Editorial : Opportunity in Khyber - Monday 4th April 2011

THE scourge of Khyber Agency, tormentor of Peshawar and leader of the Laskhar-i-Islam, Mangal Bagh, has found himself in a fight for survival.Members of the Zakakhel tribe, a sub-tribe of the Afridis, and known their tribal fierceness have turned on Mangal Bagh and sent him on the run from the Zakakhel area of the Khyber Agency. As the fighting has spread, military helicopters have entered the fray, pounding Mangal Bagh’s strongholds in the hope perhaps of regaining control of parts of Khyber Agency. As ever, in the murky world of Fata dynamics, some background is necessary. Despite occasional claims about ‘gains’ and ‘successes’ by the state, Khyber Agency remains a serious problem. Away from the present fighting, the Bara area, from where Mangal Bagh’s cohorts have been ‘evicted’ by security forces, has been under a curfew for a year and a half, the state apparently believing in containing a problem rather than trying and fixing it. Mangal Bagh and his organisation — named the Lashkar-i-Islam (LI) but really just a group of criminals and thugs who have cloaked themselves in the veneer of Islam — continue to remain a serious threat in Khyber and beyond, having the capability to cause trouble in Peshawar and the adjoining Orakzai Agency via Tirah.
The Zakakhels, while presently fighting Mangal Bagh, are no paragons of virtue, either. Many of the commanders who have risen against Bagh in recent days were only too happy to form common cause with Bagh and offer him shelter when he was ousted from the Bara area. Age-old reasons applied. Commanders like Ghuncha Gul were involved in kidnapping and other crimes and benefited from the association with the LI, which remained a formidable entity despite being under pressure from the security forces. But there is little honour among thieves (and worse), at least in the Khyber agency at the moment. Rivalries and enmities spilled over, pitting factions of the Lashkar-i-Islam against each other. When a prominent cleric respected by the Zakakhel tribe, Maulana Mohammad Hashim, was kidnapped and killed in March, apparently by fighters loyal to Mangal Bagh, the Zakakhel tribe rose in revolt against its temporary and previously convenient ally. The cleric is believed to have earned the ire of Mangal Bagh after trying to mediate in a dispute between the LI factions.
Now, if the state plays its cards right by supporting the Zakakhels and putting pressure on LI in other parts of Khyber, there is a chance to eradicate a menace. But tribal dynamics are tricky and if not handled properly, Mangal Bagh and the LI may yet live to torment parts of Fata.

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/04/04/opportunity-in-khyber.html

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