04/04/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN

S Waziristan: more than a thousand tribal fighters set to go against al-Qaeda’s foreign militants

Tribal elders in South Waziristan are deploying their army along the Afghan border to expel Uzbek and Chechen fighters. About 60 people have already died in clashes. Last month a similar offensive led by a former Taliban leader left almost 200 people dead.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Elders in South Waziristan’s tribal areas have assembled a force of some 1,800 men to be deployed along the border with Afghanistan to fight against foreign fighters, especially Uzbek and Chechen, present in the area.

In the first skirmishes this morning more than 60 people were killed, mostly Uzbek.

“Pamphlets were distributed calling for every man to stand up to these Uzbeks and disarm them,” a truck driver from South Waziristan's main town of Wana said. “The response was tremendous.”

The violent clashes of a month ago along the Afghan border between local tribal militias and foreign fighters already cost almost 200 lives. The latter are suspected of being tied to al-Qaeda and supporters of Taliban incursions into Afghanistan,

These clashes might be the fallout of an agreement reached in the fall of 2006 between tribal leaders, Talibans and Pakistani authorities. The deal, which was made in North Waziristan but applies to other tribal areas, established a truce after Pakistan’s army and tribal rebels fought each other. In exchange for not intervening in the tribal areas the army got tribal leaders to agree to expel foreign fighters.

When tribal militias under the command of Maulvi Nazir, a former Taliban leader, began attacking Uzbeks on March 19, the fighting was so intense that regular units of the Pakistani army had to intervene. In a few days the fighting cost about 150 lives. The fighting ended only when Muslim leaders mediated. Still the whole affair remains murky.

Washington and Kabul believe that Waziristan and other tribal areas of Pakistan serve as the Talibans’ backyard in their fight against the Karzai government and the international military force present in Afghanistan.

Under US pressure, the Pakistani government tried before to expel foreigners from tribal areas but to little success. This forced Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to work out a deal with tribal leaders last year.

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