Profile of Mangal Bagh

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fighting between two rival clerics led to bloodshed and virtual war in Bara in the Khyber Agency, fourteen miles west of Peshawar, which saw 24 people killed and women and children taken hostage. The two clerics had been ordered on February 16 by a jirga to cease making radio broadcasts, but had ignored the decree of the council.

Both Mufti Munir Shakir and Pir Saifur Rehman were putting out radio broadcasts on FM transmitters, each denigrating the other’s religious beliefs. The war of words on the airwaves became explosive.

Pir Saifur Rehman follows the sect of Barelvi Islam, which encourages music, sees Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) as a figure of semi-divine status, a personage of light, whereas Mufti Munir Shakir follows the puritanical Deobandi form of hardline Sunni Islam. Most of the Taliban regime leaders in Afghanistan were educated at the Deobandi madrassa of Haqqania, including Mullah Omar. Haqqania is in Khyber Agency.

The two broadcasting sheikhs had been warring on the airwaves since December 2005.

While Pir Saiur Rehman wittered on about the ever-present spiritual manifestations of Mohammed, Mufti Munir Shakir used his broadcasts to encourage people to join the Lashkar-i-Islami. And with the two opposing views becoming more polarised, the violence of March erupted quite naturally. On March 25, 19 followers of Pir Saifur Rehman were killed, with 16 of these being Afghan nationals.

Ironically, neither Rehman nor Shakir came from Khyber Agency. Munir Shakir had been expelled from Khurram Agency because he was regarded as divisive, espousing sectarian views. Munir arrived in Khyber Agency in 2003. Munir had formerly worked for the tribal warlord and Taliban-like figure of Haji Namdar, who had set up a regime in 2003-4 in Khyber Agency called Amr bil Maroof wa Nehi Anil Munkir which had its own prisons. Shakir eventually fell out even with Haji Namdar.

Pir Saiur Rehman had come originally from Afghanistan, and had settled in the region since the 1970s.

The followers of both Shakir and Rehman would kidnap and kill supporters, even after their divisive broadcasts stopped. And all the while, the Army of Islam, under the leadership of Mangal Bagh Afridi, a former driver, grew more powerful and more militant.

After the killings and the hostage-takings of women and children at the end of March, government forces began to take a more pro-active stance against the rising powers of the Lashkar-i-Islami. Mangal Bagh Afridi and his followers had then been located in the region around Bara tehsil, scene of the interclan war, but on Friday, March 31 they moved on to Tarkhukas in the remote and inaccessible Tirah Valley.

On this date, states Pak Observer, the Khasadar forces and Mehsud scouts surrounded the headquarters of Mufti Munir Shakir. The former radio star refused to surrender until 1pm the following day. The Lashkar-i-Islami headquarters was given up without a struggle. Those still in the compound handed over to the political FATA administration. They had been urged to do so at a jirga led by a leader of the left-wing Awami National Party (ANP).

The administration also ordered Mangal Bagh Alfridi, the leader of Lashkar-i-Islami to abandon possession of his house in Sheikhabad Spin Qaber in Bara tehsil, for it to be demolished. Similar orders were given to other activists of the Army of Islam.

Mufti Munir Shakir and Pir Saiur Rehman were officially expelled from Khyber Agency by the political administration. Pir had already left in February, reputedly to go to Lahore. But the fighting between their followers continued. In April five people were killed in a clash between the religious factions.

In May, Mangal Bagh threatened to block all routes leding into the Tirah valley if his men who had been made to surrender were not released.

On June 11, Starategy Page noted that “several hundred armed members of the Lashkar Islami ( Army of Islam) briefly occupied the town of Bara, but left when security forces approached. Officials in Bara said it was all a misunderstanding, as the Lashkar Islami had been called in to help restore order in the town, which had been suffering from the violent side effects of tribal politics.”

The Khyber Agency political administration went into action on Monday, June 12, when they carried out their vow to demolish the home of Mangal Bagh Alfridi. The four storey house was torn down in Bara, and sixty shops were also demolished. Tribespeople put up no resistance to this show of strength. The administration had decided to stop its previous attempts to bring Laskar-i-Ilsam on board. They had been offering the group the chance to become involved with restoring order to the region, but the group had not complied. The administration was now demanding the surrender of Mangal Bagh.

At this time, the Islamic Army had set up new headquarters in Gagarrana area in the Tirah Valley, in Landi Kotal tehsil. During their brief stay in Bara, they had handed out notices to the populace, saying they were going to institute a body calling itself the Amn Committee. They issued a 14 point decree, saying that peace would be brought to Bara tehsil through imposing major penalties on crimes which included adultery, drinking liquor, etc and fines of Rs.5000 ($83) on the owners on all kind of video shops and cable operators.

The decree stated that a murderer would pay a fine of Rs, 500,000 ($8,299), Rs 50,000 ($830) for having a dish antennae, and Rs 500 ($8.30) for not offering prayers five times a day. No woman would be allowed in market areas without one of her blood relatives.

After the demolitions, tribal and FATA representatives called for a Grand Jirga to resolve the situation, to be held on June 20.

On Wednesday, July 5, the agency authorities mounted a sweep of the village of Gagrina in the Tirah valley, where Mangal Bagh’s followers were based. 70 militants from his army were arrested, all members of the Zakhakhel tribe. The administration also closed local routes, and mounted an economic blockade, and stopped all privileges to tribesmen. No identity cards were being issued, and troops patrolled in most bazaars.

These activities brought many zones in the Agency to a standstill. An official announced that the crackdown on Gagrina would continue, and also be repeated in other parts of Tirah and Landi Kotal.

450 tribesmen from various areas of Khyber Agency gathered in Pakhai in a jirga, where they voiced support for the administration’s crackdown on Mangal Bagh and his followers. They came from Brag, Karamna, Alacha, Ziara, Dargai, Khyber and other areas. The jirga decided to impose a fine of 500,000 rupees ($8,299) to anyone who gave shelter to Mangal Bagh. They also ordered that anyone who allowed their house to be used as a refuge for the Islamic Army leader would additionally have their house burned down.

One bearded commander of Lashkar-i-Islami claimed: “It is just a reformative organization for the betterment of the tribesmen of Khyber Agency. I have the support of 98 per cent local populance and those who are against me are the people involved in wrongdoing.”

On Monday July 17, Dr Tashfeen, the Khyber Agency political agent, demanded that the Zakhakhel tribe hand over Mangal Bagh Afridi within one week. Failure to do so would invoke punishment, including withdrawal of government incentives.

On Tuesday, July 18, Mangal Bagh Afridi, who now was making his own broadcasts on his own FM radio station, bequeathed by Munir Shakir. Bagh decided to be openly defiant. He announced on his “show” that he would mount violent protests if the Khyber Agency administration did not refuse to drop its demands for him to surrender. He even threatened that he would bring in cross-border support from Afghanistan to assist in his threat of terror.

He said: “It has now become difficult for us to remain peaceful. I assure you that unlike Waziristan, our armed struggle would go beyond the frontiers of the tribal territory”

Mangal Bagh added: “If you cannot make a government servant (political agent) abide by the constitution and (yet) have accepted him as the ruler of the agency, then you (parliamentarians) have no right to represent us in the assembly.”

The following day, paramilitary forces were sent to guard the residence of Maulana Khalil Rehman, who represented Khyber Agency in the National Assembly. Rehmin said that his own policies of moderation had made Lashkar-i-Islami hostile. He said that he would not close down businesses, as this would punish the wrong people.

It appears that the local administration is hoping that by appealing to the local tribespeople, and hoping to appease them through conciliatory measures to act in a hardline manner to Mangal Bagh.

Source : Western Resistance

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