A top Pakistani tribal leader has vowed to wipe out the feared warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who has pushed Pakistan close to collapse. 30-year-old Qari Zainuddin, the leader of Taliban [ Images ] tribesmen opposed to Baitullah, said he had mobilised 3,000 armed followers and will attempt to wipe out the Pakistani Taliban chief and drive his al-Qaeda supporters from the country.
Baitullah, who has challenged the Pakistan Army [ Images ] in the lawless South Waziristan tribal area, is considered a global terrorist threat by Western intelligence agencies. Zainuddin told The Sunday Telegraph that Baitullah had betrayed both his religion and his tribe.
"To fight our own country is wrong. Islam doesn't give permission to fight against a Muslim country. This is where we differ (with Baitullah). What we're seeing these days, these bombings in mosques, in markets, in hospitals; these are not allowed in Islam. We don't agree with them," Zainuddin was quoted as saying by the British daily.
The US has placed a US $ 5 million bounty on his head, describing him as "key al-Qaeda facilitator". His grip over the Mehsud tribe's area of South Waziristan, which lies on the border with Afghanistan, and where key al-Qaeda commanders have been given sanctuary and support, has been almost absolute for the past three years. But the challenge from Zainuddin threatens to undermine him for the first time.
Baitullah has sent out hundreds of suicide bombers and staged spectacular attacks across Pakistan. His group said it
bombed a luxury hotel in Peshawar and assassinated a prominent anti-Taliban cleric in the eastern city of Lahore [ Images ], an act that was widely condemned.
According to the report, in the town of Dera Ismail Khan, the mood has been transformed by Zainuddin's emergence. A year ago, no one dared criticise Baitullauh, even in private. Now some people are willing to vent years of silent anguish, during which time they saw their homeland snatched away by his throat-slitting thugs, the report said.
The Pakistan Army has stepped up attack on the militants, with the military targetting a stronghold of Taliban commander Baitullah in South Waziristan. Terming the stepped up strikes by militants in the country as an attack on the "sovereignty" of Pakistan, President Zardari yesterday underlined his determination to fight the Taliban insurgency to the end. "We are fighting a war for our sovereignty," Zardari said, responding to a spate of deadly terrorist attacks that have killed dozens across Pakistan.
"We will continue this war until the end, and we will win it at any cost", he said in a televised address, calling upon the nation to unite behind the anti-Taliban cause. The Pakistan Army claims over 1,400 militants have been killed so far in operations in the country's northwest and over 100 soldiers have also died in the fighting.