DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Coming in and out of nearby Waziristan, militants have long been active in Dera Ismail Khan, with the Taliban maintaining sleepercells in certain neighbourhoods in and around the city, said police and militant sources.
But with the Mullah Fazlullah-led TehrikeTaliban Pakistan (TTP) opening a new franchise in Kulachi, an administrative unit or tehsil of district DI Khan, whatthe locals have long known has now become official.
A TTP activist in SWA told News Lens Pakistan that the TTP central command headed by Mullah Fazlullah, the militant leader based in Afghanistan who once led a Taliban insurgency in the valley of Swat in Northern Pakistan, has appointed Haroon aka Zarar as the leader of TTP Kulachi Group or TTP-KG. QariIkram will work as deputy of the new franchise active in the Kulachi.
A TTP source, who did not want to be named due to security concerns, told News Lens Pakistan,“Around 500 to 700 well-trained fighters will operate under Commander Zarar”.
He said that militants associated withTTP-KG have carried out a number of successful operations in the past in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwaprovince bordering Afghanistan.
“The central leadership of TTP is optimistic about moresuch‘ventures’ in future.”
On August 19, 2008, a suicide-bomber fromKulachi attacked the district hospital in DI Khan killing 35 and injuring 50. Since then, the militants from Kulachi have carried out a number of attacks on different police stations in the area.
According to another source in TTP, “Militants representing theKulachi tehsil were part of the mission that attacked Manawan Police Academy Lahore on March 30, 2009. They also participated in attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3, 2009.”
Kulachi is a perfecthideout for militants coming down from the tribal built to the mainland districts of KPK. The area is close to North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Zhob district of Balochistan and Dera Ghazi Khan in Punjab.
Apolice official, who did not want to be named,told News Lens Pakistan, “According to investigations, the militants used Kulachi as a hub to planattack on the DI Khan jailbreak recently.”
The TTP freed over 175 inmates from the jail, including 35 high-profile militants, during the overnight attack on the central jail in DI Khan in July 2013.
The formation of TTP-KG has set the alarm bells ringing not just for the people and police that has been often targeted by militants in DI Khan, but alsothe surrounding areas andthe rest of the country.
For the last decade, DI Khan and Tank districts have seen the worst of sectarian violence,with scores of people killed and displaced byviolence of sectarian nature. “The sectarian violence, bomb blasts, extortion and kidnaping have compelled many businessmen to shift their business from the here to Punjab”, said Zahid Ali, 42, a shopkeeper in Muslim Commercial Marketin DI Khan.
He said the situation was normal before 2004. “There was peace and even after the city saw the worst of sectarian violence and terrorism, the recent military operations in the adjacent tribal built somehow reduced the influence of the militants.”
The District Police Officer (DPO) SadiqBalochtold News Lens that the TTP-KG group has beenactive in the Kulachi’s outskirts for nearly eight years now. “Many of the militants are criminals from different parts of the country and are wanted in different cases.” They are hardened criminal involved in murder, kidnapping and other cases of heinous nature. When they find no place to hide in their own cities, they come to DIK and adjacent areas for protection.
Balochsaid that the police was countering the group by conducting targeted operations in different parts of Kulachi tehsil.
Instability and insecurity in DI Khan, a city that joins the three provinces of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, will lead to instability in the region, said the police officer.
Early this year, militant commanders Saleem Shah Jee and Hikmatullah were killed during two different encounters in the Kulachi area. “Police operations have increased in number and the houses of militants have been demolished in Kulachi,” said Baloch.
He said the locals had been warned not to shelter militants orpolice action would be taken against them. “When we start operations against militants in the area, they cross over to the tribal belt which makes ourjob difficult,” he said.