Islamabad, July 14 : The Taliban has reportedly taken control of the Ziarat Marble Quarry, regarded as a coveted national asset.
According to the New York Times, this is one of the boldest examples of how the Taliban have made Pakistan's tribal areas far more than a base for training camps or a launching pad for sending fighters into Afghanistan.
The paper claims in a report that the taxes exacted from those mining the quarry are used to strengthen the Taliban's hold over the areas in and around the quarry.
The quarry alone has already brought the Taliban tens of thousands of dollars; the paper quotes a mine owner as saying.
The Pakistani Taliban have extended their reach through more of the rugged territory in northern Pakistan known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA.
Today the Taliban not only settle disputes in their consolidated domain, but they also levy taxes, smuggle drugs and other contraband, and impose their own brand of rough justice, complete with courts and prisons.
From the security of this border region, they deploy their fighters and suicide bombers in two directions: against NATO and American forces over the border in southern Afghanistan, and against Pakistani forces - police, army and intelligence officials - in major Pakistani cities.
The quarry operation in the Mohmand tribal district is strategically situated between the city of Peshawar and the Afghan border.
Of all the minerals in the tribal areas, the marble from Ziarat is one of the most highly prized for use in expensive floors and walls in Pakistan, and in limited quantities abroad.
The FATA Development Authority has failed over the last several years to mediate a dispute between the Masaud and Gurbaz sub-tribes over how the mining rights to the marble should be allocated, according to Pakistani government officials familiar with the quarry who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the effort's failure.
The Taliban came eager for a share of the business. Their reputation for brutality and the weakness of the local government authorities allowed the Taliban to settle the dispute in short order.
The Taliban decided that one mountain in the Ziarat area belonged to the Masaud division of the main Safi tribe, and said that the Gurbaz sub-tribe would be rewarded with another mountain.
The mountain assigned to the Masauds was divided into 30 portions, and each of six villages in the area was assigned five of the 30 portions.
The Taliban demanded about 1,500 dollars commission upfront for each portions, giving the insurgents a quick 45,000 dollars.
The Taliban also demanded a tax of about seven dollars on each truckload of marble. With a constant flow of trucks out of the quarry, the Taliban are now collecting up to 500 dollars a day.