Pakistani militia.

Pakistani villagers are increasingly taking on the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan. (Sherin Zada / AP Photo)

By Frank James

Interesting story out of Pakistan about something that appears to be a growing trend: Pakistani villagers fighting back against the Taliban.

The Associated Press' Riaz Khan is reporting that a convoy of anti-Taliban tribal elders was ambushed in northwestern Pakistan with nine people killed.

The members of the anti-Taliban citizens' group were traveling from the Machikhel area to meet security officials in Bannu district when their three-vehicle convoy was attacked by insurgents, police officer Mohammad Ghani Khan said.
Pakistani authorities have urged tribal elders to speak out against the Taliban, and in turn the militants have killed scores of local leaders. With government backing, some elders have raised militias, known as lashkars, to battle the insurgents. The militias have been compared to Iraq's Awakening Councils, which helped U.S. forces turn the tide against al-Qaida there.

One of the most attention-grabbing parts of this story is what happened after the insurgents ambushed the motorcade. They apparently moved in to kill any survivors.

Armed local residents came out of their homes and fought off the Taliban after the ambush, preventing them from killing the survivors, Khan said. Witness Inayatullah Khan said tribesmen killed two militants in the gunbattle. Security forces later arrived in the Khaisur area and joined the fight.

In so much of the reporting from this region in recent years, we've read or hear about villagers being sympathetic to or cowered by the Taliban and other militants.

But villagers fighting back against the Taliban is something that appears to be happening increasingly in Pakistan.

For instance, in June villagers attacked Taliban fighters after a mosque was bombed.

In a Reuters story at the time, a villager tapped into the growing disgust for the Taliban:

One resident of Upper Dir said the militia had demolished houses where Taliban were known to stay.
"We are Muslims, we pray regularly and read the Koran. We don't want them, they have to go," resident Samiullah Khan said by telephone. "Attacking a mosque is not Islam. They're not Muslim."

That villagers are taking up arms against the Taliban appears to be a vindication of the Pakistani government's strategy to arm villagers as a militia against the insurgents. Earlier, this year, Pakistani officials outlined plans to give villagers 30,000 weapons, many confiscated from insurgents, so villagers could help government troops respond to the Taliban threat.

Today's AP story reports that villagers in Pakistan's Swat region gathered in force:

In a third area, the Kanju district near Swat's main town, Mingora, thousands of armed citizens gathered at the Saidu Sharif airport, fearing a possible Taliban comeback and pledging to protect their area.
"This is our effort of self-help and people turned up here with whatever weapon they have from a baton to an assault rifle and pistols. ... We will resist militants and guard our area for a lasting peace," Inamur Rehman, head of the Swat National Council, told The Associated Press.

If this continues, it could represent an important, maybe even decisive stage in the fight against the Taliban in Pakistan.

categories: Foreign News

12:17 - September 24, 2009