Next Taliban conquest? A view from Pakistan's frontline.
Residents living between the militants and the capital worry their understaffed security forces can't defend their town.
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US policymakers, Ms. Fair continues, are learning lessons from Afghanistan as well as historical conflicts that it's police, not militaries, who defeat insurgencies by restoring a sense of security in held territory.Skip to next paragraph
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For Haripur residents, that sense of security is slipping. Before the insurgency, this district capital in the North West Frontier Province bloomed because of its location on the road from Islamabad to the tourist resorts of Swat.
For 25 years, Qazi Tasleem served his signature dishes of chicken bhotti and mutton handi to these passing tourists at his Asfaq Hotel. Now he's feeling the double-edged sword of his location as the Taliban in Swat seemed to aim toward the capital by moving into Buner late last month.
"Do you see many customers?" he asks, pointing to one lonely pair of diners. "It used to be full at this time."
Less local sympathy for Taliban
Yet, unlike Aslam the journalist, he feels Haripur is safe – especially given the Army's counteroffensive launched last Tuesday in Buner. Seven militants and one soldier were killed as battles continued Monday and the Taliban threatened to scrap a peace deal with the government unless the fighting stopped.
"Where would they come from? Coming here would not prove to be that easy," Mr. Tasleem says. He adds that the Hazara region of Haripur has a different culture than Buner one he claims less sympathetic to Talibanization.
Pakistanis not living in the Pashtun frontier hold similar hopes that an ethnic and cultural firewall of sorts will prevent the insurgency from gaining much further ground, says Gen. (ret.) Talat Masood.
"The more educated people are worried [that] it will become another extremist city run by militants," says a local doctor in Haripur, who refused to give his name for the sake of his own safety. With fear lining his face, he tracked down reporters after the interview to ask for his business cards back.
If the Taliban come, he says he'll be growing a beard and cutting his trousers short – part of the dress code that the militants try to impose. The doctor worries that he may no longer be able to take his children to the playground nor his wife to the half dozen restaurants in town.
Outside Haripur's Central Prison, deputy superintendent Zafir Khan has been gradually stockpiling bricks and mud gathered "from here and there" at his government residence. The materials lie piled up in his backyard, which opens onto fields and a distant range of deserted hills. Someday soon he hopes to build a wall around the property to protect himself and his four daughters.
"We are receiving threats from dangerous prisoners and without walls or guards we are not safe here," says Mr. Khan, a barrel-chested man whose biceps bulge from his uniform. "There's a lot of tension here right now."