pakistani golf federation
Why does the US side with the gentry in Latin America, Vietnam, now Muslim countries? If we were to reform ownership at home, we could export that geonomic model and win true friends everywhere. We trim, blend, and append two 2009 articles from (1) the News International, the number one English language paper in Pakistan, Apr 22, by Ansar Abbasi on a golf course click here and (2) the New York Times, Apr 16, landlordism by Jane Perlez and Pir Zubair Shah. click here via alert reader Frank Walker.
by Ansar Abbasi and by Jane Perlez & Pir Zubair Shah
http://www.progress.org/2009/pakistan.htm
Land worth billions given to golf federation
Prime land worth tens of billions of rupees situated in the heart of Islamabad, the capitol city, was silently leased out on nominal rent to the Pakistan Golf Federation (PGF) by General Musharraf (ex US ally) during his last days in power for entertainment of the country’s elite.
A total of 1,200 Kanals of land that is extremely expensive and beyond the reach of ordinary Pakistanis has been leased out to the PGF on annual ground rent of just Rs 2.41 per square yard i.e. Rs 1.7 million per year, about $20,000 US for 150 acres in the center of the capital.
Sources in the Capital Development Authority claim that the said land was leased out to the powerful PGF following pressure from official quarters. These sources said there was hardly any reason to lease out this prime land for developing a new golf course when there existed another golf club adjacent to the allotted land.
Golf is associated with elite throughout the world. But leading Pakistani golf pro Taimoor Hasan is of the view that any ordinary person would have the opportunity to play in the Pakistan Golf Federation Club by only depositing a meagre fee like Rs 200.
Taimoor claimed that the next door Islamabad Golf Club had reached saturation point and the gates of the club opened at about 6:00 in the morning. However, a source in the Islamabad Golf Club said this leading golf course of the federal capital was playing far below its capacity.
The source also insisted that even the Islamabad Golf Club was being run on grants and subsidies as it did not fetch enough fee revenues to maintain its operation.
In the master plan of Islamabad, it is said there was provision of only one golf club i.e. the existing Islamabad Golf Club, which is part of the Islamabad Club. Besides the Islamabad Golf Club, the federal capital already has a 9-hole golf course at E-9, which is owned by the Pakistan Air Force officers.
Islamabad has already become notorious for being freely or cheaply available to the elite of the country. A few chosen influential classes of the society are doled out residential plots in Islamabad and a special category of people are even entitled to get two residential plots and a house as well.
JJS: Fiddling while Rome burns?
Taliban's strategy in Pakistan -- drive out the landlords
The Taliban have advanced deeper into Pakistan by exploiting profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants, according to government officials and analysts here. The strategy cleared a path to power for the Taliban in the Swat Valley, where the government allowed Islamic law to be imposed this week.
In Swat, accounts from those who have fled now make clear that the Taliban seized control by pushing out about four dozen landlords who held the most power. To do so, the militants organized peasants into armed gangs that became their shock troops.
A landlord who fled with his family last year to Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province, which includes Swat, said his tenants called him in to tell him his fruit crop, sold at a quarter of last year’s price, would not be his. The buyer had been ordered to give the money to the Taliban instead.
Unlike India after independence in 1947, Pakistan maintained a narrow landed upper class that kept its vast holdings while its workers remained subservient. Successive Pakistani governments have since failed to provide land reform and even the most basic forms of education and health care. Avenues to advancement for the vast majority of rural poor do not exist.
The strategy executed in Swat is easily transferable to densely populated Punjab. Mahboob Mahmood, a Pakistani-American lawyer and former classmate of President Obama’s, said, “The people of Pakistan are psychologically ready for a revolution.”
Unlike the US-backed government, “The militants are promising more than just proscriptions on music and schooling,” he said. “They are also promising Islamic justice, effective government, and economic redistribution.”
“This was a bloody revolution in Swat,” said a senior Pakistani official who oversees Swat, an area of 1.3 million people with fertile orchards, vast plots of timber, and valuable emerald mines, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it sweeps the established order of Pakistan” which for now remains largely feudal.
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Afghan Taliban executes teen girl, man for eloping
By Amir Shah – Apr 14, 2009
http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hvWEqwq3CrRvaQCmt21MfoYhjZJQD97I3POG0 KABUL (AP) — Taliban gunmen executed a young couple in southern Afghanistan for trying to elope, shooting them with rifles in front of a crowd in a lawless, militant-controlled region, officials said Tuesday.
The woman, 19, and the man, 21, were accused by the militants of immoral acts, and a council of conservative clerics decided that the two should be killed, said Ghulam Dastagir Azad, the governor of the southwestern province of Nimroz.
Riflemen in the remote district of Khash Rod shot the man and woman with AK-47s Monday during a public execution, said Sadiq Chakhansori, the chief of Nimroz' provincial council.
In remote and dangerous regions of Afghanistan, Taliban fighters operate what are sometimes referred to as shadow governments, where militant leaders serve as government officials and run their own police units and pseudo court systems.
The Afghan government has no access to the remote region where the two were shot and killed, said Jabar Pardeli, the provincial police chief of Nimroz.
The two fled their homes and hoped to travel to Iran, but their parents sent villagers to bring them home, Chakhansori said. Once back home, the pair was either turned over to the Taliban by their parents or the militants came and took them by force, the officials said, providing slightly varying accounts.
The conservative Taliban movement ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001 and put in place harsh social rules that forbade unmarried men and women to talk or meet in public. Women were not allowed out of their homes without a male relative, and girls couldn't go to school.
Taliban fighters have widened their influence the last three years and now control many remote districts in Afghanistan where there are not enough U.S., NATO or Afghan forces to establish a permanent presence.
Responding to commanders' requests for more troops, President Barack Obama recently announced that the U.S. would send 21,000 more troops to the country this summer to bolster the 38,000 U.S. forces already in the country.
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Who Are the Taliban?Their history and their resurgence
by Laura Hayes, Borgna Brunner, and Beth Rowen
http://www.infoplease.com/spot/taliban.html
The Taliban ("Students of Islamic Knowledge Movement") ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001. They came to power during Afghanistan's long civil war. Although they managed to hold 90% of the country's territory, their policies—including their treatment of women and support of terrorists—ostracized them from the world community. The Taliban was ousted from power in December 2001 by the U.S. military and Afghani opposition forces in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the U.S.
The Taliban's rise to power
The Taliban are one of the mujahideen ("holy warriors" or "freedom fighters") groups that formed during the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-89). After the withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Soviet-backed government lost ground to the mujahideen. In 1992, Kabul was captured and an alliance of mujahideen set up a new government with Burhanuddin Rabbani as interim president.
Photo: Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef seated in front of Taliban militia members. Source/AP Photos
However, the various factions were unable to cooperate and fell to fighting each other. Afghanistan was reduced to a collection of territories held by competing warlords.
Groups of taliban ("religious students") were loosely organized on a regional basis during the occupation and civil war. Although they represented a potentially huge force, they didn't emerge as a united entity until the taliban of Kandahar made their move in 1994. In late 1994, a group of well-trained taliban were chosen by Pakistan to protect a convoy trying to open a trade route from Pakistan to Central Asia. They proved an able force, fighting off rival mujahideen and warlords. The taliban then went on to take the city of Kandahar, beginning a surprising advance that ended with their capture of Kabul in September 1996.
Afghanistan under the TalibanThe Taliban's popularity with the Afghan people surprised the country's other warring factions. Many Afghans, weary of conflict and anarchy, were relieved to see corrupt and often brutal warlords replaced by the devout Taliban, who had some success in eliminating corruption, restoring peace, and allowing commerce to resume.
The Taliban, under the direction of Mullah Muhammad Omar, brought about this order through the institution of a very strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law. Public executions and punishments (such as floggings) became regular events at Afghan soccer stadiums. Frivolous activities, like kite-flying, were outlawed. In order to root out "non-Islamic" influence, television, music, and the Internet were banned. Men were required to wear beards, and subjected to beatings if they didn't.
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Most shocking to the West was the Taliban's treatment of women. When the Taliban took Kabul, they immediately forbade girls to go to school. Moreover, women were barred from working outside the home, precipitating a crisis in healthcare and education. Women were also prohibited from leaving their home without a male relative—those that did so risked being beaten, even shot, by officers of the "ministry for the protection of virtue and prevention of vice." A woman caught wearing fingernail polish may have had her fingertips chopped off. All this, according to the Taliban, was to safeguard women and their honor.
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In contrast to their strict beliefs, the Taliban profited from smuggling operations (primarily electronics) and opium cultivation. Eventually they bowed to international pressure and cracked down on cultivation and by July 2000 were able to claim that they had cut world opium production by two-thirds. Unfortunately, the crackdown on opium also abruptly deprived thousands of Afghans of their only source of income.
Although the Taliban managed to re-unite most of Afghanistan, they were unable to end the civil war. Nor did they improve the conditions in cities, where access to food, clean water, and employment actually declined during their rule. A continuing drought and a very harsh winter (2000–2001) brought famine and increased the flow of refugees to Pakistan.
Cultural and religious basis for the Taliban
In the context of Afghan history, the rise of the Taliban—though not their extremism—is unsurprising. Afghanistan is a devoutly Muslim nation—90% of its population are Sunni Muslims (other Afghan Muslims are Sufis or Shiites). Religious schools were established in Afghanistan after Islam arrived in the seventh century and taliban became an important part of the social fabric: running schools, mosques, shrines, and various religious and social services, and serving as mujahideen when necessary. Most of the Taliban's leaders were educated in Pakistan, in refugee camps where they had fled with millions of other Afghans after the Soviet invasion. Pakistan's Jami'at-e 'Ulema-e Islam (JUI) political party provided welfare services, education, and military training for refugees in many of these camps. They also established religious schools in the Deobandi tradition. The Deobandi tradition originated as a reform movement in British India with the aim of rejuvenating Islamic society in a colonial state, and remained prevalent in Pakistan after the partition from India. The Deobandi schools in Afghan refugee camps, however, are often run by inexperienced and semi-literate mullahs. In addition, funds and scholarships provided by Saudi Arabia during the occupation brought the schools' curricula closer to the conservative Wahhabi tradition. Ties between the Taliban and these schools remain strong: when the Taliban were defeated in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif one of Pakistan's largest religious schools shut down for a month and sent thousands of students to Afghanistan as reinforcements. While the Taliban present themselves as a reform movement, they have been criticized by Islamic scholars as being poorly educated in Islamic law and history—even in Islamic radicalism, which has a long history of scholarly writing and debate. Their implementation of Islamic law seems to be a combination of Wahhabi orthodoxy (i.e., banning of musical instruments) and tribal custom (i.e., the all-covering birka made mandatory for all Afghan women).
The opposition
Afghanistan's civil war continued until the end of 2001. The Taliban's strongest opposition came from the Northern Alliance, which held the Northeast corner of the country (about 10% of Afghanistan). The Northern Alliance comprises numerous anti-Taliban factions and is nominally led by exiled president Burhanuddin Rabbani. Generally, the factions break down according to religion and ethnicity. While the Taliban is made up mostly Sunni Muslim Pashtuns (also referred to as Pathans), the Northern Alliance includes Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbeks, and Turkmen. The Hazara, and some other smaller ethnic groups, are Shiites. The Ismaili community, which suffered in Taliban-occupied areas, also supports the Northern Alliance. Although the Taliban called for a negotiated end to the civil war, they continued to mount new offensives. In September 2001, the leader of the Northern Alliance, Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, died from wounds suffered in a suicide bombing, allegedly carried out by al-Qaeda, a terrorist organization with close ties to the Taliban.
The Taliban against the world
The Taliban regime faced international scrutiny and condemnation for its policies. Only Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan's legitimate government. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the UAE cut diplomatic ties with the Taliban. The Taliban allowed terrorist organizations to run training camps in their territory and, from 1994 to at least 2001, provided refuge for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization. The relationship between the Taliban and bin Laden is close, even familial—bin Laden fought with the mujahideen, has financed the Taliban, and has reportedly married one of his daughters to Mullah Muhammad Omar. The United Nations Security Council passed two resolutions, UNSCR 1267 (1999) and 1333 (2000), demanding that the Taliban cease their support for terrorism and hand over bin Laden for trial.
The Taliban recognized the need for international ties but wavered between cooperation—they claimed to have drastically cut opium production in July 2000—and defiance—they pointedly ignored international pleas not to destroy the 2000-year-old Buddhist statues of Bamian. However, they made no effort to curb terrorist activity within Afghanistan, a policy that ultimately led to their undoing. Even after their ouster, the Taliban's brand of Islamist radicalism threatens to destabilize other countries in the region including Iran, China, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan. The Taliban's relationship with Pakistan is especially problematic. A high percentage of the Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns; Pashtuns are a sizable minority in Pakistan and dominate the Pakistani military. Public support for the Taliban runs very high in the Pashtun North-West Frontier province where pro-Taliban groups have held uprisings and sought to emulate Taliban practices by performing public executions and oppressing women.
The end of the Taliban?
In September, 2001, the U.S. placed significant pressure on the Taliban to turn over bin Laden and al-Qaeda in response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. On October 7, after the Taliban refused to give up bin Laden, the U.S. began bombing Taliban military sites and aiding the Northern Alliance. By November 21, the Taliban had lost Kabul and by December 9 had been completely routed. An interim government was agreed upon by representatives of Afghanistan's various factions during talks held in Bonn, Germany. On December 22, 2001, Hamid Karzai, an Afghan tribal leader, was sworn in as interim chairman of the government. Karzai initially supported the Taliban and is respected by many former Taliban leaders. In January 2002, the Taliban recognized the interim government.
The Taliban's ResurgenceWhile many of the Taliban's most radical leaders and supporters were killed, taken prisoner, or fled the country, many former Taliban returned to their homes and continue to work for the Taliban's goals. The Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, has continued to elude capture. In 2003, after the United States shifted its military efforts to fighting the war in Iraq, attacks on American-led forces intensified as the Taliban and al-Qaeda began to regroup. President Hamid Karzai's hold on power remained tenuous, as entrenched warlords continued to exert regional control. Remarkably, however, Afghanistan's first democratic presidential elections in Oct. 2004 were a success. Ten million Afghans, more than a third of the country, registered to vote, including more than 40% of eligible women. Despite the Taliban's threats to kill anyone who participated, the polls were reasonably peaceful and the elections deemed fair by international observers. In 2005 and 2006, the Taliban continued its resurgence, and 2006 became the deadliest year of fighting since the 2001 war. Throughout the spring, Taliban militants infiltrated southern Afghanistan, terrorizing villagers and attacking Afghan and U.S. troops.
In May and June, Operation Mount Thrust was launched, deploying more than 10,000 Afghan and coalition forces to the south. In Aug. 2006, NATO troops took over military operations in southern Afghanistan from the U.S.-led coalition, which put a total of 21,000 American troops and 19,000 NATO troops on the ground. In September NATO launched the largest attack in its 57-year history. About 2,000—the vast majority Taliban fighters—were killed in military operations during the year. In September 2006, Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf signed a controversial peace agreement with seven militant groups, who call themselves the "Pakistan Taliban." Pakistan's army agreed to withdraw from the area and allow the Taliban to govern themselves, as long as they promise no incursions into Afghanistan or against Pakistani troops. Critics say the deal handed terrorists a secure base of operations; supporters counter that a military solution against the Taliban is futile and will only spawn more militants, contending that containment is the only practical policy.
The Taliban rescinded the cease-fire in July 2007 after clashes between government troops and radical Islamist clerics and students at Islamabad's Red Mosque. After the initial violence, the military laid seige to the mosque, which held nearly 2,000 students. Several students escaped or surrendered to officials. The mosque's senior cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz was caught by officials when attempting to escape. After negotiations between government officials and mosque leaders failed, troops stormed the compound and killed Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who took over as chief of the mosque after the capture of Aziz, his brother. More than 80 people died in the violence. Fighting in remote tribal areas intensified after the raid.
In 2008, after more than five years as Afghanistan's leader, President Hamid Karzai still has only marginal control over large swaths of his country, which is rife with warlords, militants, and drug smugglers. The Taliban now funds its insurgency through the drug trade. An August 2007 report by the United Nations found that Afghanistan's opium production doubled in two years and that the country supplies 93% of the world's heroin. In February 2008, U.S. Secretary of State Robert Gates warned NATO members that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack on their soil is real and that they must commit more troops to stabilize Afghanistan and counter the growing power of both al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
In August 2008, the Pakistani military launched a three-week-long cross-border air assault into Afghanistan's Bajaur region, which resulted in more than 400 Taliban casualties. The continuous airstrikes forced many al-Qaeda and Taliban militants to retreat from towns formally under their control. However, the Pakistani government declared a cease-fire in the Bajaur region for the month of September in observance of Ramadan, raising fears that the Taliban will use the opportunity to regroup.
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