ISLAMABAD – Security forces battling pockets of resistance in a mountainous Taliban stronghold killed at least seven militants Sunday and injured several more, officials said, as militants kidnapped and killed a prominent pro-government activist in another tribal area where the government claims to have near-total control.
Militants also blew up a girls' school in the Khyber tribal region, the latest in the Taliban's campaign against modern education that has destroyed hundreds of schools across Pakistan, said local official Ghulam Farooq Khan. The school's guard and three of his relatives were injured in the Sunday attack in the town of Bara, near where seven Pakistani paramilitary soldiers were killed in a Saturday roadside bombing.
The kidnapping took place Saturday night in the town of Khar, the largest in the Bajur tribal region, when a group of about 60 militants stormed the house of Jahangir Khan, said Adalat Khan, a town official.
"The bullet-riddled body of Jahangir Khan was found a kilometer (half-mile) away from the main town, with his legs and hands tied with a rope," he said. Khan had apparently been dragged before being shot, he said.
The same militants also kidnapped one of the town's most powerful landlords along with his son, his grandson and another relative. It was not immediately clear why they were kidnapped, though they may be held for ransom.
Pakistan launched a major offensive in Bajur last year and now insists it has total control nearly everywhere in the region, including in Khar — a claim undercut by the Saturday attacks and a series of other violent incidents in recent months.
The Sunday fighting took place in the village of Kaniguram, which Pakistan attacked during its two-week-old offensive in South Waziristan, one of the semi-autonomous tribal regions where the Taliban has grown in power in recent years.
The officials, from Pakistan's intelligence branches and the paramilitary Frontier Corps, spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media.
Dozens of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition were captured in South Waziristan over the past day, the army announced Sunday, including rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns, anti-tank mines, a missile launcher and jammers to interfere with government communications equipment.
While Pakistan aided in the rise of the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s, it has become increasingly destabilized in recent years by the growth of its own militant Taliban network.
The Taliban — including fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan and places like Uzbekistan, Chechnya and the Arab world — have long taken refuge in the undeveloped, desperately rugged and mountainous tribal regions along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where they can often operate openly. Osama bin Laden and many of his top al-Qaida aides are also thought to be in hiding along the border.
Pakistan launched its offensive in mid-October in order to drive out the militants, though it remains unclear what Islamabad plans to do once it has taken military control of the region. The government has never had much authority in the tribal areas, which used to fall under the control of tribal elders but which has become increasingly lawless as the militants killed traditional leaders during their own rise to power.
Pakistan's foreign minister said the armed forces hope to crush the Taliban before the brutally cold winter sets in by late December.
"The operation so far has been very successful. The resistance that we were expecting initially did not come with the same swiftness we were expecting," Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, where he was to attend a meeting of Islamic countries starting Monday.