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The Pakistani Taliban is moving closer to Islamabad, the capital, according to news reports. This week the militants advanced to within 60 miles of the capital, sparking concerns that their reach is growing.
A Pakistani Taliban-aligned group came to power in the Swat district of the North West Frontier Province in February, striking a controversial peace deal with Pakistani authorities. The deal allows, among other things, rule by a conservative interpretation of sharia law.
The terms of the sharia deal encompass Swat's neighboring districts, including Buner, which borders Punjab Province. However, the militants' power is more firmly established in Swat than in Buner. Reuters reports that militants arrived in Buner this week:
In a development that will deepen the West's concerns, scores of Taliban have moved into Buner district, 100 km (60 miles) northwest of Islamabad, from the Swat valley....
"About 20 vehicles carrying Taliban entered Buner on Monday and started moving around the bazaar and streets," said senior police officer Israr Bacha.
The locals in Buner district opposed the arrival of the militants, writes the Pakistani newspaper the Daily Times:
The officials told Daily Times that when tribal elders heard that Taliban had entered Buner, a grand jirga was held in the office of the Buner district coordination officer to devise a strategy to tackle the Taliban.
The jirga decided that prompt action must be taken against the Taliban and called on the people of Buner to take up arms to evict them from the district. They gave the Taliban one day deadline to leave the district, warning that the residents would otherwise be compelled to take action against them.
The police and armed civilians took up positions at Bhangra area to stop the Taliban from moving further into the district.
The insurgents refused to leave, so the locals decided to resist. They organized a type of tribal militia known as a lashkar and clashed with the Taliban, reports the Pakistani daily Dawn:
Three police officials, two Lashkar (militia) men and sixteen militants were killed in overnight clash between Taliban and Qaumi Lashkar in Buner district.... Following the battle, the Taliban took possession of the bodies of two Lashkar men and three police constables and even opened fire on Lashkar men when they tried to rescue the bodies early on Tuesday morning.
Dawn later reported that the Taliban intend to stay in the area and ensure that their version of sharia law is implemented.
The insurgents have steadily moved deeper into Pakistan's Punjab district, where Islamabad and some other major cities are located, over the past few months. In February, the Long War Journal, an online outlet that follows insurgencies in Pakistan and elsewhere, reported:
The Pakistani Taliban has expanded its insurgency beyond the Northwest Frontier Province after its forces assaulted a police checkpoint in a district in Punjab province.
Seven policemen were killed in the complex attack on a police checkpoint in the district of Mianwali in Punjab. The attack took place in the early morning when Taliban fighters detonated a bomb outside of what was described as an "an important checkpoint" in the region. The Taliban assault force then opened fire on the policemen, killing all seven manning the outpost.
In early March, militants attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team in the Punjabi city of Lahore, hundreds of miles from the North West Frontier Province. Later in the month they struck a police compound near Lahore, leaving eight dead and more than one hundred wounded. The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time that the militants are growing more sophisticated as they reach into the Pakistani interior, away from the North West Frontier Province and tribal areas:
The two Lahore attacks suggest the police are outgunned and outwitted by an increasingly sophisticated breed of militants. Monday's attack suggests careful planning, down to the blue uniforms and timing during a parade of unarmed trainees.
The cricket attacks caught police flatfooted, despite official promises there would be top-notch security for the game. Instead, nearby police failed to respond in time to prevent the gunmen from casually getting away, though police on the scene did manage to protect the cricketers.
"It's a new generation of terrorists – better equipped with better planning and better coordination," says Pakistani security expert Ayesha Siddiqa. The attack "makes a case for better equipping the police and training them."
The Long War Journal writes that militant influence has spread throughout the country. A map of militant influence on the website shows that all of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which borders Afghanistan, and most of the North West Frontier Province, are under "Taliban control."