"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

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In life, or death, Baitullah's fight endures

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

As reports swirl about the possible death by illness of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, 34, the fact is that as long as he is alive, no matter how sick, he will remain an inspiration for regional jihadis; should he die, he will be replaced and the battle that he fights will continue undiminished.

Baitullah died from kidney problems and high blood pressure, Pakistan's GEO Television reported this week. This is disputed in militant and Western circles.

The ethnic Pashtun guerrilla commander from the South Waziristan tribal area rose to prominence after Taliban leader Nek Mohammed was killed in a US Predator drone attack in 2004. In December 2007, a Taliban shura, a 40-member council, chose Baitullah to unify its operations in Pakistan under a united front called the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistan Taliban Movement, which is fighting Pakistani security forces in the tribal areas. The area also serves as a haven for militants active in the Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan.

Another interesting article by Mr. Shahzad on the tribal make up in the FATA region.

For a full read, click here.

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Details of the 15-Point Draft Agreement between Taliban Commander Baitullah Mehsud and the Pakistani Government


MEMRI has release the 15-point peace agreement between the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistani Government. While peace with the Taliban in Pakistan has not worked in the past, I do find items 8, 9, and 13 interesting in this peace agreement.

8. The Mehsud tribe will expel all foreigners in its areas, and will not allow its region to be used as shelter for militants.

9. Within a month of signing the agreement, the expulsion of foreign elements will begin; if the process is not completed, the tribe will receive a one-month extension.

13. If the Mehsud tribe fails to eliminate suspicions of militant training in the area, the government will have the right to take action as per tribal customs and traditions and the Frontier Crimes Regulation.

The last peace accord did not include a timetable for expulsion of foreign elements. This peace agreement does, and it also spells out what will happen if expulsions fail to happen within two months. Finally, I found it interesting the Pakistani military withdraw from the region was not put under the same timetable.

15. Government troops will begin phased withdrawal from the region of Mehsud tribe after the agreement is signed.

It will be interesting to see if the Pakistani Taliban do not adhere to item 9, if the Pakistani military will adhere to its requirements in item 13. Given the timing of the expected signing, it appears if the Pakistani Taliban do not obey item 9, then would should see the Pakistani Army commit forces into the FATA and NWFP regions around July, at the height of the summer.

The timing will also give the Pakistani military time to regroup and replan a thrust into these regions.

For a full read, click here.

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US experts expect Pak Army push in tribal area

From The News International.

Pakistan's military appears to be preparing for a new tribal-area offensive against the Taliban leader blamed for the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, US officials and experts say....

They expect military action to curb Mehsud's rising influence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas possibly in the coming weeks as Pakistan's newly elected civilian leaders try to form a coalition government."

Baitullah has gone and got himself so visible. He wants to kind of consolidate all of the Fata underneath his control, and because he's sticking out so far, the Pakistanis are going to hammer him down," said one US defence official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It will be interesting to see if this offensive happens. Given the fact the Pakistani government just reached a peace accord with the Wazir and Daur tribes in North Waziristan on 19 February 2008 which many feel will fail like past peace accords.

However, as noted before, this peace accord is unique as it was reached with tribes vice militants in the area. In addition, this peace accord was made with tribes who do not align themselves with the Pakistani Taliban of Baitullah Mehsud. Most notably, it was made with the Wasiri tribe which suffered the lose of nine tribal elders at the hands of Baitullah Mehsud in January 2008 and attempted to bring a lashkar against him.

Making peace with Baitullah's enemies, establishment of Regional and District Coordinating Offices in the tribal areas, and economic incentives to the region are all part of Musharraf's and General Kayani's multi-pronged strategy to fracture the Pakistani Taliban and eventually bring peace to the region.

While we in the US may not like this or past peace accords, it is in effect the same accords we are making with the Sunni tribes in Iraq. Musharraf and General Kayani know they cannot defeat the Pakistani Tribes and Taliban; however, they do believe they can defeat the more extremists elements within these groups. To do this, they must use fractures within the tribes. They have done this with the recent peace accord with the Wasiri and Daur tribes. It appears they will use this peace with these tribes to allow more freedom of action of military forces in Waziristan against Baitullah's Pakistani Taliban.

If we see an offensive happen against Baitullah with participation of the Wazir and Daur tribes, Musharraf and General Kayani may succeed their battle against the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda as a whole in the region.

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Pakistan's Interior Minister orders negotiations with Baitullah Mehsud

From Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal.

The Pakistani government and the Taliban appear close to signing the next round of "peace" accords to end the fighting in the tribal areas and the settled districts of the Northwest Frontier Province. Pakistan's Interior Minister stated a deal can be made with Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, while Baitullah announces a cease-fire in northwestern Pakistan.

For a full read, click here.

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Baitullah Mehsud's close aide arrested

From South East Asia News.

The Karachi Police have arrested a close associate of militant commander Baitullah Mehsud, Younas.

Police have shifted Younas to an unknown place for interrogation, Daily Times quoted sources, as saying.

Weapons and explosive material were also recovered from Younas.Younas is a 'right-hand' man of Baitullah Mehsud and brother of his spokesperson, Wahab Mehsud.

Baitullah Mehsud is head of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a newly formed coalition of Islamic militants along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and believed to be linked to al Qaeda.

For a full read, click here.

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Militants make a claim for talks

From Syed Saleem Shahzad writing for the Asia Times Online.

The capture by militants of a fort in Pakistan near the Afghan border is not just another isolated incident in the volatile region. It represents a concerted fightback by al-Qaeda to derail any peace initiatives unless the group itself is directly engaged, rather than local resistance leaders.

Mr. Shahzad notes this was in response to a,

Pakistani Taliban shura (council) headed by Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan responded positively to a government offer of a ceasefire, despite opposition from Takfiri elements who view non-practicing Muslims as infidels.

In addition, he infers,

This response is orchestrated by al-Qaeda from its camps around the town of Mir Ali in North Waziristan. Al-Qaeda views any peace agreements with the Pakistani Taliban as a government maneuver to split the militants, and also says Islamabad has been consistently intransigent over the years.

Al-Qaeda demands that it be the chief interlocutor in any peace talks, and it has set its bottom line: guarantees of the withdrawal of all security forces from the tribal areas; enforcement of sharia law, the release of Maulana Abdul Aziz of the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), who was apprehended last year; and that President Pervez Musharraf step down.

I have documented the split among Taliban and Al Qaeda's hostile take over of the Taliban before in this blog. Mr. Shahzad continues with,

Al-Qaeda believes it has sufficiently changed the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan and that the first regional dialogue with al-Qaeda - involving Britain, the United States and Pakistan - will start in South Asia.

Indeed, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in audio and video messages last year, surprised many when he urged the West for dialogue.

Of course, this was not a straight-forward offer of an olive branch, but an indication that al-Qaeda aims to be the main negotiator of Muslim issues, rather than local groups such as the Taliban, Iraqi tribes and Hamas in Palestine.

For a full read of Mr. Shahzad article, click here.

It is important for all to understand that Al Qaeda is reconstituted in the FATA and NWFP regions of Pakistan and now believes it has sufficient forces to bring the battle to the Pakistani settled regions which it has done already with Bhutto's assassination and several bombings.

Currently, Musharraf and General Kayani are massing forces in both the FATA and NWFP regions but not engaging in major combat until after the 18 February elections. Al Qaeda understands this fact and is doing all it can to prevent elections or kill Musharraf's rivals to further weaken his power, portraying to Pakistanis that Musharraf is stopping the elections to remain in power.

Expect the week proceeding the elections in Pakistan to be punctuated by several bombings in the settled areas.

However, like in Iraq, Al Qaeda cannot stop the elections. It will begin killing more and more fellow Muslims much like it did in Iraq. This will cause a backlash against Al Qaeda, but this time, the backlash will be in its last remaining stronghold. However, unlike in Iraq, the split is already present, so the backlash against Al Qaeda will be much swifter than it was in Iraq. Also, unlike Iraq, the Pakistani government and military are firmly established. Finally, there does not exist the decisive ethnic rivalries that exist in Iraq today due to three decades of suppression among Shiites.

2008 is shaping up to be a violent year in Pakistan. However, power sharing agreements between the PPP and Musharraf will signal a unified, democratically elected front against Al Qaeda and transition Pakistan to a freely elected democracy.

Try as it might, Al Qaeda cannot battle against this ideal. It will fight hard. It will slaughter many innocent people. But it will ultimately be defeated in Pakistan just like it has in Iraq. During the spring of next year, Al Qaeda's efforts will be focused in Pakistan and will need its fighters concentrated in this region. Afghanistan next year will be tame compared to this year and Iraq will be further on its way to a strong, vibrant democracy.

The only possible way to turn the tide is to assassinate General Kayani and Musharraf which is why Al Qaeda has already targeted these two for assassination.

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Hunt for Baitullah Provokes more Reprisals - International Terrorism Monitor

From South Asia Analysis Group. A great update on events in Pakistan.

The Pakistani authorities, including President Pervez Musharraf, continue to be convinced that the assassination of Mrs. Benazir Bhutto at Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007, was masterminded by Baitullah Mehsud ( stated to be 32 years old), the Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, who is the head of the Mehsud tribe in South Waziristan. Baitullah himself has strongly denied this and accused the Pakistani Army of spreading disinformation in order to divert attention away from the alleged involvement of military officers in the assassination. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) of Benazir has not accepted the claim of the Government. It claims that before Benazir's assassination Baitullah had sent a message to her through an intermediary that he would pose no threat to her.

For a full read, click here.

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Taliban commander killed in clash in South Waziristan

From Bill Roggio writing for The Long War Journal.

The Pakistani military has killed a senior Afghan Taliban commander during a clash in the tribal agency of South Waziristan. Saifur Rahman Mansour, the Taliban commander at the first battle of Tora Bora in 2002, was killed in the Taliban-controlled tribal agency, Iranian Press TV reported.

"Mansour was a big time Taliban commander in 2001-2002 and led the battle at Tora Bora," said Matt Dupee, a contributor to The Long War Journal and Afgha.com. "He was allegedly paid not to interfere with the voting process in 2004 (his base is in the east, Paktia (Zurmat district) and ceased his activities in 2005. The Taliban subsequently removed him from the Rahbari Shura following rumors of his split. In 2006 he restarted his militant activities and became a part of the Peshawar Shura (really based out of Waziristan) once again and launched an offensive in the eastern areas alongside the Haqqani network. His main skill was commanding men on the battlefield and his in-depth knowledge of military tactics and guerilla warfare."

For a full read, click here.

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Pakistani troops kill more than 50 rebels near Afghan border

From Arab Time.

Pakistani troops killed more than 50 Taleban militants after fighting off an attack on a military fort in a troubled tribal region bordering Afghanistan, security officials said Saturday. The clash occurred on the night between Wednesday and Thursday near the town of Ladha in the rugged South Waziristan tribal district, where thousands of Pakistani troops are deployed to fight al-Qaeda and Taleban militants. “More than 50 miscreants were killed in the attack and an unknown number were also injured,” a senior security official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. Chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP that militants suffered “heavy casualties in the encounter” but said he had no official figures yet.

It appears the miscreants being talked about were followers of Baitullah Mehsud.

Full a full read, click here.

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South Waziri Tribesmen Organize Counterinsurgency Lashkar

Andrew Mc Gregor writes for The Jamestown Foundation about the Waziri tribemen organizing a lashkar against foreign militants in Pakistan. He notes,

Maulvi Nazir—a 33-year-old tribal leader also known as Mullah Nazir—is leading the effort to take retribution for the slayings. Most of those killed in the attacks were loyal to him. A former Taliban commander believed to have connections to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), Nazir has publicly accused Baitullah Mehsud for the killings. Baitullah, appointed as the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan coalition late last year, has also been blamed by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on December 27, 2007, a charge Baitullah has denied.

Mr. Mc Gregor explains the current situation which resulted in a lashkar.

The Ahmadzai believe that the assassins of the elders are Uzbek militants from the community of Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) fighters who crossed into South Waziristan from Afghanistan in 2001. Led by Tahir Yuldash, the Uzbeks had been allowed by the Taliban to take refuge and set up training camps in Afghanistan after a number of setbacks in their Central Asian jihad. Initially trained and led by Uzbek veterans of the Soviet armed forces, the Uzbeks are skilled fighters who have taken on security duties for the al-Qaeda leadership in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Since their arrival the Uzbeks have established successful farms and businesses as well as integrating into the local community through intermarriage. By doing so, the Uzbeks have availed themselves of the powerful local custom of melmastia (“hospitality”), which involves the protection of the host party against all attempts to harm or seize the guest. At the same time the Uzbeks have become involved in local vendettas as guns-for-hire and are blamed for much of the violent crime in the region. This has resulted in a number of violent battles between tribesmen and Uzbek fighters in recent years. Already well-known in Afghanistan as a Taliban commander, Maulvi Nazir made his reputation locally by leading tribesmen in successful attacks against the Uzbeks last year, driving most of them from the Wana Valley in April 2007. The Uzbeks have developed especially close ties to members of the Mehsud tribe but are no longer united under a single leader.

However, he notes,

There are indications that the murders of the Ahmadzai leaders may be part of an intra-clan struggle for leadership of the Ahmadzai. According to one report, Maulvi Nazir’s brother and rival, Noorul Islam, has claimed responsibility for the attacks as retaliation for Maulvi Nazir’s alliance with the government and his initiation of a war against the Uzbeks. According to Noorul, “Maulvi Nazir is the government's agent and he will pay a heavy price for killing mujahideen" (Udayavani, January 10). Not all members of the Mehsud tribe support Baitullah’s growing feud with the Ahmadzai: a jirga of 80 Mehsud elders met with Baitullah’s followers on January 8 to try to defuse a potentially devastating tribal war.

While Mr. Mc Gregor ends with,

It would be a mistake to regard Maulvi Nazir as either pro-Washington or pro-Islamabad. Nazir acts in his own interest, those of his clan and those of his tribe and will ally himself with anyone he perceives may further those interests. His extended family owns property on both side of the Afghan-Pakistani border and he travels freely between the two without interference from the Afghan Taliban. The apparently impending explosion of violence in the Waziristan frontier region will only create further instability that can be exploited by the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

It must be noted that significant rifts are beginning to occur between the Taliban themselves in Pakistan and with Al Qaeda. While this instability can be exploited by the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, one would assume that Al Qaeda would prefer stability in this region and instability in the settled, eastern regions of Pakistan. The last thing Al Qaeda wants as it seeks to battle the Pakistani government would be infighting among its supporters in its base of operations. This did not prove productive for Al Qaeda in Anbar, nor is it proving productive in the Diyala province. I do not think it will end up being productive here.

So, yes, Al Qaeda does seek instability in the settled, eastern areas of Pakistan and is formenting instability in this region with suicide bombing. However, the instability occurring in the FATA region can, should, and undoubted will be used by the Pakistani government to weaken Al Qaeda stronghold of this area.

For a full read of the above article, click here.

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Tribesmen raising anti-Al Qaeda Lashkar

Dawn is reporting of major rift between Al Qaeda in tribes in South Waziristan.

Thousands of armed tribesmen of South Waziristan met here on Wednesday, vowing to organise a Lashkar to hunt down Al Qaeda-linked militants blamed for killing nine of their kinsmen.

The tribal jirga in Wana came three days after militants stormed two offices and killed nine tribal elders of a government-sponsored peace committee.

The jirga ordered tribesmen from every household belonging to the Wazir tribe to come to Wana with arms to prepare for action, a local official said.

"One man from each house should come to Wana with a gun at 10am on Thursday to plan our defence and act against those who are responsible for disorder," tribal chief Malik Ghaffar told the gathering.

Wazir tribe chief Maulvi Nazir, who earned fame after he drove out hundreds of Uzbeks from the region last year in bloody clashes, is expected to address the Lashkar on Thursday.

He did not turn up at Wednesday’s meeting but had earlier blamed Baitullah Mehsud, a local Al Qaeda commander and leader of the rival Mehsud tribe, for the killing of the peace committee members.

Residents have reported that announcements have been made on a public address system asking Mehsud tribesmen to "leave Wana to avoid losses".

Baitullah Mehsud is accused by the government of masterminding a spate of suicide attacks in the country, including the December 27 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in a gun and bomb attack in Rawalpindi. Mehsud has denied any involvement in the killing.

Local sources told AFP his tribe was preparing a jirga to negotiate with the Wazir tribe to avoid a confrontation

A couple of significant notes here:

1. This is the beginning of the end for Al Qaeda. This is their sole remaining base of operations. Now locals have not only stopped supporting them, but if this report is to be believed, a jirga is being convened to actively go after Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

2. It notes that Baitullah Mehsud is a local Al Qaeda commander. Stories have been coming out stating he was a leader of the united Taliban in Pakistan, but here he is stated to be a local leader of Al Qaeda. Note again, the symbolic shift against Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Take these two facts together with an earlier reports that Al Qaeda is attempting to execute a forceful take over of the Taliban, an Afghani Taliban leader switching sides, Mullah Mansoor Dadullah defiance of dismissal by Mullah Omar, and reports of Islamic parties are losing support in Pakistan and we see mounting evidence of a significant fracture between the Taliban and Al Qaeda and between the Taliban themselves.

I reported earlier that Al Qaeda made a grave mistake in assassinating Bhutto. While initially claiming credit for Bhutto's assassination, it was never officially taken credit for due to the uprising of support for Bhutto.

Musharraf used emergency rule to reposition tens of thousand forces from Kashmir to the FATA region. With all this military supporting them, tribal leaders will feel safe confronting Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Al Qaeda took a great risk assassinating Bhutto and bringing its war directly to its base of operations. It saw that it could have possibly gained nuclear weapons to use against the infidel. It now will soon be battling in its sole remaining safe haven.

Not only is Al Qaeda in Iraq defeated, but so is Al Qaeda in Pakistan, and therefore, Al Qaeda in general.

2008 is quickly shaping up to be a great year for people who love freedom. With Pakistani elections on 18 February 2008, it may very well also be a great year for people who love democracy.

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Al Qaeda’s Newest Triggerman, Baitullah Mehsud

Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau write an informative article for Newsweek about Al Qaeda’s wewest triggerman, Baitullah Mehsud, who was also recently was appointed the head of the newly formed Taliban Movement in Pakistan, a loose alliance of jihadist organizations in the tribal agencies by a council of militant leaders from the tribal agencies and neighboring areas. If Mullah Omar is the head of the Afghanistani Taliban, then Baitullah Mehsud is his equivalent in Paksistan. Recently, Baitullah Mehsud is being blamed for most of the suicide bombings in Pakistan, including Benazir Bhutto's assassination. This Newsweek article examines his rise and the possibility of his forces killing Bhutto.

Musharraf told a press conference last Friday that the tribal leader was behind most if not all of the 19 suicide bombings in Pakistan, including the two aimed at Bhutto, in the past three months. "He is the only one who had the capacity," says one Afghan Taliban with close connections to Mehsud, Al Qaeda and Pakistani militants.... Pakistani and U.S. authorities now fear that Baitullah, encouraged by the chaos that followed Bhutto's assassination, will try to wreak more havoc before the rescheduled Feb. 18 national elections.

The article goes on to detail how was he able to assassinate Bhutto.

Baitullah and his Qaeda allies had laid out remarkably intricate plans for killing Bhutto, who was a champion of secular democracy and a declared enemy of the jihadists. He says Baitullah and Al Qaeda's No. 2, Ayman Al-Zawahiri—along with Zawahiri's deputy, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Al Qaeda's new commander of military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan—had dispatched suicide-bomber squads to five cities: Karachi, Peshawar, Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi, where she was killed.

His forces are able to move freely in Pakistan due to their tradecraft.

With a long tradition as smugglers, the tribals (most of whom, like Baitullah, take Mehsud as their surname) run an extensive nationwide trucking and transport network that reaches from the borderlands into teeming cities like Karachi, allowing Baitullah to easily move men and weapons throughout Pakistan.

Newsweek goes on to explain one of his recent attacks.

One of Baitullah's biggest successes came in August, when his men captured more than 250 Pakistani soldiers and paramilitary troops, who surrendered without firing a shot. Mehsud demanded the release of 30 jailed militants and the end of Pakistani military operations in the Mehsud tribal area as the price for the men's release. To show he meant business, he ordered the beheading of three of his hostages. Once again, Musharraf gave in.

The article ends with Baitullah's goals for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In his few statements to the press, Baitullah has made his agenda frighteningly clear. He vowed, in a January 2007 interview, to continue waging a jihad against "the infidel forces of American and Britain," and to "continue our struggle until foreign troops are thrown out" of neighboring Afghanistan.

One point that Newsweek misses in this article even though they touch on it is the fact that Musharraf signed a peace deal with Baitullah in 2005 (which the article notes). However, what the article does not note is this is the reason we (and other governments) cannot negotiate with terrorists. These terrorists are no different than plane hijackers. They will always negotiate when their back is against the wall, but will later come back to reap havoc. If we allow them to persist or exist, they will continue to grow stronger and their actions will grow to a level of strategic or political importance, like the assassination of Bhutto.

Baitullah is waging war in Pakistan as part of Al Qaeda's overarching goal to create a Salafist Caliphate. This goal has not changed. What has changed is the location, which is now Pakistan and hopefully to include Afghanistan in the future since Iraq is now lost to Al Qaeda.

It appears we have won one battle, Iraq, in the Global War on Terror. We have prevented the re-establishment of another Caliphate in Afghanistan which shows Al Qaeda' inability to project their war over long lines of communication for prolonged periods of time. However, now they have internal lines of communication inside Pakistan that must be dealt with.

Musharraf is being put in a difficult position. He needs US help to close these lines of communication to save Pakistan; however, getting US assistance inside Pakistan further weakens his authority. As power hungry as Musharraf is, I believe he will default to the greater good of Pakistan even if it results in his downfall. He proved this clearly in the past when he overthrew Sharif in a coup. He proved it again when he assisted US forces in Afghanistan. He proved it by stepping down as the Army Chief and naming a pro-Western successor. He proved it again recently by allowing Bhutto to come back to Pakistan to seek re-election a third time to ensure a popular democracy would prevail in Pakistan.

While Baitullah was able to silence Bhutto, he will be unable to silence the growing democratic movement in Pakistan which is why his next major target of terror is the elections. Like Al Qaeda in Iraq, whose brutal tactics caused the people to turn on it, Baituallah's tactics will fail to the principles of freedom and democracy.

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