June 10, 2009

THE WEAK HORSE:

Attacked, Pakistani Villagers Take On Taliban (SABRINA TAVERNISE and IRFAN ASHRAF, 6/10/09, NY Times)

Villagers are rising up against the Taliban in a remote corner of northern Pakistan, a grass-roots rebellion that underscores the shift in the public mood against the militants and a growing confidence to confront them.

More than a thousand villagers from the district of Dir have been fighting Taliban militants since Friday, when a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his payload during prayer time at a mosque, killing at least 30 villagers. [...]

If it can be sustained, the Dir uprising could prove strategically important as the insurgents come under increasing pressure from the Pakistani military in places like Swat and seek to preserve their havens.

Close to the border with Afghanistan, the area is used by the Taliban as a passageway to fight American forces in southern Afghanistan, local people said.

The Pakistani district, like Swat and Buner, is yet another in North-West Frontier Province where the Taliban have infiltrated in recent months from the lawless tribal areas on the Afghan border, moving to within 60 miles of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

The militants had quietly been building up their strength in northwest Dir, locals said, living among what Pakistani officials and local people described as a group of Afghans who had been in the area for years. Their commander, an Afghan named Khitab, is believed by Pakistani officials to be linked to Al Qaeda.

The Taliban group, estimated to comprise 200 to 400 people, did not enjoy broad support, local people said in telephone interviews. Just 4 of the 25 villages in the area, a valley called Dog Darra, sheltered them. Village elders tried for months to persuade them to leave, under pressure from government authorities.

That is why, local people believe, the Taliban set off the bomb at the mosque on Friday.

“They wanted to tame these people and attack them,” said Abdul Kalam, a supporter of the militia fighters. “Instead of leaving the area, they retaliated in the form of this attack.”

The bomb changed everything, and even some of those who had supported the Taliban joined the hunt, local people said.

“This bomb blast proved the last straw,” said Jamil Roghani, a man from the area who is providing medicine to the wounded. “This made the people violent.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 10, 2009 7:56 AM
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