Return of the Taliban [home page]
  • home
  • watch online
  • pakistan
  • tribal areas
  • interviews
  • site map
  • discussion

nek mohammed

mohammed

A young, charismatic Pashtun tribesman, he headed an Al Qaeda training camp near Kabul and by the age of 27 was a Taliban commander in South Waziristan.

The United States pressed Pakistan to do something about Mohammed, but it wasn't until two assassination attempts against President Musharraf -- one linked to South Waziristan -- that the government sent gunships and 5,000 troops into the area in March 2004, targeting Al Qaeda camps and Mohammed's home in the Shakai valley. The fighting was fierce and the government suffered heavy casualties. President Musharraf ordered the army to begin negotiating with the militants.

A month later, South Waziristan tribesmen gathered at the main madrassa in Shakai to witness an agreement between the government and militants. According to the government, Mohammed agreed to lay down arms and "register" foreign militants living in the area. Gen. Safdar Hussein, a top army commander, was sent to bless the deal. Government officials also agreed to give money to the militants so they could pay their debt to Al Qaeda.

The deal broke down almost immediately; Mohammed claimed he never agreed to identify or hand over any Al Qaeda militants and the Taliban began killing tribal elders who helped broker the agreement.

In June 2004, Mohammed was killed by a Hellfire missile fired from an unmanned U.S. Predator airplane. Mohammed was hailed as a martyr and his grave has become a shrine. The Pakistan government still tries to keep secret American involvement in his death.

Here, talking about Nek Mohammed are Rahimullah Yusufzai of the BBC and Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars.


 

Rahimullah Yusufzai

Journalist, BBC

Rahimullah Yusufzai

Nek Mohammad was a tribesman from Pakistan's tribal region of South Waziristan. So he was a Pakistani tribal militant. He had fought in Afghanistan alongside Taliban.

In fact, he was really close to one Afghan Taliban commanders, Saif Rahman Mansour, who fought the Americans in Paktia. That operation was called by the U.S. military as Operation Anaconda. And he was the one who fought them. So I believe that Nek Mohammad and many of these Arabs and Central Asians were also in that battle in Paktia province in southern Afghanistan.

Nek Mohammad was a young man. When he became known he was just 27 years old, and he became a commander of these Pakistani tribal militants who were harboring the Al Qaeda members in Waziristan. So my opinion is that after Operation Anaconda, many of these people slipped across the border into Pakistan and took refuge in South Waziristan with people like Nek Mohammad.

Now the initial approach to Nek Mohammad involved negotiating [with] General Safdar Hussein. Tell me that story. It's an interesting one.

Yes, Nek Mohammad became really strong because he attracted all these Taliban, Pakistanis and Afghans also.

He was very charismatic.

Very charismatic, you know, he was in a way a daredevil, unafraid of anything. When the Pakistan army and the Frontier Corps tried to take over his village Kalusha, near Wana in South Waziristan, the army suffered a lot because they [Mohammed's men] were sitting in ambush and the army suffered casualties. Then they realized his power. They thought he has real power and he can strike back.

So after suffering on both sides, they finally agreed to have a jirga or council. And a peace agreement was signed in a place called Shikai Valley in South Waziristan. And they then called the commander of Pakistan army, Gen. Safdar Hussein, a personal event to a madrassa in Shikai.

Look, this is very important in the tribal context because an army general is going to his place. Instead of the militants coming to the army, the army is going to their place, which means they recognize their strength and their influence. Then you go to a madrassa, which was in a way one of the headquarters of the militants. And then you garland Nek Mohammad. You exchange gifts. You say that he's a brother.

And you say that "look, all these reports about the presence of foreign militants and terrorists in Shikai, in Waziristan are not true." This was Gen. Safdar Hussein saying that. Now, having said that, you sign an agreement. And immediately after the agreement, the spirits arise. …

And he received a lot a money from the government.

The money, actually -- now why was the money given? The government says that it was for the damages suffered by the tribal people or people like Negwam, [whose] houses were demolished by the army. … So in the tribal context, you compensate them. That was how the money was paid according to the government. But … it became something of a scandal, you know, that the government is trying to pay off these people.

So there were so many disputes. And this agreement didn't work. Nek Mohammed did not produce any foreign militants. And then he was killed in a village near Wana. The army said, "We have killed him." But the general perception is that he was killed by the U.S.

Through a Predator drone.

With a laser guarded missile. And so many people were witness to what happened. The army still insists that we killed him. …

And then what happened, you know, the government signed another peace agreement with the five people who were his successors, Haji Sarif and his brother Haji Omar and Maulvi Abdul Aziz and the other guy, Javed Khan. …

Now there is no clause which required the militants to produce the foreigners. In the early agreement they were saying that they're required to produce the foreign militants. But now there was no agreement of that sort. … But they agreed not to launch attacks across the border in Afghanistan.

Author, Ghost Wars

read the full interview

Steve Coll

Nek Mohammed was a Taliban and Pashtun Islamist commander who had been very active along the southern frontier in the 1990s. He was regarded, I think, as a bit of a hothead and a little bit of a dangerous figure, which is a useful reputation to have as a commander.

He didn't have a long history with bin Laden and Zawahiri, but he controlled the ground that they needed, and he was sympathetic to their cause. He also seemed to have the view that anyone who the United States and Pakistan army regarded as an enemy had to be a friend of his. …

What the Pakistanis discovered when they hunkered down in South Waziristan is that the old political intermediaries in Waziristan and elsewhere in the tribal areas had been essentially overtaken by religious commanders and religious networks. Someone like Nek Mohammed represents the new authority in Waziristan.

Pakistanis attempted to negotiate with him the way they used to try to negotiate with the old authority, but it turns out that the Islamists are not as interested in the patronage of the Pakistani state as traditional tribal elders had occasionally been. ...

Look, Nek Mohammed was not a very savvy political figure. He was a kid in a candy shop. He had suddenly been celebrated by his enemies, though he hadn't really offered any concessions at all, and he was himself so reckless that he made himself vulnerable politically and militarily. His assassination was one of the rare times when Musharraf and his commanders were able to target a specific individual and bring him to an end.

home + introduction + watch online + discussion + producer's journey + pakistan + tribal areas
militants + interviews + producer's chat + readings & links + dvds & transcript + site map + teacher's guide
press reaction + credits + privacy policy + journalistic guidelines + FRONTLINE series home + wgbh + pbs

posted oct. 3, 2006

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
photo copyright © corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Solitary NationApril 22nd

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS