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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 October 2007, 15:48 GMT
Militants taunt Pakistan forces
By M Ilyas Khan
BBC News, Kabal town, Swat

The Kabal police station has needed more fortifying.

The sprawling golf course in Kabal town, some 10km (six miles) west of Pakistan's scenic northern city of Mingora, was a major tourist attraction until some months ago.

It now serves as the camp for regular Pakistani army troops who moved into the area in July.

The camp is the last line of Pakistani defence against a resurgent local Taleban militia.

"Without these troops, the militants would have over-run Kabal town a long time ago," says Shirin Zada, a local journalist.

Even so, they have been little help in boosting the morale of the local police following bloody clashes with the militants over the weekend.

No schedules

The police are confined inside the town's main police station, where they have set up heavy barricades to guard against possible militant attacks.

A girls' school in Kabal hit by shells
A girls' school in Kabal hit by shells

These positions are manned by a contingent of the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) troops that moved in last week to reinforce the police ranks.

Neither the military nor the police have any patrolling schedules, increasing the sense of insecurity among government troops.

The police station head, Inspector Abdul Ghani, minces no words while explaining their plight.

"People of the area offer us no protection, so we have called in the FC," he says, brushing aside a suggestion that it is the police that protect the people from criminals, not vice versa.

Beheaded

There is good reason to be afraid.

Officials say Taleban militants beheaded at least eight government troops during two days of fighting over the weekend. Independent sources say the number may be twice that.

Akbar Hussain
Akbar Hussain, like most militants, is reluctant to be photographed

The fighting erupted after the bombing of an Frontier Corps truck in Mingora last week in which at least 16 troops were killed.

The government responded by sending in helicopters to bomb suspected militant positions in an area within a radius of roughly 100km just north and west of Mingora city, the capital of Swat district.

Ground troops also moved out of their bunkers to take on the militants in a number of areas.

Full strength

By Monday, however, they had retreated to their fortified positions. In Kabal, the police and the Frontier Corps troops had to retreat inside the large police station compound and build fortifications to ward off attacks by local fighters.

In sharp contrast, armed local Taleban man a check-post in full strength, barely 50 metres down the street from the police station.

"In battle, government troops are only trained to run away," remarks Akbar Hussain, the Taleban commander for Kabal region.

"We don't want to kill them because they are also Muslim, but [the country's military ruler] Gen Musharraf is using them to advance the Americans' agenda."

Motivated and armed

Mr Hussain operates out of a small compound some distance off the road, just behind the police station.

Captured munitions
Militants display munitions captured from the army

His fighters appear to be local boys, highly motivated and heavily armed. But none of them seem to have the battle-hardened looks of their counterparts in the tribal districts of Waziristan and Bajaur.

The government has accused "outsiders" of perpetrating trouble in Swat, a charge Mr Hussain dismisses.

He attributes the beheading of the troops, a hallmark of well-trained fighters linked to the Taleban and al-Qaeda, to "ordinary local people who lost their loved ones" in Islamabad's radical Red Mosque.

The government conducted a 10-day siege of the mosque in July in which more than 100 people, many of them seminary students from northern districts, were killed.

That siege sparked a wave of anti-government anger in north-western Pakistan, especially in Swat, Dir and Waziristan regions.

But the battle efficiency of Swat's militants has led many analysts to believe that non-Swati members of various militant organisations linked to the insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir may be involved.

Recruiting centres

Swat, and the neighbouring district of Lower Dir to the west, have long served as a rear base for these well-trained militant organisations.

Several of them have been running their public contact offices and recruiting centres in and around the Lower Dir town of Timergara.

The town is just behind the hills that face troops stationed on Kabal's golf course.

Local people say the army frequently fires shells from the golf course to hit the hilltops, presumably targeting infiltrators.

And sometimes retaliatory fire comes from the hills as well, they say.

On Tuesday night, a mortar shell fired from the hills hit the house of a Kabal resident, Nadir Khan.

Ironically, people gathered at the site told the BBC that the shell was fired by the army, even though few knew for sure that any army troops were posted on the hill.

The incident suggests the government's credibility is weakening in this area, where things are often not as they seem.



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