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Pakistani Taliban advance beyond Swat

They have taken control of Buner next door and made forays into two more districts.

By Issam AhmedCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 22, 2009

Hard-line cleric Sufi Mohammad recently addressed a crowd in Mingora, Swat, where he recently brokered a controversial peace deal between the Taliban and the government.

BK Bangash/AP

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Lahore, Pakistan

First they won control of Pakistan's Swat Valley. Then they easily took over Buner District next door. Now the Taliban appear to have set their sights on two more neighboring areas as they continue to drive deeper into Pakistan.

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Some analysts say that, for the time being, the Taliban are likely restricted to rural areas in the northwest – it's unlikely, for example, that they could take over the nearest major city, Peshawar, where the provincial government of the North West Frontier Province is based.

Still, the militants appear intent on expanding their influence. And in the NWFP over the past several weeks they have faced little resistance from either the populace or government security forces.

"If they stay in Buner longer they will continue their drive," says analyst Rifaat Hussain, of the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. "The fact they were able to take over so easily will encourage Taliban from other districts to do the same."

The Taliban progress

In Buner, where the Taliban consolidated their control this week, militants have begun patrolling bazaars, villages, and towns, according to a leading English-language daily newspaper, Dawn. For the past six days, they are reported to have been looting government and NGO offices for supplies and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Leading politicians, bureaucrats, prominent businessmen, and judges have fled the area, says local reporter Abdur Rehman Abid. "The people of Buner feel they have been abandoned to God's will."

Taliban members have also set up checkpoints along Buner's borders with the districts of Mardan and Swabi and are making forays into those areas, Mr. Abid continues. Mardan lies southwest of Buner, toward Peshawar, and is home to NWFP Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti. Swabi borders Punjab Province, Pakistan's populous heartland.

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