Pakistani Taliban move into new area; drone kills 3
MINGORA, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistani Taliban have moved into a new area in Pakistan, clashing with villagers and police in a mountain valley about 100 km (60 miles) from the capital, police and district officials said on Wednesday.
Separately, a Pakistani Taliban commander said the Pakistani military and the United States were colluding in U.S. drone aircraft attacks and the militants would take their war to Islamabad in response.
Surging militant violence across Pakistan is reviving Western concerns about the stability of its nuclear-armed ally. Pakistan is crucial to U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.
Alarmed by deteriorating security in Afghanistan, the United States has since last year stepped up drone strikes in Pakistan.
In the latest drone strike, three militants were killed when a drone fired a missile at their vehicle in the South Waziristan region on the Afghan border on Wednesday, a security agency official and residents said.
Pakistan objects to the drone strikes, calling them a violation of its sovereignty that complicates its effort to fight militancy.
U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, were in Pakistan for talks on security strategy this week.
In a development that will deepen the West's concerns, scores of Taliban have moved into Buner district northwest of Islamabad from the Swat valley, where authorities struck a peace pact in February aimed at ending violence.
"About 20 vehicles carrying Taliban entered Buner on Monday and started moving around the bazaar and streets," said senior police officer Israr Bacha.
Villagers formed a militia, known as a lashkar, to confront the Taliban and eight of the insurgents were killed in a clash on Tuesday, police said.
Two villagers and three policemen were also killed.
"People don't like the Taliban," Ghulam Mustafa, deputy chief of Buner, told Reuters by telephone.
Muslim Khan, a Taliban spokesman in Swat, was defiant.
"What law stops us going there?" Khan said. "Our people will go there and stay there as long as they want."
Authorities agreed to an Islamist demand for Islamic sharia law in Swat in February to end more than a year of fighting.
Critics said appeasement would only embolden the militants to take over other areas. Pakistan's Western allies fear such pacts create havens for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.
Pakistani Taliban commander Mullah Nazeer Ahmed said in an interview with al Qaeda's media arm, Al-Sahab, that Pakistan was behind the U.S. drone attacks on militants.
Authorities were misleading the public by saying it was the United States carrying out the strikes, he said, and it was the Pakistani army that sent spies to facilitate them.
"All these attacks that have happened and are still happening are the work of Pakistan," Ahmed said, according to a transcript of the interview posted on Al-Sahab's website.
Other Taliban commanders said recent violence in Pakistan has been in retaliation for the drone attacks and they threatened more unless the drone strikes stopped.
Ahmed, who is based in South Waziristan where the latest drone strike occurred, said Pakistani Taliban factions had united and would take their war to the capital: "The day is not far when Islamabad will be in the hands of the mujahideen."
Ahmed also blamed the Pakistani military's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency for sowing divisions between factions, saying the ISI was the Taliban's main enemy.
Some U.S. officials have said recently the ISI maintained contacts with militants and there were indications ISI elements even provided support to the Taliban or al Qaeda militants.
Such accusations have angered Pakistan, although a military spokesman denied reports that ISI chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha had snubbed Holbrooke and Mullen by refusing to meet them on Tuesday.