Page last updated at 13:08 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Lone stand of surrounded Pakistan anti-Taliban militia

Members of the Adezai village militia
The anti-Taliban militia "have not had a minute's help" from the government

By Orla Guerin
BBC News, Adezai

It is a short walk from Abdul Malik's bullet-scarred home to his grave.

His relatives and neighbours make the journey often. They say they are determined to follow in his footsteps, whatever the risks.

Abdul Malik was the mayor of Adezai village - a patchwork of parched land and walled compounds.

On the day of our visit it was caked in dust and tension.

The village lies at the edge of Pakistan's lawless tribal belt.

The Taliban have taken root in the rolling hills around Adezai. The nearest militants are just a few kilometres away.

The villagers here have taken up arms against them, forming a militia, or lashkar.

Empty streets

Carrying a weapon is traditional in areas like this. So is seeking revenge. But turning your gun on the militants carries huge risks.

Dilawar Khan
We are fighting this war for the sake of our motherland, but we cannot handle it alone
Dilawar Khan

Abdul Malik understood that.

When he took over the militia, he became a marked man. A suicide bomber caught up with him at the local cattle market last November.

At the mayor's graveside, locals offer prayers, before setting out on patrol through mostly empty streets.

The villagers say they have 400-500 active volunteers and can summon 10 times that number in an emergency.

"After the mayor's death, we all decided to carry his mission forward," said Dilawar Khan, a leader of the militia, who lost his own brother to the Taliban.

"Abdul Malik's sons, and his nephews, have all taken up this cause. If we die, the next generation will carry on and fight to the end."

The mayor's son, Noor, now helps to lead the lashkar, and knows he could be next.

He's a solemn young man, who discusses the threat to his life without emotion.

When asked if there could be a suicide bomber hunting for him already, his response was swift.

"Absolutely," he said. "The Taliban have been weakened, but they are always planning attacks, always looking for an opportunity.

"This place is a constant target because the only way they can advance is to get through here."

Always planning

The militants recently found another opportunity.

Members of the Adezai village militia
The anti-Taliban militia say their village is a constant target

They managed to detonate a roadside bomb in the village. This time no-one was killed. But the villagers know they will try again.

From Adezai, it's a short journey (24 km; 15 miles) to the teeming city of Peshawar, a favourite target for Taliban suicide bombers.

The villagers say they aren't just defending themselves; they are also protecting Peshawar.

"The main motivation for my father was to stop the Taliban infiltration of Peshawar," said Noor Malik.

"He stood like a wall between Peshawar and the tribal areas. He sacrificed himself for the good of the nation."

Text threats

If Noor Malik is now a target for the Taliban, 18-year old Afzal Ahmed may be equally at risk.


He's a former supporter of the militants, who has now switched sides. Clutching his rifle, he explained his conversion.

"At the beginning, the Taliban closed down CD shops, and we thought they were doing good, so we supported them," he said.

"Youngsters were attracted to the Taliban because they delivered good sermons.

"Later on they started killing innocent people, so most of the young boys deserted them."

But when it comes to the Taliban, breaking up is hard to do.

"If they get hold of me, they'll behead me," he said, "like they've done to others before.

"They've been sending me threatening text messages but I'll fight them till my last breath."

Behead and chop

The villagers describe their militia as "a peace-keeping force", but say they are ready to kill.

Member of the Adezai village militia
Rooftop gun positions in Adezai are manned night and day

They have the enemy in their sights, from gun positions on the roof of a disused building - which are manned night and day.

Khan Bahadur, a genial former lorry driver, has his finger on the trigger of an anti-aircraft gun, and says he won't hesitate to use it.

From his vantage point, he scans the horizon, watchful of Taliban-held territory on three sides.

"When we see them coming, and we know they are our enemy, we will respond with full force and I assure you that we are not weaker than them. God willing we will fight them as equals," he said.

"Why should I wait for them to come and behead me and chop me into pieces? I'll respond immediately and I'll shoot them."

That's if they can afford the bullets. The villagers are funding the militia out of their own pockets.

"We give clothes, shoes and food to the volunteers," said Dilawar Khan.

"Machine guns, ammunition, cars, we provide the lot. We buy the fuel for the vehicles.

"It's 18 months since we started this war," said Mr Khan. "And until now we haven't had a minute's help from the government."

While the Pakistani government supports lashkars in principal, in practice the Adezai lashkar has had little or no help.

'We have to go'

Mr Khan says their next battle will be with the authorities - to get them to play their part.

Members of the Adezai village militia
Locals say they face up to 80 trained suicide bombers in the area

"We are fighting this war for the sake of our motherland," he said, "to protect our village, our tribe and our religion. But we cannot handle it alone."

As we got ready to leave Adezai, the villagers were going back out on patrol.

Some were armed with machine guns. One teenage boy was proudly shouldering a rocket-propelled grenade.

Local police looked on. They give the militia some back-up and had escorted us to Adezai.

The police were growing visibly edgy, concerned that we might bring trouble to the village.

They claim there are as many as 80 trained suicide bombers in the area, ready to be sent to their targets.

"We have to go," a senior officer said. "Now," he insisted, his voice betraying his anxiety.

"The militants have their supporters. They will have seen us bringing you in. You've been here three hours now," he said.

"And that's more than enough time for them to send a suicide bomber."

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