Pakistani vigilantes claim to have killed 167 Taliban

Local vigilantes allied to Pakistani soldiers on Thursday claimed to have killed at least 167 militants in two months, an indication of the growing reach of private armies in the northwest.

Officials have said up to 1 000 villagers in Upper Dir formed a vigilante mob two months ago to avenge a mosque bombing that killed 38 people on June 5 in the village of Hayagai Sharqai.

“We started with 200 men and now there are 3 000 people,” Malik Moatbir Khan, the chief of the vigilante force, told Agence France-Presse.

“We have killed 167 Taliban militants so far in many gunfights helped by the army,” Khan said, adding that 97 volunteers were also “martyred”.

There was no independent confirmation of the death toll.

Suicide and bomb attacks have killed 2 000 people in Pakistan in the last two years. Government forces have been bogged down, fighting for years against Taliban militants spreading out of tribal areas into settled areas.

Saddled with a standing army that lacks equipment and counter-insurgency specialists, one of Pakistan’s answers has been to arm and support tribesmen to protect local communities.

Pakistan’s Frontier Corps paramilitary had no details about death tolls, but confirmed that security forces were cooperating closely with tribal lashkars.

“The local lashkars are helping security forces close in on militants and we have close coordination with them,” a local paramilitary spokesperson told Agence France-Presse.

“We are providing them with rations, vehicles and ammunition,” he said.

Pakistan claims that recent fighting largely “eliminated” extremists from three northwest districts, but many fear that Taliban fighters have disappeared into the mountains rather than been outright defeated.

Commanders say more than 1 800 militants and 166 soldiers were killed in the latest assault, two years after the Taliban first rose up in the Swat valley under radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah to enforce repressive Islamic laws.—Sapa-AFP


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