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Pakistan plans to arm villagers to fight terror

Mon., Feb. 23, 2009

ISLAMABAD – Authorities in a Pakistani border province plan to arm villagers with 30,000 rifles and set up an elite police unit to protect a region increasingly besieged by Taliban and al-Qaida militants, an official said Sunday.

Stiffer action in the North West Frontier Province could help offset American concern that a peace deal being negotiated in the Swat Valley, a Taliban stronghold in the province, could create a haven for Islamist insurgents only 100 miles from the Pakistani capital.

Village militias backed by the United States have been credited with reducing violence in Iraq. Washington is paying for a similar initiative in Afghanistan.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said Saturday he will try to “remove the apprehensions of the world community” about the Swat deal when he meets U.S. officials in Washington next week, state-run media reported.

Earlier Sunday, Taliban gunmen abducted a senior government official and six of his security guards in Swat, demonstrating their unbroken hold in the valley.

A Taliban spokesman said the official, Khushal Khan, would be freed “soon,” but that his abduction was a warning to the provincial authorities, who he alleged had arrested two Taliban members in violation of the cease-fire.

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