January 10, 2008 / 12:47 PM / 12 years ago

Pakistan tribe says will take on al Qaeda fighters

By Hafiz Wazir

WANA, Pakistan, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Members of a Pakistani ethnic Pashtun tribe vowed on Thursday to raise a militia aimed at forcing al Qaeda-linked foreign militants from their lands on the Afghan border.

For several year Pakistani security forces have been trying with little success to rid the border tribal belt of foreign militants, who are blamed for raids on foreign troops in Afghanistan and for attacks inside Pakistan.

Thursday’s decision by men from the Wazir tribe came four days after gunmen, believed to be Uzbek militants, attacked two offices of a government-sponsored peace movement in South Waziristan and killed eight members of the tribe.

"A lashkar of 600 people will be organised tomorrow," tribal elder Meetha Khan told a gathering in Wana, the main town in South Waziristan. A lashkar is a militia force.

Wazir tribesmen sheltering the foreigners must now give them up, he said.

"The lashkar will give two options to those sheltering the foreigners, either to stop sheltering them and return to their tribe, or face the eviction of their families from the area," Khan said.

Thousands of foreign militants, including Arabs, Chechens and Uzbeks, fled to Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal lands after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

The militants were given refuge by the Pashtun tribes who live on both sides of the porous border.

Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is also believed to be hiding somewhere along the 2,500-km (1,600-mile) frontier.

RELATIONS BREAK DOWN

But relations between some of the tribesmen and their foreign guests began to break down last year when tribesmen, with the backing of the Pakistani military, turned against foreign militants after they had tried to kill a tribal elder.

About 300 foreign militants and up to 40 Pakistani tribal fighters were killed in days of clashes that followed.

U.S. security officials say al Qaeda militants have been able to regroup in sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal lands.

Taliban insurgents, most of them ethnic Pashtuns, are also able to plot their war against foreign forces in Afghanistan from the Pakistani side of the border, U.S. military officials say.

The Pakistani government has blamed a Pakistani militant leader from the Mehsud Pashtun tribe, based in South Waziristan, for a recent wave of suicide attacks, many on security forces.

The government said the militant, Baitullah Mehsud, was also responsible for assassinating opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on Dec. 27.

The Wazir militia was expected to operate only in the Wazir tribal area, and would thus have little or no impact on Mehsud and the al Qaeda allies in his area.

The fiercely independent, conservative Pashtun tribes have never been brought under the authority of any government, including British colonial rulers. (Writing by Zeeshan Haider; editing by Robert Birsel and Roger Crabb)



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