Pakistanis, foreign militants clash

58 killed, scores wounded in mountainous area bordering Afghanistan

April 05, 2007|By Zulfiqar Ali | Zulfiqar Ali,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Peshawar, Pakistan -- Clashes between foreign militants allegedly tied to al-Qaida and local militias left 58 dead and scores wounded yesterday in Pakistan's restive South Waziristan region, officials said, in an offensive that Pakistan has declared a victory against terrorism.

The fighting erupted after tribal volunteers backed by paramilitary forces and a pro-Taliban militant group attacked the positions of Uzbek militants in the Shin Warsak area of the mountainous region bordering Afghanistan, officials said.

At least 44 of the dead were Uzbeks and local supporters. Ten local militiamen, three paramilitary fighters and a Pakistani army soldier were killed, government and security officials said.

The pitched battle was the most recent outbreak of violence to hit the lawless region, which has been rocked by heavy fighting since last month. At least 250 have been killed, the majority reportedly foreign fighters.

Many of the Central Asian militants moved into the border area in recent years, fleeing wars in neighboring Afghanistan or conflicts with governments in their homelands. Although the tribes have given shelter to the foreign militants and embrace a similarly radical form of Islam, hostilities have sprung up between them in recent years.

Pro-government tribal leaders say the Uzbeks are behind the killings of about 200 tribal elders over the past two years. Last month, a clash between a pro-government elder and an Uzbek militant helped set off the latest round of fighting.

American officials have long called on the Pakistani government to rein in foreign militants who cross the border into Afghanistan to attack U.S.-led forces. The Pakistani government, which has had little success in controlling the remote region, agreed last year to draw down the number of troops in exchange for a promise from tribal leaders to disarm or expel foreign fighters.

On Monday, a council of elders in Wana, South Waziristan's main town, declared a holy war against the Central Asians, accusing them of disregarding local traditions and killing tribesmen, and beat traditional war drums to raise a militia of 900 to flush out the foreigners and their collaborators.

The militiamen launched an assault on positions held by the Uzbeks in the Shin Warsak and Jaghundai areas about 6 a.m., officials said. The confrontation led to a furious exchange of rocket and machine-gun fire.

Witnesses said Pakistani security forces joined in the fighting, but government officials insist that they offered only minimal support and that the tribal volunteers were at the forefront of the fight. The newly formed militia dislodged the foreign fighters from bunkers that had been built but later were abandoned by Pakistani security forces on a hilltop in Shin Warsak.

Some in Pakistan saw the recent fighting as a potential turning point.

"The turning of the local tribesmen with such intensity against the foreign militants is a welcome development on which the government must build," the Pakistani newspaper Dawn said in an editorial yesterday. "Ultimately, there has to be a negotiated settlement to all that is going on in the tribal belt."

Zulfiqar Ali writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.