Taliban Exert Influence In Pakistan

Taliban fighters from the neighboring Swat Valley have moved into Pakistan's Buner district. There are reports of town leaders being detained, video stores being closed and barber shops banned from cutting any beards.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. In northwest Pakistan, Taliban militants are consolidating their control over the Swat Valley, near the Afghan border. They have also moved into the neighboring district of Buner. As NPR's Julie McCarthy reports, that's just a few hours drive from the Pakistani capital.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Taliban militants stole into Buner, a mountainous district dotted with villagers, under cover of darkness, arriving well- armed late in the evening two Sundays ago. That's according to resident Samir Khan(ph) who says the locals then did what few have dared to do in the face of the extremism creeping across Pakistan.

SAMIR KHAN: The people resolve to resist, to resist the Taliban.

MCCARTHY: Ak-47s in tow, Khan says hundreds of residents took a position at a police post in the village of Bagra. They were awaiting words from local elders who tried to persuade the militants to leave. They didn't.

KHAN: So it was the next day in the evening that a fight between the Taliban and the local people took place.

MCCARTHY: The clash left five locals and an undetermined number of militants dead. The Taliban quickly regrouped. Khan has fled Buner. He spoke from Peshawar where others have gone into hiding after their failed bid against the Taliban.

KHAN: The houses of some of the villagers who fighted them, who are then the next day in fact captured by the Talibans.

MCCARTHY: In Buner now the few locals who agree to speak choose their words with extreme caution. They know well the brutal tactics employed by the Taliban just over the hills in the Swat Valley where they beheaded opponents. Local officials in the path of the spreading insurgency appeared to give it wide berth and put up little resistance. Ismail Khan(ph) a senior administrator in Buner tries to convey a sense of business as usual.

ISMAIL KHAN: (Through Translator) Right now we have an agreement with the Taliban and the situation is getting back to normal. Under the compromise, the Taliban from outside Buner have left and all that remain are local Taliban who agreed not to inflict any harm.

USTAD YASIR: (Foreign Language Spoken)

MCCARTHY: But last Friday, the man in the black turban delivering the sermon at afternoon prayers was no local. This Taliban commander, who goes by the name Ustad Yasir has been dispatched from the Swat Valley, draped in a leather jacket lined with flaps filled with ammunition. As the sun sears the white marble of a crowded mosque, men in traditional Pashtun dress listen to Yasir decry Pakistan's alliance with the United States.

YASIR: (Foreign Language Spoken)

MCCARTHY: This disgraced Pakistani Army is brave enough to come after the Taliban, he says. But they should be avenging the deaths of Muslims in Afghanistan. In an interview following Friday prayers, Ustad Yasir dismisses the idea that the local population fears him and calls those who resisted the Taliban incursion out of touch elites.

YASIR: Anyone in Buner will tell you that the wealthy class always despised the black turbans, the rich were committing injustices and defaming the Taliban. But the common people of Buner are excellent and gave us a great reception.

MCCARTHY: Yasir says he expect some 10,000 new recruits in Buner.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MCCARTHY: Indoctrination comes at the touch of a button as a boy aged 11 uses his mobile phone to blast Jihadi tunes on the street. There are also new signs in the bazaar that telegraph the Taliban's draconian agenda. One reads: no women allowed. A young husband looks sheepish as he picks through the bras on display. Not even Buner's most revered spot, the Peer Baba shrine venerating a 16th century Muslim saint, escapes the Taliban's gaze. Militants claim it's become a den of vulgarity and idolatry, and seized it. Inside they snap their sticks and bark orders to discourage visitors.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign Language Spoken)

MCCARTHY: Local lawyer Atur Rahman(ph) says the intimidation is serving its intended purpose.

ATUR RAHMAN: They want to they strengthen their grip over the people.

MCCARTHY: Buner resident Imad Uddin(ph) advocates Islamic law but not he says at the barrel of a gun. Residents have been demanding an Islamic legal system for years here to replace the slow, corrupt justice system. But Uddin says people are apprehensive that the Taliban's justice, while quick, may also be brutal, as witnessed next door in Swat.

IMAD UDDIN: If there is the same story of repeated war here inside Buner, of course there will be loss of lives and the loss of properties. There is an unknown fear inside the people of Buner.

MCCARTHY: Pakistani media report that tonight hundreds of Taliban militants have poured in to patrol the streets of Buner.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.

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