The local government will distribute 30,000 rifles to villagers to help security forces fight the growing strength of Taliban and al-Qaida militants in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, a top official said on Sunday.
Similar village militias, backed by the US, have been credited with reducing violence in Iraq, and a comparable initiative was under way in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has been trying to allay US concerns that peace talks with Taliban militants in the region were tantamount to surrender. But it was unclear if the embattled North West Frontier Province government’s plan had the backing of national leaders or the army.
Haider Khan Hoti, chief minister of the provincial government, said authorities would distribute the guns among “peaceful groups and individuals” so they could help police to guard their villages.
Officials would consult with local police before handing out the arms and would take them back if they were not used against “terrorists and mischief mongers”, Hoti’s office said in a written statement. The statement said the guns had been seized from “terrorists and anti-state elements”.
It did not say when the weapons would be handed out, or if villagers would be armed in the province’s Swat valley.
Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the army had not been consulted about arming village militias. Interior Ministry spokesman Shahidullah Baig was also unaware of the plan.
A spokesman for the US Embassy could not be immediately reached for comment.