Pakistani Taliban Say They Killed 28 Men From Peace Group
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The bodies of 28 members of a government-sponsored peace committee were found dumped on a road near the tribal area of South Waziristan on Wednesday, Pakistan officials said. The Pakistani Taliban said the men were killed because they supported the government, according to a Taliban statement made to a local journalist.
The peace committee was attacked by forces of Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, near the town of Jandola on Monday, not far from the Afghan border, said the district coordinating officer, Berkatullah Marwat.
The attack on the peace committee sent a particularly chilling message because it was a brutal tactic by Mr. Mehsud’s forces to quash pro-government groups in the region, tribal elders said. The killings appeared to be a direct challenge to the policy of the new Pakistani government to negotiate with militants rather than use military force. Some of the men had been shot; others had their throats slit.
“This is a message to the tribal area that whoever sides with the government will meet the same fate,” said Mirza Jihadi, an elder from the tribal areas. He added that the killings of the peace committee members were intended “as a lesson” to people who try to resist the Taliban.
Maulavi Omar, the spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said Wednesday that the 28 men were killed on orders of a Taliban court that conducted proceedings against the men, according to the statement received by Sailab Mehsud, a journalist in the town of Dera Ismail Khan.
The dead were among 30 members of the peace committee abducted on Monday near Jandola. They were then taken about 50 miles to Spinkai Raghzai, the stronghold of Mr. Mehsud, put on trial and killed, according to the account provided by Maulavi Omar to the journalist. The other two men are still missing.
The 200- to 300-member peace committee, formed under the auspices of the government last year, was led by Hajji Turkistan, a powerful leader of the Bhittani tribe that has long opposed the Mehsud tribe of Mr. Mehsud.
Mr. Turkistan apparently escaped when the Taliban forces swept into Jandola to round up the committee, according to local residents. His house and houses belonging to other members of the committee were burned.
Army helicopters and personnel carriers moved into Jandola on Tuesday, but the military did not retaliate against the Taliban, who had surrounded the town, the local authorities said.
In another step that showed the escalating strength of the Taliban, villagers belonging to the Bhittani tribe, which dominates the peace committee, were ordered to leave their homes near the town of Tank.
Witnesses reached by telephone said that women and children were running away from their homes in sweltering heat on Wednesday. By nightfall one village of the Bhittani tribe had emptied out, and another was given a deadline of 9 p.m. for all residents to leave.
The Pakistani Army negotiated a cease-fire with Mr. Mehsud’s forces earlier this year and pulled its soldiers back from Mr. Mehsud’s territory after occupying his stronghold in the mountainous region of South Waziristan.
The army took journalists to Spinkai Raghzai last month to show them how its troops had routed Mr. Mehsud from his stronghold. But several weeks later, Mr. Mehsud invited journalists to the area to show that he was back in charge and that the army had pulled away.
The killings of the peace committee members came after a series of violent attacks by Taliban militants across the tribal region in the last few days, including the public killings of six men, called criminals by the Taliban, in the Orakzai Agency, one of seven agencies in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
On Wednesday, the government convened a meeting of its top security officials in the capital, Islamabad, led by the prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani. At the meeting, the chief of the army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was given a mandate to use force in the tribal areas and the North-West Frontier Province when “verifiable intelligence” was available, Pakistani television stations reported Wednesday night.
But the reports also said that the use of force against the militants would be in keeping with current government policies and used only as “a last resort.”
“Pakistan will not allow its territory to be used against other countries, especially Afghanistan, and under no circumstances will foreign troops be allowed to operate inside Pakistan,” the government said in a statement after the meeting.
The statement showed the concern within the government that American or Afghan troops might intervene in the tribal areas to stem the stepped-up flow of Pakistani militants into Afghanistan, where they join the Afghan Taliban to fight NATO and American forces.