Pakistanis Worry About Taliban Expansionism

April 25, 2009|By Mark Magnier and Zulfiqar Ali | Mark Magnier and Zulfiqar Ali,Tribune Newspapers

After a day of meetings and government threats, a group of Taliban fighters grabbed their guns Friday, jumped into their trucks and headed back toward the Swat Valley.

But residents of the Buner district, the object of the Taliban expansionary push, remained badly shaken, well aware of the militants' record in neighboring Swat of burning schools, beheading policemen and beating unmarried couples walking in public or holding hands.

"I can't think of going back to Buner," given the security situation, said Afsar Khan, 40, a municipal council member, who fled to Peshawar with his family.

Moreover, many residents worried that the militants' departure from Buner, just 60 miles from the capital city of Islamabad, was largely a charade. They said a limited number of militants made a big show of leaving but that as many of their colleagues remained quietly behind. Some officials reckoned that at least 300 armed Taliban arrived from Swat, but only a few dozen appeared to return.

Some experts also expressed doubt that the Taliban action was anything but a tactical retreat that would give their forces an opportunity to regroup and expand their influence at a more opportune time.

In the past, the Taliban's influence in Pakistan has been largely confined to frontier and tribal areas near the Afghan border of less immediate concern to many urban middle-class Pakistanis.

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