- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 9, 2009

PESHAWAR, Pakistan | Pakistani tribesmen seeking revenge for a deadly mosque bombing attacked militant strongholds for a second day Monday, while the country’s Taliban leader faced rare denunciation from within insurgent ranks.

Capitalizing on the anti-Taliban sentiments, the military’s top spokesman exhorted all Pakistanis to rise up against militants wherever they found them.

Pressure is increasing on militants who have held sway in parts of Pakistan’s northwest, with the army already bearing down in an offensive on their one-time stronghold in the Swat Valley region. Talk has now turned to the possibility of another operation against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the nearby tribal belt along the country’s border with Afghanistan.

In the most striking example of growing anti-Taliban sentiment, up to 1,600 tribesmen in the Upper Dir district formed a civilian militia force to fight militants they hold responsible for last Friday’s suicide bombing that killed at least 33 people in a packed mosque. Such militiamen are known in Pakistan as lashkars.

The group cleared three villages of Taliban fighters on Sunday and focused Monday on two more villages that are known Taliban strongholds, said Khaista Rehman, a local police chief.

“The lashkar has destroyed 25 homes of Taliban commanders and their fighters in various villages,” Mr. Rehman told the Associated Press by phone. “The Taliban had set up their offices in those villages, but the local residents and the lashkar have attacked them, and we hope the lashkar will succeed.”

At least 13 militants were killed and two tribesmen wounded in two days of fighting, said Nawaz Khan, another police official.

Officials blamed Friday’s mosque bombing in the town of Haya Gai on Taliban fighters, saying they were angry that local tribesmen had resisted them moving into the area, where minor clashes between the two sides occurred for months.

Army chief spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas urged civilians to consider the kind of rule the Taliban was trying to impose — the militants stand accused of whippings and beheadings in the name of Islamic law in Swat — and join the fight against them.

“Citizens should ponder upon the way of life they are introducing, if that is acceptable to us,” Gen. Abbas told the News1 television network. “If not, they have to raise a voice against [the Taliban], they have to rise against them.”

A recent wave of violence across Pakistan blamed on militants appears to be creating tensions within the country’s Taliban leadership.

Qari Zainuddin, the leader of a Taliban faction in South Waziristan, on Monday denounced Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud for recent attacks that have killed civilians.

“Whatever Baitullah Mehsud and his associates are doing in the name of Islam is not a jihad, and in fact it is rioting and terrorism,” Mr. Zainuddin told the AP. “Islam stands for peace, not for terrorism.”

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