DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan – Heavy fighting between Pakistani tribesmen and foreign militants allegedly linked to al-Qaida has killed 60 people near the Afghan border, security officials said Wednesday.
Local tribes turned viciously against foreigners living in the lawless South Waziristan region on March 19. The government says the violence shows Pakistan is winning its fight against international terrorism.
About 50 of those killed in the past 24 hours in the South Waziristan region were Uzbeks, three security officials told The Associated Press. About 10 local tribesmen and one Pakistani soldier also died, they said.
The officials asked for anonymity because they are not authorized to make media statements.
The latest casualties bring the overall toll reported by various government and security officials to more than 250, the vast majority of them Uzbeks, Chechens and Tajiks and their local allies.
Poor security in the region, where the government has minimal control, puts it largely off-limits to reporters, making it hard to verify what little information emerges.
Hundreds of Central Asian militants settled in Pakistan’s remote border zone in the past two decades, where they have formed alliances with some of the tribes and married into local clans.
Some came to fight in the Afghan war against Soviet forces in the 1980s, others to escape U.S. forces that drove the Taliban and al-Qaida from
Afghanistan in 2001 or repression in their home countries.
Pakistan has failed to prevent Taliban militants finding sanctuary and support in the same region for their insurgency in Afghanistan.
However, it has cracked down more visibly on foreigners. It scaled back army operations in the border region last year under a series of agreements for tribal leaders to disarm or expel foreigners living there.
On Monday, a council of elders in Wana, South Waziristan’s main town, declared jihad, or holy war, against the Central Asians, accusing them of disregarding local traditions and killing tribesmen, and beat traditional war drums to raise a militia.
“Over the past two days there were efforts to raise a lashkar,” or tribal militia, Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said. “They have sent 200 people and they will send more” to fight the foreigners, he said.
One security official said the fighting was focused on the village of Doza Ghundai. He said dozens of Uzbeks had surrendered, He also said that one Pakistani soldier was killed and five others wounded. The circumstances were unclear.
The army insists it is not directly involved in the fighting, though has suggested that troops may respond with artillery if they come under attack. Four army troops were killed at the weekend by rocket fire.
The main commander of the tribal militia battling the foreign militants is Maulvi Nazir, a known Taliban sympathizer who the government says has come over to its side.