In Dir, villagers …angered by the suicide bombing at a mosque that killed 33 people … have laid siege to Taliban strongholds and killed 13 militants. The clashes are evidence of growing hatred for the Taliban and the havoc they have created. Villagers, who formed ‘lashkars’ and stormed five villages where militants were thought to be based, are said to be determined to drive them out of their territory and out of their lives. It is possible that others will take similar action. Even before the ongoing military operation began in earnest, bands of tribesmen in various parts of the northern areas had expressed a determination to act against the Taliban. On several occasions their resolve was met with suicide bombings targeting anti-Taliban gatherings.
The fact that the militants now appear to be on the retreat could encourage a new effort against them by local people. In Dir, and in other places, it is becoming increasingly obvious that they are no longer willing to tolerate atrocities. The rising up of people against the Taliban could be an important development in this final leg of the struggle against them. The militants seek cover amidst local populations. If they are driven out from these places they will be left with no place to go, nowhere to hide. But for people to act there must be a conviction that the state will stand by them. In many places people fear they may not have seen the last of the Taliban. Indeed in Swat militant leaders have warned villagers before retreating to the mountains that they will be back. In Dir people have demonstrated that they are unwilling to accept such a future. They need to be encouraged as a means to challenge the militants and isolate them from people who they have, in the past, claimed to represent.