On Pak-Afghan border, some join Taliban to settle scores with relatives: WP
Yar Dad Khan sleeps with a Kalashnikov assault rifle in his bed, primed for the day his cousin returns.
His cousin is a local Taliban commander in northwestern Pakistan. Khan is a pro-government tribal leader. The two men do not get along.
In the rough borderlands between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the global war against the Taliban often boils down to a family feud, pitting tribe against tribe, son against father, brother against brother.
While the Taliban leadership professes devotion to a 7th-century interpretation of Islam, many insurgents have far more parochial interests. They want revenge for an old grievance against their neighbors, or to settle a score with relatives.
The local passions enveloped in the broader conflict help to explain why the United States and its allies have struggled for more than eight years to end the insurgency, without success. The tribal and familial infighting is not new, but now it has the veneer of a civilizational clash, with more weapons, money and recruits to keep the enmities fresh.
"There are so many factors that contribute to Talibanization," said Saad Muhammad, a retired Pakistani general who directs a conflict-oriented think tank in this frontier city. "But by and large, it's just a young person getting an idea and signing up."
Khan, the pro-government tribal leader, told the story of his struggle with the Taliban from the relative safety of a house that his family has rented in Peshawar, about 20 miles south of their native tribal area of Mohmand.
The shabby brick house is located down a narrow dirt lane and is indistinguishable from dozens of others on the block, or from millions of others in this teeming city. Khan and his relatives say they don't think Khan's cousin, Raheel Khan, can find them here. Still, Yar Dad Khan, a genial man with a graying beard, eyed the door warily as he spoke, and he kept his weapon close at hand.
"There are some good people in the Taliban, who actually want to bring an Islamic system to Pakistan. But very few," said Khan, 35. "Most of them are bad people, like my cousin."
Before joining the Taliban, his relatives said, Khan's cousin was fond of Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch whisky and was hardly a model of Islamic piety. His trigger for becoming an insurgent was not a religious awakening, relatives and friends say, but his father's decision to cut him out of the family inheritance.
That choice has had consequences: One family member has been killed, others have narrowly escaped death, and everyone in the family who has not joined the Taliban knows there is special reason to fear.
The conversion of Raheel Khan was surprising, because the family descends from a long line of maliks -- Pashtun tribal leaders who traditionally call the shots in the poverty-stricken Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which line Pakistan's northwestern border with Afghanistan. The maliks own much of the land, get the best education and, crucially, decide matters of war and peace on behalf of their fellow tribesmen. The government has long had only a token presence in the tribal areas; the maliks filled the void.
When the Taliban emerged as a force in the FATA in 2005 and 2006, members initially portrayed themselves as crusaders for Islamic justice. They patrolled the streets, punished criminals and enforced edicts against perceived vices, such as dancing and playing music. In the conservative but relatively lawless tribal areas, many welcomed the group's presence as benign, if occasionally brutal.
But the Taliban soon revealed its true ambitions with an assassination campaign directed against the maliks. The Taliban intended not just to enforce Islamic law. It also hoped to overturn the tribal order.
Maliks could spare themselves by vowing fealty to the Taliban but were otherwise marked men. Hundreds were shot to death or beheaded. Their personal nemeses -- every malik has them -- were all too willing to serve as executioners. Criminals, members of weaker clans and family outcasts were especially enticed by the Taliban's charms.
"All you had to do was grow a long beard, and you could settle all your scores or do any nasty thing you please," said Muhammad, the retired general.
The Taliban's campaign appealed to Raheel Khan, friends and relatives say, because his father was a malik. The family owned large tracts of land in the sweeping, irrigated valleys of the Mohmand tribal agency, one of seven that make up the FATA. There they farmed wheat, corn, watermelon and honeydew.
Unlike his cousins and siblings, Raheel Khan had dropped out of school early, by the seventh grade. He was a regular at parties and often drank heavily.
In an attempt to change his ways, Khan's father handed him the family trucking business. Within two years, he had run it into the ground and had accumulated huge debt.
Under tribal custom, Raheel Khan and his brothers were each entitled to a share of their father's estate, which family members said was worth roughly $2.5 million. But when Raheel Khan turned 25 in spring 2008, his father told him he would not receive any land.
Raheel Khan took his grievance to the tribal council, but his father used his influence to squelch the case. So Raheel Khan turned to an alternative justice system -- the Taliban's. They agreed to help.
Raheel Khan disappeared for 40 days and when he returned, he was a changed man.
"Soon, everyone knew he was with the Taliban. We saw him with their patrols," said Safdar Khan, a family friend.
Meanwhile, the Taliban had broadened its ambitions. In summer 2007, army commandos stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad, which had become a forum for radical defiance of the government. In Mohmand, the Taliban seized a local shrine, renamed it the Red Mosque in honor of the dead and declared war on Pakistan. A wave of suicide bombings followed, as Taliban factions united against the government.
The army fought back with an offensive in Mohmand and arrested both Yar Dad Khan's father and his uncle, the father of Raheel Khan. As their tribe's maliks, they were culpable if any member became involved in the insurgency.
Through intermediaries, the two men reached out to Raheel Khan and sought to persuade him to abandon the Taliban. One night last April, he gave his answer. At a family wedding, he and a band of 25 Taliban fighters kidnapped the groom. When the groom's father tried to negotiate for his son's release, Raheel Khan shot the man dead. Jahanzeb Khan, also a cousin of Raheel's, was 40.
Eventually, the maliks were released, but Mohmand is still not safe for them. They were too weak to raise a militia to battle the Taliban, and their vulnerabilities are clear.
Raheel Khan has not been heard from in months. He may have been killed in the army's offensive or by one of the missiles that periodically rain from a passing U.S. drone. But Yar Dad Khan said his neighbors have their own theory, one that dates from a failed attack last month by men who ambushed his father in an apple orchard.
"They have told us, 'One of those masked men, he looked like your cousin.'(Washington Post)