Pakistan's fresh resolve in latest battle against Taliban
The Army has a mandate to continue its offensive in the Bajaur tribal area until it's won.
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Tribal forces join the battleSkip to next paragraph
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But this progress has not only been the Pakistani Army's. Suffering from some of the worst casualties in the war, local tribesman have now formed lashkars, or militias, that claim to act independently of the Pakistani Army and against any foreign presence in their land that they consider threatening, including the Taliban's. A handful of lashkars now operate across the tribal territory.
"We had become virtually hostage to these militants who showed no respect to local customs and traditions and humiliated very respectable members of the society," says Malik Kamal Khan, the leader of the 15,000-strong lashkar from the Salarzai tribe, one of the largest.
An assembly of tribal elders was faced with the choice to surrender to the militants or oust them, the bearded tribal elder explains, brandishing an AK-47 assault rifle. "It was a difficult and risky decision, but we had to come up with something, so [we] resolved to take on the militants."
The military, while remaining reticent on this grass-roots resistance, is hardly indifferent to the trend. "The major reason for our success in Bajaur," says Maj. Gen. Ather Abbas, the spokesperson for the Pakistani Army, "is the active support of the local people for the ongoing military operation."
The early signs of success against the Taliban in Bajaur have come despite the fact that militants have been most deeply entrenched in Bajaur. "Unlike in Swat [a northern area] and the rest of FATA, the Army has encountered fixed defensives here," says Sehgal. "And they've been surprised by this."
Pakistan: ready to play hard ball?
Observers suggested that the offensive was meant to demonstrate to the US that the new Pakistani government was willing to play hard ball, something some US officials had begun to doubt.
Last month US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was "encouraged" by the Bajaur offensive.
Yet, as a sign of America's waning patience with Pakistan, the US has begun launching periodic airstrikes into FATA and in September staged a rare ground raid into the territory.
At the same time, devastating suicide bombings – one at Pakistan's largest military hardware factory in August and another in Islamabad's Marriott Hotel last month – have intensified the domestic threat of militancy and turned public opinion more in favor of military action.
US military incursions in FATA have so far steered clear of Bajaur, but some observers worry that continued US strikes could erode public support for fighting militants.
The lashkars fighting the Taliban have declared that they would attack any Americans who enter their territory.
• Behroz Khan contributed from Bajaur.