Global Politics

Pakistan's Taliban battles for power in Peshawar

By Mustafa Qadri

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It has been a relatively quiet winter in Peshawar with few bombings. There's a sense that life is slowly returning to normal. But take a short drive north of the city and the situation is quite different.

The village of Adezai marks the boundary between Peshawar city and the tribal areas and is under constant attack from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or the Pakistan Taliban Movement.

Once a quiet little hamlet, Adezai now looks more like a medieval fortress, a veritable Alamo looking out towards the Khyber Pass and regions under Taliban control. A point not lost on Lashkar member Irshad who takes me up a tower that looks like it could very well be part of a medieval castle.

"I think that our village is a battlefield," Irshad said. "We are fighting for our village and everyone is trying their best. Inshallah Taliban is finished quickly, because before Taliban was coming from these front two mountains. So we started firing from this gun and from every home. This two, three hundred home, from all home they are firing, they [Taliban] run away from here. They are not doing anything."

The night before suspected Taliban militants blew up two homes on the outskirts of Adezai. Only a few months earlier the local girls' school was also blown up.

The situation has forced the men of Adezai, mostly farmers and day labourers, to become soldiers. Irshad and others even left their jobs overseas to defend their homes.

"We are thinking that we have saved Peshawar from destruction because we are in the frontline," Irshad said. "If you see in Matani, Sarakhoa that is near Peshawar, they have no Taliban. Because of us, because we are in the frontline.

As we talk, the hum of an Army helicopter is heard from above – heading off on an operation against the Taliban in Khyber tribal agency.

Mustafa Qadri: What would happen to you if you went to one of the neighbouring tribal areas?
Irshad: Our neighbouring areas are Taliban.
Mustafa Qadri: What would they do to you?
Irshad: They will kill us. If we go there in Dera Dum Khel they will kill us. It is very simple.
Mustafa Qadri: And if you capture one of them?
Irshad: Yeah we kill them because they are the enemies of Islam, they are enemies of our country, they are enemies of us.
Mustafa Qadri: It is a stark equation — kill or be killed — made ever more stark by the fact that the men of Adezai personally know many of the people who fight with the Taliban, as lashkar member Hafiz Sajid Raza explains.

"Yes we still know quite a few Taliban, some came from our village and those from outside our village I know about 80 percent because I was involved in local elections and in sporting tournaments from before the fighting, volleyball and cricket, you get to know people better," Hafiz said. "There's one man called Qari Ayub, he's also a school teacher. He used to come to our school here frequently when I was a student, and at volleyball tournaments. Now he's a Taliban commander."

Mustafa Qadri: Have you ever killed any Taliban?
Hafiz: Yes, the Taliban who killed my father in Karachi. We captured his brother, who is also involved in the Taliban, and we killed him. Just one bullet to the head and he was dead.

In the afternoon, Lashkar members take me to a hilltop used by the Taliban to fire rockets at the village.

Mustafa Qadri: It's such a beautiful landscape. It's just green and sand colour. And there's a bit of a dust, a mist on the horizon. It looks like you're a few hundred years ago in the past. And only 20 minutes drive away from Peshawar city.
Irshad: This is a point they are coming from this side. We are doing duty every night here. That is a danger point because above this point is another village. They have no control nothing.

Irshad: Mustafa you see this one? It is rocket launcher is fired from our hujra. At night Taliban is coming to this mountain so we firing from our hujra and we targeted this space.
Mustafa Qadri: There's a big, big hole in the ground!
Irshad: Yes this is big, big hole because this is rocket launcher.
Mustafa Qadri: The call to prayer rings out at dusk and night falls on the village … young men gather in the hujra, something of a community safe house at the heart of Adezai village, waiting for their turn in the night patrols.

Eventually, Irshad, tells me it is time to go.

It's the dead of night right now. It's about 11 if not 12 a.m. night. This is the time when the Taliban strike. We've just left the hujra which is the main meeting place in the village. We're going to be scoping the entire village. You can see these big walls around. It's like we're basically about to patrol the edges of the castle. We're really on the frontline here.

"You can see that every night people are doing duty from different, different homes," Irshad said.

While on patrol I ask some of the lashkar members looking out for possible Taliban attacks what their guard duty entails. I ask Hafiz Sajid Raza, whom we met earlier, how often they do these patrols.

Mustafa Qadri: How often do you do this?
Hafiz: Every night, daily, two or three guys do a circuit around the village, check on the patrols. If there's an emergency, they gather all the young men.
Mustafa Qadri: And how long have you been doing this?
Hafiz: It's been around three years now, every night we go on patrol until at least 2 in the morning.

Another Lashkar member he is out on patrol until even later.

Lashkar member: Every night I am on duty until five in the morning.
Mustafa Qadri: Why?
Lashkar member: We are fighting against the Taliban to stop their atrocities.

Another night, another night patrol passes. This time thankfully with few disruptions.

But it is only a matter of time before the fighting commences again. Two days after I left Adezai, the Taliban again bombed the girls' school that had already been damaged by an earlier attack.

A stark reminder that for the people of Adezai, this conflict is not a distant war but an everyday matter of survival.