In last Tuesday’s Blog I referred to a journalist who spent has a week in South Waziristan – the first member of the press to do so in over a year. Travelling through Jandola, and by successfully dodging all the military check posts in route, he made it to Wana and beyond. While there he got the exclusive opportunity to interview the ‘Amir’ of Pakistani Taliban Haji Mohammad Omar (pictured above.
Here is the interview which came out only a few hours ago.
(I hope to be publishing the rest of his reports on Waziristan as they come out).
Meeting Pakistan's Taleban chief
By Aamer Ahmed Khan, BBC News, South Waziristan, Pakistan
Not many outside Pakistan's troubled tribal zone of Waziristan along the country's north-western border with Afghanistan will be familiar with the name of Haji Omar.
But in Waziristan, it is a name that is commanding increasing respect and awe with every passing day.
Haji Omar is the amir (chief) of the Pakistani Taleban that have risen over the last year to take control of large parts of Waziristan.
His writ runs virtually unchallenged in South Waziristan and he seems confident that his commanders will soon establish Taleban control in North Waziristan as well.
Meeting him in Wana, South Waziristan's largest town, was not exactly what I had expected when I sought an appointment with him through an intermediary in Peshawar.
He was, after all, a supposed al-Qaeda ally, a man on the run from Pakistani authorities who claim to be in control of South Waziristan.
Thus far, he has also successfully dodged the extensive American aerial and human intelligence network in the area.
I asked my escort where we were headed as we left Dera Ismail Khan - the second largest city in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province - at sunrise to meet Haji Omar.
"Wana, where else?" he grinned.
"We will send him a message when we get to Wana and he will come and meet us," the guide told me.
That was exactly how it happened.
Haji Omar drove up to the compound where I was in a simple pick up truck, the kind that one sees in the use of traders and merchants in Waziristan.
There seemed to be nothing remarkable about him - barring the formidable posse of Taleban guarding him.
This impression, however, was quickly dispelled as he started talking.
"Don't listen to anyone who says we have ordered people to grow beards," he laughed.
It was an easy, friendly kind of laughter.
"You don't have a beard and yet here we are sitting as friends, no?" he laughed some more.
Mullah Omar lieutenant
Haji Omar is 55 but appears much younger, his looks belying the fact that he has spent half his life fighting on various fronts in Afghanistan.
Born in the village of Kalushah some 10km (six miles) from Wana, Haji Omar spent several years fighting the Soviets in Bagram and Kabul.
He was injured several times but disengaged from the war only when the Soviets withdrew.
Not wanting to be a part of the fratricidal war between various Mujahideen factions, he left for Dubai in the late 1980s.
Haji Omar returned to Waziristan and then went to live across the border in Kandahar when the Taleban took control of Afghanistan.
He remained there, serving as one of the many lieutenants of Taleban leader Mullah Omar, until the fall of the Taleban in November 2001.
Since returning to Wana in late 2001, he has been organising the Pakistani Taleban in Waziristan.
Haji Omar has two wives - one in Wana, and one he married later in Kandahar.
Tall and well built, he speaks halting, uncertain Urdu being more proficient in Pashto and Arabic.
There is nothing uncertain about his views though.
"Your government is very happy with us because we have established peace in South Waziristan," he says.
"It is only scared that we may enforce the Sharia [Islamic moral code] here."
Perhaps that is not the government's primary worry at this stage.
Intelligence officials dealing with the tribal areas had earlier told me that their real worries stemmed from the composition of the group calling itself the Pakistani Taleban.
One senior official had alleged that a large number of criminals had entered the Taleban ranks in order to make money from the Arab and Central Asian fighters seeking refuge in Waziristan.
"What do I need money for?" Haji Omar seemed genuinely surprised at the intelligence analysis.
"The government has destroyed my house. If I was getting money from the Arabs, I would have rebuilt my house by now. But I and my people are living in caves and tents," he said.
"Jihad is never for money. If I take money from anyone, I will suffer even in death," he added.
Irrespective of whether money is involved or not, foreign militants are the crux of the problem, aren't they? I asked him.
"The issue is the government's poor understanding of the issue," Haji Omar says.
"Afghanistan was an Islamic country with an Islamic system. It has now descended into anarchy.
"The only way for us to put an end to the anarchy there is to wage a jihad against the Americans and anyone who supports them."
That includes Pakistan, the key American ally in the region.
"Yes, we treat all American allies as enemy. We have caught many people who were trying to help the Americans, either directly or through Pakistan," he said.
What happens when they catch such people?
"We do not waste our bullets on them," Haji Omar said with a smile.
"We slaughter them."