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Rahimullah Yusufzai: Afzal Khan Lala of ANP vows to stay in Swat despite fresh attack

Afzal Khan Lala vows to stay in Swat despite fresh attack
Seeks arms for village militias to fight militants

Monday, January 12, 2009
by Rahimullah Yusufzai

PESHAWAR: Despite one more attack by militants on his house on Saturday, elderly politician Mohammad Afzal Khan is determined to stay put in his native Swat and organise resistance against the Maulana Fazlullah-led Taliban.

“I have asked the Governor of NWFP, Owais Ghani, to provide arms and support to the people of Swat to enable them to fight back and protect themselves against the militants. I want to convey the same message to the Chief Minister but have been unable to reach him on phone,” he told The News from his village, Bara Drushkhela, in Swat’s Taliban-infested Matta tehsil.

The 82-year-old Afzal Khan Lala, as he is commonly known, belongs to the Awami National Party (ANP), which is also the party of NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haider Hoti. He is a veteran nationalist leader and has served as both federal and provincial minister.

In the latest attack on his house, the militants reportedly fired from the home of a goldsmith, Ahmad Jan, belonging to Bara Drushkhela. It was the first time that someone from Afzal Khan Lala’s village was involved in an attack on his home.

It was learnt that Afzal Khan Lala’s young relatives and supporters subsequently raided Ahmad Jan’s home and got hold of him and his three sons. They were handed over to the security forces, which drove them away to their camp. Later, news reached the village that Ahmad Jan and one of his sons had died. The circumstances of their death are unclear and it isn’t known if they were shot dead while trying to escape. Ahmad Jan’s two other sons were still stated to be in the custody of the security forces.

When told that the security forces were denying any attack on his house, Afzal Khan Lala laughed and said he knew it because he was experiencing such assaults. “This isn’t the first time that I have been attacked. The fact that the latest attack took place from inside my village is a worrying development. It shows that the Taliban militants were gaining strength and this was emboldening their supporters to take side in the conflict,” he explained.

Afzal Khan Lala, it may be recalled, has been attacked four to five times. He survived an ambush in the past when militants fired at his car. His two bodyguards were killed in the attack and he and his nephew, Abdul Jabbar Khan, Nazim for Matta tehsil, were wounded. Even then, he refused to shift to Peshawar for medical treatment.

Instead, he drove back to his village and entrenched himself in his home. Unlike other politicians and Khans, he hasn’t run away from Swat and is refusing to abandon his people. Appeals by relations, friends, party activists and admirers have failed to convince him to move out of Swat due to the ever-present threat to his life.

Members of Afzal Khan Lala’s extended family remain armed all the time to guard his home and also their own houses. His nephews are in the forefront in accepting the challenge from the militants and waiting to fight back. The government has deployed personnel of the security forces to protect the senior ANP politician.

Afzal Khan Lala pointed out that the security forces had become active in carrying out military operations with the change of command in Swat. However, he said the military could not be expected to secure every village and street after having conducted action.

“For this reason, I asked the government eight months ago to arm the people of Swat so that village militias could be set up to defend villages against the militants. The Swatis due to the peculiar situation in our valley during the rule of the Wali of Swat were peaceful and largely unarmed. Now they have been terrorised by the Taliban. They need help to gather courage and fight back,” he argued.