ISLAMABAD - The Pakistani Taliban have announced an ‘armed struggle’ against an indigenous tribe and Ismaili Muslims in the picturesque northern Chitral Valley, calling on Sunnis to support their cause in a video.
The valley was once dominated by moderate Ismailis and is also home to the Kalash, a polytheistic people who claim descent from Alexander the Great and who have maintained separate cultural traditions to the predominantly Muslim country.
But migration in recent decades has meant that Sunnis are now the majority in the area, while the Kalash way of life has come under threat by the Taliban, who have also carried out a number of attacks against security forces in the area.
The Taliban’s 50-minute long video released on February 2 on their media wing’s website opens with a scenic view of the mountainous valley that is popular among domestic tourists and famed for its annual polo festival. The narrator warns the Kalash, who are thought to number only 3,500, to convert to Islam or face death.
“By the grace of Allah, an increasing number of people from the Kalash tribe are embracing Islam and we want to make it clear to the Kalash tribe that they will be eliminated along with their protectors, the Western agents if they don’t embrace Islam,” he says.
The video also accuses international NGOs of creating an “Israel” like state in Chitral by attempting to protect the Kalash culture and take people away from Islam, and vows to foil their plans.
A charitable organisation headed by the Aga Khan, the Ismailis’ spiritual leader and a globally renowned philanthropist, is singled out for condemnation. “The Aga Khan Foundation is running 16 schools and 16 colleges and hostels where young men and women are given free education and brainwashed to keep them away from Islam,” the narrator says.
He adds that the foundation’s schools and hospitals, which are free for members of the public, are espionage tools in the hands of foreign powers.
The Kalash are also warned to stop producing wine, which they make from apples, mulberries and grapes. “Western NGOs are promoting Kalash wine and we warn all those individuals and hotels selling it, they should stop production and selling of wine otherwise they will be sent to hell by the will of God.”
Online adds: Despite ongoing peace process, Taliban yet consider Pakistan army as its frontline enemy. “Our war is not restricted to Kayani or Pasha. Our frontline enemy is the Pakistan Army and its main characters. So if we get an opportunity to target, we will attack,” TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid told Newsweek.
“We have carried out big attacks everywhere, from the tribal areas to Karachi. Our most effective activities have been in Punjab and Sindh. Whether it is GHQ or Kamra or PNS Mehran or foreigners in the Northern Areas, we have influence all over the country. If the talks fail and an operation is launched, we will have no regrets about what happens next,” TTP’s vocal person said in the interview.
On a query as to how does TTP views the killings of polio vaccinators, the spokesman said “No comment. But I will say that the Taliban have never accepted responsibility for these attacks. You cannot ignore the conspiracies being hatched in the disguise of polio vaccinations.”