https://pakistan.asia-news.com/en_GB/articles/cnmi_pf/features/2019/11/08/feature-01
| Crime & Justice

Extortion, targeted killings raise spectre of terrorism in Bajaur

By Ghulam Dastageer

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A security officer checks a car at the entrance to Khar, Bajaur District, on October 24. [Ghulam Dastageer]

KHAR, Bajaur -- The killing of a local political leader and extortion attempts in Bajaur District have raised concerns among locals over the potential return of terrorists.

Mufti Sultan Muhammad, a local leader of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl) (JUI-F), was shot in Badan October 28.

Muhammad was on his way to a nearby mosque in the morning when he was attacked. Authorities medevacked him to Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Peshawar, where he succumbed to his wounds that night, according to Dawn.

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A security officer stands guard in Bajaur District on October 24. [Ghulam Dastageer]

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A billboard alongside the main road in Khar, Bajaur, urges citizens to provide any information on terrorists in this photo taken October 24.[Ghulam Dastageer]

"Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the killing. Authorities are still investigating.

Over the past three months, targeted killings, bombings, extortion and threatening calls have victimised politicians and business owners, locals say.

On October 16, Mian Gul Jan, senior vice president of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)'s Bajaur chapter, was gunned down in Khar.

Likewise, Ikramullah Mashwani, the district vice president of the Awami National Party (ANP), was abducted in late September in the Raghgan area. Security agencies rescued him nine days later in nearby mountains.

"The cases of targeted killings, extortion calls and bombings outside the houses of traders who refuse to pay extortion are on the rise," said Haji Lali Shah, the founding president of the Bajaur Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"Our traders are extremely afraid of the day-by-day worsening law-and-order situation," he said, adding that he has tightened his own security and is avoiding going out in the evening.

"There is an environment of extreme fear among the traders, which is why no one is ready to talk about his own ordeal because it may invite the wrath of perpetrators," Shah said.

Perpetrators unknown

The identity of those behind the recent incidents is still unknown.

Local political leaders and traders ruled out the possibility of infiltration by Afghan Taliban and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) members because of the border fence but acknowledged the presence of militant pockets in areas such as Kitkot, Umeray, Nakhtar and Damadola, among others.

A letter purportedly issued by the Bajaur chapter of the TTP demanded that residents of Kamangara, including chromite mine operators, tribal elders and landowners, halt mining and pay extortion; "otherwise, they themselves will be responsible for any harm inflicted to them."

The district wings of the mainstream political parties held a meeting on October 23 over the letter and the law-and-order situation.

Attendees included local leaders of the ANP, PPP, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, JUI-F, Jamaat-e-Islami, the Qaumi Watan Party and the Pukhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party.

Administrative hiccups from the recent merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could be responsible for the slow response to the situation, said Shahabuddin Khan, a former lawmaker from Bajaur.

"The transitional period between the abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulation and the switch to regular laws are the main reason behind the burgeoning incidence of terrorism in Bajaur," he said, referring to the separate, colonial-era laws that previously governed the area.

The regular laws and institutions like police stations and courts are still being established in Bajaur, he noted.

"Presently, we have only two police stations in the whole district, which shares boundaries with Charsadda and Lower Dir districts," said Khan.

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