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Terrorism & Security

Pakistani tribesmen organize private armies to fight Taliban

After weeks of fighting between the Pakistan Army and militants, the declaration of a month-long cease-fire may give the Taliban time to regroup.

By David Montero / September 1, 2008

Pakistan's Taliban might be getting stronger, wreaking havoc along the country's border with Afghanistan, but they are also growing wildly unpopular, inciting their own tribesmen to turn against them.

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In the latest of a series of incidents, a lashkar, or private army comprised of Pakistani tribesmen, torched the houses of Taliban commanders in Bajaur, near the Afghan border, vowing to fight them until they are expelled, the Daily Times, a Pakistani newspaper, reports.

Tribesmen in Bajaur Agency's Salarzai tehsil on Sunday formed a private army (lashkar) of around 30,000 people against the local Taliban. A local jirga decided to form the lashkar in the wake of the increasing presence of the local Taliban in the area. The lashkar torched 14 houses, including the house of a local Taliban commander. Tribal elder Malik Munsib Khan, who heads the lashkar, said tribesmen would continue their struggle until the Taliban were expelled from the area, adding that anyone found sheltering Taliban militants would be fined one million [rupees] and his house would be torched. The tribesmen also torched two important centres of the Taliban in the area and gained control of most of the tehsil.

Dawn, another English-language daily in Pakistan, cited the lashkar at a much lower number.

The tribe has raised a lashkar of more than 4,000 volunteers. Malik Munasib Khan, who is leading uprising against the militants, said that the houses destroyed by the volunteers included one of militant leader Naimatullah, who had occupied several government schools and converted them into seminaries.

The development comes in the midst of the Pakistan Army's bombardment campaign, which has been unfolding for weeks in the tribal agency of Bajaur, a militant stronghold where some top commanders of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, including Osama bin Laden, are believed to be hiding. The bombardment, which has left some 400 militants dead according to The New York Times, highlights the rising power of the Taliban some seven years after they were first ousted from power in Afghanistan. But it also showcases why the Taliban are highly unpopular: Some 200,000 people have been displaced because of fighting, while dozens of citizens have been killed in clashes between the militants and military.


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