20 Oct 2008
By Barry Newhouse
The top U.S. diplomat for South Asia is praising Pakistan's efforts to recruit local militias against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in the country's volatile tribal regions. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad.
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said his conversations with Pakistani officials had focused on efforts to convince more people to join the fight against militants and extremist groups. He said he had been encouraged by the government's increased use of tribal militias known as lashkars.
In Bajaur, where Pakistani security forces have been battling al-Qaida and Taliban militants since August, Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said nearly 10,000 militia fighters from 3 local tribes have turned against the militants.
"These tribes, since they know these areas and locations in detail, they have also earmarked the houses of the militants. So wherever they require the support of the military, say by fire or physical engagement, the military responds to that," he said.
Tribes joining the government face fierce reprisals from militants. Boucher said in the past 6 months 100 to 200 tribal leaders have been killed by militants seeking to undermine the movement.
The U.S. diplomat also discussed efforts to modernize Pakistan's military and government to fight against terrorism. He said there are ongoing efforts to use American military trainers to teach paramilitary forces operating in the tribal regions.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's military said it is continuing to question 168 foreigners who were arrested near the northwestern town Darra Adam Khel in recent days. The military said it suspects many of the detainees, most of whom are believed to be from Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, are militants.