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Pakistani city feels like Taliban enclave

Release Time: 2007-5-11|Read: 3470 times | Print

Pakistani city feels like Taliban enclave

QUETTA, Pakistan (CNN) -- Quetta looks and feels like Afghanistan in the 1990s --

when the country was ruled by strict Islamic Taliban fundamentalists -- with men in traditional turbans and long beards all around.

Today women walk around the city fully covered, from head to toe, peering through the mesh of their burqas -- quite the contrast to other parts of Pakistan where women's faces and even Western dress are more commonly seen.

Hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, who have fled the ongoing war, mix with the locals, but there is also a concern that Taliban supporters and even fighters are there too -- going as far as setting up havens.

Publicly, officials insist there is no "Talibanization" of Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, 100 miles from the Afghan border.

But privately, police say there are indeed areas where they don't patrol. These are the areas where they and other residents say the Taliban live. Although officers don't go into these areas, they assert the Afghans do not cause trouble.

"There is no organized Taliban activity in Baluchistan anywhere," declared the governor, Owais Ahmed Ghani.

The province's inspector general of police, Tariq Khosa, said Taliban fighters are arrested in Quetta whenever they are identified, including some when they are seeking hospital treatment for possible battlefield injuries.

Ghani admits to some difficulties stemming from Afghanistan, notably the drugs that are smuggled in along his province's international border and the problems that come with the drugs.

"One -- we have a law and order problem; two -- we have a narcotic problem, a growing addict population, it's hitting the young; three -- it's criminalizing the economy so these people manage to buy a lot of influence," he said.

'Alarming' rise of rebel attacks

Police chief Khosa pointed to another source of trouble, one that is less talked about in the West.

"There is low-intensity sabotage going on," he said.

"There are some pockets of resistance comprised of subnationalists who are against the progress and prosperity and the megaprojects that are going on in this province."

He said it was "not an insurgency, not a law-and-order situation that is alarming," classifying the action instead as "low-intensity sabotage activity."

That activity has included attacks on pipelines, railway tracks and a radio station, and the downing of power cables that cut electricity to the entire city of Quetta.

Those behind the attacks are said to be Baluch tribespeople wanting freedom from Pakistan and control of the region's natural resources.

"We need complete independence," said Shazeb Baloch of the Baluch Students Organization, one of a number of young people who approached CNN.

He says waging an insurgency is the only option left for the Baluch who saw their land folded in to Pakistan six decades ago, he said.

"In these 60 years we have joined the liberations, the parliament, we have joined all the aspects of the institutions of Pakistan that maybe we could adjust in the state but everywhere we were ignored, left behind."

Occasional violence turned into full-scale rioting last year after tribal leader Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed when Pakistani army troops attacked his cave.

The students and others in Quetta say there is a difference between the Baluch revolt and the Taliban action -- and a difference between the official reactions.

"Baluch are struggling for their independence, autonomy; Taliban crisis is something else. Taliban is totally protected by the government of Pakistan," Baloch says.

That was a view shared with us from dozen of people in Quetta -- that while President Pervez Musharraf is battling the Baluch rebellion, the Taliban are operating freely.

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