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Pakistani Tribesmen Rise Up Against Taliban


Top Pakistani and U.S. officials have repeatedly declared there is a major change in the public mood against Taliban militants in Pakistan. In what could be the latest evidence of that sentiment, hundreds of armed Pakistani tribesman are attacking Taliban positions in a remote area in the northwest following a suicide attack last week on a packed mosque that killed dozens of people, including children.

In Pakistan's remote district of Upper Dir near the border with Afghanistan, the shock of the attack on the mosque during Friday prayers turned to anger a day later.

That is when at least 400 armed tribesmen formed a civilian army, commonly called a "lashkar," and started attacking Taliban militants in several villages. Reports say anywhere from seven to 13 Taliban militants were killed and several of their hideouts destroyed.

The civilian uprising in Upper Dir appears to be the latest evidence of growing anti-Taliban sentiment among the public, according to Fazal-ur-Rehman, Director of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad.

Rehman says this is a new development among the Pakistani public, one that is linked to the month-long military offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley.

"Now with government support and the military operation (in Swat), they have seen that this is the time to get themselves organized in order to create a resistance against these Taliban," Rehman said. "What you can see now are the initial signs of this trend."

Rehman says local lashkars like the one that formed in Upper Dir have been encouraged by Pakistani officials, who have come to realize that security forces simply cannot extend their reach throughout Pakistan to stop militant attacks.

"Empowering local people to create their own defense mechanism and their own defense system - this kind of local management of security affairs will be very helpful," said Rehman.

But, he warns, this type of local uprising will not last without strong backing from government officials.

Aftab Sherpao, a former interior minister and chief minister in the North West Frontier Province, says the public does not trust officials to provide security. Still, he says there are ways the government can capitalize on the growing dislike of the Taliban.

He says the government needs to make sure the Swat Valley operation, and the resulting displacement of more than two million people, is handled in a humane fashion.

"Once the operations are finished and the government has established its writ, they have to take the IDP's (internally displaced people) in a very organized manner back to their homes. The reconstruction and rehabilitation has to start and the police force has to be established," said Sherpao. "They can recruit the police from the IDPs living in the camps. This is the process that is being very keenly watched by the public across the country. If this goes well, that will generate a lot of good will."

The army's ability to clear Taliban militants from key areas of the Swat Valley and elsewhere in the region has been praised from Islamabad to Washington. And although the army says the battle will not be over until top Taliban leaders are captured or killed in the Swat region, Pakistani officials say they are confident the Taliban are on the defensive.

But the Taliban have shown they are still capable of striking the country's main cities. On Saturday evening as the lashkar in Upper Dir began to fight local Taliban, a suicide bomber penetrated a police compound in the capital, Islamabad, killing two policemen.

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