Pakistan is trying to persuade tribesmen in a key militant sanctuary near the Afghan border to take up arms against al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in their midst, a top political official said Tuesday.
The U.S. has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan launch a military offensive in North Waziristan to try and sap the strength of militants who regularly attack foreign forces in Afghanistan, jeopardizing Washington's hopes of drawing down troops.
The latest effort to bring tribesmen on board appeared to be a new attempt to replicate the successes of the U.S. military in Iraq to turn the tribes there against al-Qaida.
So far, it has been less promising in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and at least two prominent North Waziristan locals said it would never work in their area. It is also unclear whether the government and the U.S. have the same militants in mind for targeting.
The Pakistani government has promoted the creation of tribal militias elsewhere in the northwest, but many of their members have been killed in militant attacks. Others have complained that the government has not given them enough support.
Tariq Hayat, the top political official for Pakistan's entire semiautonomous tribal region, said talks with the North Waziristan tribesmen began in recent days and the government has promised "moral and material support," but not weapons.
"If they feel now that they are strong enough and they are getting signals from the authorities about all our support, yes they would love to throw the terrorists out from their homes," said Hayat.
Kamran Khan, a lawmaker from North Waziristan, said he was not aware of the recent negotiations, but said people are too angry over U.S. airstrikes in the region to back the effort.
"As long as the American drones are hitting us every day, no such idea can get public support," said Khan.
The Pakistani government is also extremely unpopular in North Waziristan, a poor region that is effectively controlled by militants despite the presence of thousands of Pakistani troops.
A leading member of one of the two main tribes in North Waziristan ruled out local militias _ known locally as lashkars _ because of the danger of retaliation by the militants.
"Only an insane person would think about an anti-Taliban lashkar here," he told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted by either the militants or the army.
It's unclear whether Pakistan's attempt to establish tribal militias is a precursor to an operation in North Waziristan or an attempt to deflect U.S. pressure, which has increased following the American raid last month that killed Osama bin Laden in an army town not far from Islamabad.
Also unknown is whether the government has been pushing the tribesmen to target the same militants the U.S. wants taken out. Washington is most focused on the Haqqani network, which it considers the most dangerous militant group fighting in Afghanistan. But many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target the group because of historical ties and the belief that it could be a useful ally in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.
Instead, the more likely target could be groups like al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban, which have declared war on the government and have carried out scores of bombings throughout the country.
Hayat, the political official, said the government wanted the tribesmen to target foreign militants and members of the Taliban, but did not indicate whether that group includes the Haqqani network and other Afghan fighters battling foreign forces.
The Pakistani army did not respond to requests for comment on the recent talks or on whether a North Waziristan operation was imminent. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani recently called on the people of North Waziristan "to evict all foreigners from their soil."
Associated Press Writer Rasool Dawar contributed to this report from Peshawar, Pakistan.