Dateline travels to the remote tribal regions of north-west Pakistan, to see how the new civilian government is coping with the Taliban insurgency.
The good folk of London are definitely no strangers to terror. From
the Blitz of the Second World War, to IRA bombers, they've just about
seen it all! More recently, though, their terrorists have been
home-grown, like the extreme Islamist bombers who attacked London's
transport system in 2005. They were raised here, in the UK, but had
strong links to Pakistan - the place regarded by many experts as the
natural home of international terrorism. But the Pakistani military, as
we speak, are now taking on the Islamic militants, including the
Taliban. Here's Australia's Young Journalist of the Year, Sophie
REPORTER: Sophie McNeill
rugged mountains are the frontline in a fierce battle between the
Pakistan army and the Taliban - a war largely hidden from the world.
We're about to land in the district of Bajour - one of the many remote
tribal regions near the Afghan border, where the Taliban have a
stronghold. I'm being given a tour of the army's training and
SOLDIER: This is training going on right here. ..
they are keen to show me their efforts to dislodge the militants. This
captured position is just down the road from the army's main
SOLDIER 2: We cleared it on September 27 last year.
These tunnels, dug by the Taliban, were used to shelter from the army's bombardment.
just shows how hard it is going to be to get al-Qaeda and Taliban out
of these areas here, in Pakistan, because of the guerrilla tactics that
REPORTER: When you cleared this compound, how many people were killed?
2: 15 of enemy and there were about 60 miscreants here. Rest of them
were able to escape from the tunnel which I was talking about.
Despite the presence of two army battalions, these soldiers still don't have total control of this area.
REPORTER: What are those mortar rounds going off in the background? What's that for?
SOLDIER 2: The mortar rounds? They must have seen some targets.
The Pakistani Army has thrown everything it has at the Taliban forces here and caused massive destruction in the process.
3: We started off with artillery rounds followed by mortar rounds and
then, if the need be, the aircraft also struck all these areas.
whole area, once a bustling town, is now deserted. Everyone who lived
here was ordered out by the army, and it doesn't look like there's
anything left for them to return to.
SOLDIER 4: The government took the action to clear off this whole area.
REPORTER: So you just decided to clear this whole place?
SOLDIER 4: Yeah.
But some are now openly questioning whether the army's scorched earth policy is effective.
RASHID, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: The Pakistan army, they went into Bajour
and they said, "We will clean this up in two weeks and we'll be out of
there." That was in August of 2008. It's now been nearly five months.
Pakistani journalist and author Ahmed Rashid has been analysing developments in this region for more than 30 years.
RASHID: Now, what you have up in the north is basically conventional
forces going up against guerrillas, using conventional high firepower,
like artillery and air bombardment. There is very little follow-up on
the ground. Now, a good counter-insurgency campaign should include
obviously getting the leadership of the Taliban, holding the ground,
and then carrying out major development work. We are seeing no
strategic plan in the north.
Around 1,500 Pakistani
soldiers have already been killed in this war - three times the number
of American soldiers who have died fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
AHMED RASHID: After the war in Afghanistan, in 2001, it
should be remembered that the Taliban were never defeated - they were
simply routed by the Americans. Many thousands escaped into Pakistan,
including almost the entire Taliban leadership, and they were given
sanctuary by the Pakistanis.
It was in these villages,
in the north of the country, where the Taliban found that sanctuary - a
refuge tolerated by the former military dictator General Musharraf. But
when Musharraf was ousted in August 2008, Asif Ali Zardari, the widower
of slain political leader Benazir Bhutto, became President of a new
civilian government, and with him came a promise of a new direction.
BARBAR, PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN: We believed in Musharraf was the
president, and he would sell this thing to the Western countries that
he was fighting the militants. We always suspected that he was running
with the hare and hunting with the hound.
Barbar is the spokesperson for President Zardari. He says the new
government is proud of its efforts to finally crack down on the
FARATULLAH BARBAR: And, if we do not check
them now, they might well come down to Islamabad, and the other towns
of Pakistan, and they might overrun the whole country.
Taliban are already firmly entrenched. Here, in the north, people
belong to the Pashtun tribe - an ethnic group that spans the border of
both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Taliban leadership is also Pashtun
and they have found it easy to spread its influence, taking over
villages and towns.
AHMED RASHID: What we have seen in
the last two to three years has been the emergence of the Pakistani
Taliban, which has never existed before, and this has been a result of
the radicalisation of the Pashtun tribes in the border regions by
al-Qaeda and by the Afghan Taliban.
As they once did in
Afghanistan, the Taliban now brutally punish people here who don't
comply with strict Sharia law. These men are being publicly whipped for
crimes decided by the militant's own Islamic courts. This was filmed
just a few weeks ago in the tribal region of the Swat valley, where
recent punishments have included beheadings. And this is one of the 200
girls' schools destroyed by the Taliban. They ordered them all to close
and bombed those that refused. But it's not just the rural areas of
Pakistan that are coming under the influence of the Taliban. The city
of Peshawar is just two hours drive from the capital, Islamabad, and
it, too, is now under siege.
We are just on our way now to
Peshawar, and because of the security situation there, it's really
important that I don't look like a Western, so I have to wear all the
local clothes, because it's just not a good thing to be Westerner at
the moment in Peshawar.
In the past year, over 100 Pakistanis
have been killed in suicide bombings and attacks here. It's not safe
for me to film openly in the city, so local reporter Mushtaq Yusefzai
is giving me a guided tour of Peshawar from the safety of his car.
YUSEFZAI, REPORTER: Taliban kidnap people, they are roaming everywhere
in the city and they kidnap people from inside the city. So they can do
anything even now in Peshwar, especially when they see a westerner and
then they kidnap because they think they will pay them in dollars.
Mushtaq tells me that the men in the car in front of us are members of the local Taliban.
MUSHTAG YUSEFZAI: Yeah, actually they are militants.
REPORTER: But, how can you tell that those men in that car were militants?
YUSEFZAI: being a journalist, I have been meeting these people, I have
been visiting the tribal areas, so I know them very well.
REPORTER: You recognise them?
MUSHTAG YUSEFZAI: Yeah, I recognise them.
Taliban are becoming so brazen they've taken to giving press
conferences, like this one, held near Peshawar last November. In his
first public appearance, the young Taliban commander Hakimullah Mahsud
warned President Zardari against continuing the army's campaign.
MAHSUD, TALIBAN COMMANDER (Translation): Now that there is a
government, its policies are even stricter than Musharrafs'. If they
make the people aware and abandon their policies, then we will not
capture Peshawar. But if the Pakistani military refuses, then we will
be forced to capture Peshawar and Hangu, we will capture every corner
of Pakistan, or we will try, God willing.
his men are already tightening their grip around Peshawar. 75% of
materials for NATO operations in Afghanistan pass through this road -
the main highway from Peshawar to Kabul.
MUSHTAG YUSEFZAI: These containers are supplying weapons and food items and other things for NATO forces in Afghanistan.
In December, Mahsud's men cut this supply line in their most daring attack yet on the city.
YUSEFZAI: Around 300 Taliban, they were armed with heavy weapons and
they set on fire some of the containers which were loaded with weapons
and other equipment.
Over 100 trucks and 50 containers
were destroyed, the Taliban escaping with some of NATO's weapons. This
video, obtained by Dateline, shows Mahsud proudly driving a stolen US
Army Hummer. Footage like this is not allowed to air on Pakistani
television - the government has banned the broadcasting of what they
call Taliban propaganda. Instead, they're trying to give the impression
the war is going well.
PAKISTANI MEDIA: The
security situation is improving in the tribal regions, due to the
ongoing security operations... The government is adamant. This time,
Rahman Malik says two of the seven arrested on Wednesday were
MUSHTAG YUSEFZAI: They make certain
claims, that "œWe capture so many Taliban, we killed 60 militants, 40
militants and we secured the area, we flushed out Taliban from other
areas." But in fact, it has not happened. Those areas are still in
Taliban control, so how can I report it?
government can't deny is that over 500,000 people from the tribal areas
have been forced out of their homes due to the war. This refugee camp
on the outskirts of Peshawar is home to over 14,000 people. Conditions
here are tough. The families were originally told they could go home
after a few weeks, but these families have now been stuck here for the
past five months.
GIRL, (Translation): There was fighting in the village, there were Taliban.
the past few years, these Pashtun tribespeople had been living under
the Taliban's harsh rule in Bajour. I found this man, 81-year-old Nada
Khan, who told me what happened when his family dared to defy the
NADA KHAN, (Translation): We have escaped from
the Taliban, they would have killed us they would have beheaded us. My
son was beheaded, leaving my three grandchildren in my care, they took
another of my sons two months ago and I don't know if they have
Despite the horrors of Taliban rule, not
one person I met here supported the Pakistan Army's current operations.
They are angry at the military and accuse it of using excessive force.
(Translation): 200, 250 people were killed and houses destroyed, there
was fighting and planes flying over, suddenly the planes started
bombing the market.
MUSHTAG YUSEFZAI (Translation): Were there civilians or Taliban?
BOY, (Translation): It was all civilians, no Taliban.
22-year-old Farahmoush has heard the army destroyed his home, back in Bajour. He told me life was better under the Taliban.
(Translation): Under the Taliban there was peace in Bajour, with the
Pakistani army things got worse.. we are ordinary people but they are
bombing us and using jet fighters against us. Fighter planes should be
used against the enemy, not ordinary people. I have a complaint with
REPORTER: But, aren't civilians getting
killed in the army's campaign and also having their homes destroyed,
and that is making a lot of people very angry with the government and
with the army?
FARATULLAH BARBAR: That is true. This is
a kind of guerrilla warfare and, in this kind of crossfire, innocent
people - innocent citizens also get killed. This has happened in Swat.
This has happened in Bajour. This is the price one really has to pay
when you are fighting the militants and the extremists.
that price only seems to be getting higher. A few days ago, Dateline
received this exclusive footage that exposes the human cost of
Pakistan's war on terror. These people are all from the village of
Chaubaugh, in the Swat valley, in Pakistan's north.
(Translation): There was firing everywhere.. what happened to these
people is hard to describe. I am not sure if the wounded were shelled,
hit by gunships or shot by soldiers. Whatever it was it was hell on
On Sunday, February 1, the Pakistan army
launched an attack on what they claimed were militants hiding in the
village. But over 40 civilians are believed to have been killed and
many more have been horribly injured.
(Translation): I was hit by a bullet in the leg which shattered my
bone, my nephew had also been hit and he died an hour later.
3, (Translation): They gave the order to open fire and I tried to run
away but I could not get away. They caught 18 young men and then they
took us to the main road, one of the youths said "œDon't shoot him, he
is innocent." They said to me "œYou're a member of the Taliban!" I said
"œI'm not a Talib, I am a civilian."
As the civilian
toll mounts, the West is urging the new government to hold its nerve,
and top officials regularly come courting. Today, the NATO Secretary
General is in town. Zardari's government is facing a growing backlash
over its handling of the war on terror.
MEDIA: Our top story this hour - another drone attack. At least 15
people and at least three children have been killed...
last August, the US military has stepped up the use of unmanned drones
to fire missiles at 'high-value' targets inside Pakistan. The nation is
outraged at America's violation of their sovereignty and at the rising
civilian death toll.
PAKISTANI MEDIA: 15 people were killed, the second incident claiming the lives of children as well. What's going on?
Zardari has repeatedly asked Washington to stop the attacks, but even
under the new Obama Administration, the raids have continued.
REPORTER: How does the government feel that the Americans are just ignoring their requests?
BARBAR: That is true that the Americans have not listened to this. They
still continue the drone attacks. Only two days ago, there was a very
big drone attack in which a number of people were killed. This is
Opposition politician Imran Khan is
capitalising on the public's discontent. This mass rally in the city of
Faisalabad is just one of five that Khan is holding today. He is trying
to mobilise support against what's happening in the north.
KHAN (Translation): First there was the mean-hearted Musharraf and now
the mean-hearted Zadari. Our people are dying, our military is bombing
us and America is bombing us. Women and children are living in tents
while we watch in silence.
This has, rather than winning the
war against the terrorists, this has actually been the greatest gift
for the terrorists of 9/11/
Khan argues that the
government's military campaign is actually creating sympathy for the
Taliban, and is calling for a new strategy.
More and more people have gone onto the other side. There is no end to
the recruits and to this war. In effect, what has happened by sending
the army in? To get hold of 1,800 or 1,500 people, 1.5 million armed
men in the tribal areas are being pushed towards al-Qaeda, or whoever
was responsible for 9/11, so this is the most moronic policy.
the military campaign now comes under fire, the Prime Minister has now
raised in Parliament the possibility of talking to the Taliban. It's a
big shift, but it may be necessary to ensure Zardari's political
FARATULLAH BARBAR: The Pakistan Government
negotiating with the militants has not been liked by some other foreign
countries, which are also fighting the militants, but basically this is
a fight of the Government of Pakistan, of the people of Pakistan. We
will do it the way we think is right and proper. Nobody else really
should be dictating to Pakistan how to fight the war against the
Whether force or negotiation will win the
war on terror remains to be seen, but it's clear that Pakistan's
problems will not be solved without also finding a solution to the
conflict across the border. And with a US troop surge imminent that
could double the size of American forces in Afghanistan, Imran Khan has
IMRAN KHAN: All the surge will do is kill
more people. More American troops will die. There will be more aerial
bombing. They will further alienate the population. This would be a
disaster for Pakistan. And Pakistan is a country of 160 million people.
A destabilised Pakistan, a radical, destabilised Pakistan is in
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