Reporter's Notebook: Taliban Rising

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It is remarkable to watch. Vivid images of ethnic Pashtun fighters with long flowing hair, just as long beards, every stripe of rusty armament and a radical glint in their eyes.

They are the Taliban, but they are not in Afghanistan. They are next door in Pakistan. A presence the government here finds it hard to admit to. Video shot by a brave local reporter “embedded” with the militants, and aired on FOX News, doesn't lie.

The Taliban came to fame in the 1990s when they overran and then ran Afghanistan, ruling with and imposing an extreme view of Islam on the people there. Also, more infamously, they harbored fellow Islamist Usama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda operation.

After the invasion of Afghanistan, after Sept. 11, the Taliban and Al Qaeda scattered and fled within Afghanistan and across the border to Pakistan. U.S. military officials say the two — especially the Taliban — have been using Pakistan as a safe haven from which to stage attacks in Afghanistan.

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While Pakistan has disputed the gravity of the problem, following prodding by the U.S., Pakistan security has been going after and attacking Al Qaeda, foreign militants and, to a lesser extent, Taliban on Pakistan soil.

After some 700 military casualties on the government side, in fighting mostly in the South Waziristan agency of Pakistan's tribal border area, Pakistan last year signed a peace agreement with local leaders.

The two demands:

• The locals should expel foreign militants residing among them.

• And they should limit cross-border terrorist movement.

According to at least one NATO official, there appears to have been some decrease in the number of militants coming into Afghanistan.

More dramatically, in the last few weeks, there have been major clashes between local tribesmen in South Waziristan and Uzbek foreign militants. This fighting has left at least 200 dead, many of them foreigners. It is being hailed as a vindication of the government's plan to turn terror policing over to people on the ground.

But nothing (and I mean nothing!) is quite as it seems in Pakistan. We have spoken to several local journalists, who have spent time in the border area, as well as analysts … and they paint a different picture.

Crucially, they say that the “tribesmen” doing that fighting are allied with and/or dominated by what are called “Pakistan” Taliban. These are fighters who adhere to the same aims as “Afghanistan” Taliban regarding strict observance of Islam, including cultural aspects like no shaving of beards and no listening to music.

Plus, the militant means applied by the Taliban, targeting both local authorities as well as the enemy of enemies, the United States, conveniently doing battle in neighboring Afghanistan.

This is resulting in what is now being called the “Talibanization” of the border area. Some in the media refer to the region as “Talibanistan.” While these “Talibs" are not directly running the local government … they are certainly leaving their mark.

Reporters we have spoken to say they have learned this first hand. We have seen the video images, and they, too, seem to back them up.

Additionally, we've been told the Uzbek foreign militants are only loosely aligned Al Qaeda. And that “Arab” Al Qaeda members in Waziristan are, in fact, in bed with the Pakistan Taliban and local tribals.

So it seems the government's version of the story, that local border people are rising up and kicking out Al Qaeda, could be a bit off. In fact, it might be, that with the government going low profile, the Taliban is now getting an upper hand. And ally Al Qaeda is happy to benefit, too.

Pakistan officials we have spoken to are in near denial about the presence of Taliban on their soil. Most say those in the border area simply follow traditional conservative Muslim ways — and wear beards — and the number of those crossing into Afghanistan to do battle are small in number.

That attitude, though, runs counter to the fact that Pakistan Taliban is spreading its words and violence even away from the border area. In the last few weeks, in several neighboring towns and provinces, there have been bombings, clashes with security, and barbers shops and CD stores targeted.

Even near the centers of power in the Pakistan capital Islamabad, Taliban supporters are spouting their cause, defying the authorities.

All of this unsettling to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf who is already being rocked by nationwide protests against his controversial suspension of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court here.

While there are new social and security programs planned for the border areas, and political efforts to appease extremists nationwide, President Musharraf is walking a political tightrope.

One opinion-maker described the edging toward radical ways as a "slow motion coup" — and that may be overstating it. Now, the dangers to this government — and by association Pakistan's terror war ally, the U.S. — are real and in edgy focus now.

The second coming of the Taliban will have to be dealt with. My local reporter friends in that very hot border area are already planning their next embedment.

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Greg Palkot serves as a FOX News Channel foreign correspondent based in Paris. Click here to read his full bio.

Greg Palkot currently serves as a London-based senior foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 1998 as a correspondent. Follow him on Twitter@GregPalkot.