By Zahir Shah
Militants used Miranshah internet cafés to spread propaganda and to co-ordinate terror attacks, but troops have shut down many of the outlets as they work to eradicate the militancy in North Waziristan, officials say. The on-going military operation in North Waziristan has dealt militant propaganda efforts a serious blow. Militants have long taken advantage of email and social media sites to claim responsibility for their terror attacks and to spread other propaganda messages, but such conversation has come to an abrupt halt in the wake of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which was launched in June.
Troops have shut down scores of public call offices (PCOs) and internet cafés that were once part of the militants' communications network and have confiscated a slew of communications devices that the Taliban used in their efforts. Pakistani Army Chief Gen. Raheel Sharif visited Miranshah, the front line of the operation, July 8 and saw the militants' former operation centres. He toured shuttered internet cafés that militants had used to post propaganda on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and blogs. They also served as production houses for jihadist audio-visual materials and as a communications network. The Sherinzada Jihadyar PCO and internet café in Miranshah's main bazaar was one of the main communications points for militants and it has been shuttered, officials said, adding that the Taliban also used the café to communicate with their families and to extort money. Foreign militants among those using the sites Uzbek visitors sat for hours in the local internet cafés, Khan Wazir, a local shopkeeper, said. "I don't know what they were doing there, but they were regular visitors," he said. "They had huge phones with large screens, laptops and some strange boxes and tapes when they used to come here in the bazaar." An array of militants from different ethnic backgrounds – speaking Punjabi, various Pashtun dialects and foreign tongues like Uzbek, Tajik and Arabic – frequented the cafés, one PCO operator in Miranshah said, speaking on condition of anonymity for safety reasons. "I can't say to which group they might have been linked, but all of them called themselves mujahideen, and we never questioned them," he said. Miranshah: headquarters for violence Miranshah, more than just an outlet for spreading propaganda, has been called the epicentre for local and foreign operators who were doing everything from planning to carrying out attacks, Maj. Gen. Zafarullah Khan, General Officer Commanding of North Waziristan Agency and commander in charge of the operation, said. Miranshah's main bazaar had an "al-Qaeda shop" run by al-Qaeda militants that sold information on how to build improvised explosive devices (IEDs), as well as technology to enhance the effectiveness of IEDs and the range of communications devices. Troops have seized a large quantity of printed materials, walkie-talkies, computers and colour printers, he said.