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Pakistani Tribesmen Declare Jihad Against Militants Linked to al-Qaida


Tribal forces in Pakistan's remote border area with Afghanistan have killed more than 40 foreign extremists linked with al-Qaida in some of the worst fighting yet in the region. From Islamabad, VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand reports the clashes occurred a day after tribal elders declared war on the mostly Uzbek militants.

Pakistani officials say hundreds of tribesmen in South Waziristan led an offensive against the foreign militants.

Local residents say the tribal force killed or captured scores of mostly Uzbek fighters outside the area's main town, Wana.

Pakistan Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao described the violence as a positive development in the fight against regional extremists.

He says the clashes stem, at least in part, from a government effort to enlist local tribes in the fight against foreign militants.

Pakistan recently signed a series of controversial peace agreements with tribal elders in the region who have promised to get rid of foreign militants in exchange for a freer hand in local affairs.

Violence has engulfed much of the countryside around Wana where local tribes have clashed with the Central Asian militants in recent weeks.

Officials say more than 250 people have been killed, including at least 200 foreigners.

Area residents say the conflict took another step toward all out war on Monday when tribal elders declared a jihad against the foreigners. Hundreds of well-armed tribesmen are reportedly on the move, ready to kill any foreigners in the region.

Thousands of Arab and Central Asian extremists flooded the area from neighboring Afghanistan in 2001, after U.S. forces ousted the hard-line Islamist Taleban regime in Kabul.

U.S. and Afghan officials say Pakistan's tribal areas remain a staging ground for pro-Taleban guerillas trying to overthrow Afghanistan's U.S.-backed democracy. But security experts in Pakistan say South Waziristan's growing civil conflict is not necessarily a sign of progress.

Retired General Talat Masood says the fighting is essentially an internal power struggle and neither side is genuinely committed to improving regional security.

He says the foreign militants may have strong ties to al-Qaida, but the local tribes still support the Taleban and remain deeply opposed to Pakistan's central government.

He says that no matter how the fighting goes South Waziristan shows no sign of turning against Islamic extremism.

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