PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Nov. 6 -- With potential Pakistani peace talks with the Taliban at risk after a U.S. drone strike killed Taliban commander Hakimullah Mehsud Nov. 1, tribesmen once armed and funded by the government against the Taliban say they feel more threatened by the expected backlash.
These tribesmen are vulnerable to the Taliban as they are no longer supported by the government. Residents of tribal areas devastated by terrorist attacks -- with public schools a particular target -- say the government is apathetic toward them, although a spokesman says the provincial government is reluctant to arm locals.
Taliban attacks have destroyed much of Adizai village in the Matni area, a 45-minute drive south of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Children who once carried schoolbags now carry guns for protection against terrorists.
In 2007, during Gen. Pervez Musharraf's presidency, the government formed militias known as Aman Lashkars, headed by local tribal elders, to fight the Taliban. The government armed and financed the local tribesmen to counter Taliban attacks.
"The government provided us with arms to fight the Taliban, and since then hundreds of our people have been killed in this war," Wakif Khan, head of one of the militias, told UPI Next.
Now, Khan said before the drone strike, members of the local tribes say they feel abandoned by both provincial and federal governments. They believe they and their families are more vulnerable to Taliban wrath.
"The current provincial government is not providing us any assistance or security against the Taliban, as we have developed personal enmities while fighting the Taliban," Khan said.
Gul Mohmand, 19, held a Kalashnikov rifle as he stood near the debris of a school destroyed by the Taliban. He said young people had almost forgotten life without fear because of the constant threat.
"We are major sufferers in this war against terror, which has deprived us of our basic rights, and the situation, if it persists, may precipitate the country into an unthinkable turmoil," he said.
Qadir Khan, spokesman for the militias, said the government first used the Aman Lashkars to fight the Taliban but stopped supporting them in 2009. They are not being included in talks with the Taliban.
"We were abandoned by both provincial and federal governments, and now we are fighting the Taliban to protect our women and children," he told UPI Next. "The government abandoned us the way the United States abandoned Pakistan after expulsion of Soviet Union forces in Afghanistan in 1989."
"These were the local Aman Lashkars who fought with Taliban and broke their strongholds, but now we are at the mercy of Taliban who have placed improvised explosives devices everywhere in the area," he said.
Shah Farman, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's information and culture minister, told UPI Next that his party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf, and its provincial government do not support arming locals to fight the Taliban.
"We don't want to encourage local tribesmen to fight the Taliban, as it would have disastrous impact on the peace talks, which our party favors to bring about sustainable peace in the region," he said.
"When there are talks, peace will trickle down to all areas, and this is what our government supports," he added.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on returning from his recent visit to the United States that he had directed Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to prepare all political and religious parties to hold talks with the Taliban.
Speaking exclusively to UPI Next by phone from an undisclosed location, Taliban spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said, "We have our people everywhere, and we can carry out attacks whenever and wherever we want."
Shahid said Aman Lashkars in the tribal areas were being targeted because they assisted the previous government.
"We have had hundreds of our accomplices killed by these Aman Lashkars, and now we are avenging their killings by carrying out suicide attacks and destroying schools," he said.
On the status of peace talks with the government after Mehsud's killing, the Taliban spokesman said they are in favor of talks but would avenge the killing of their leader.
Speaking before the drone strike, he said that although the Taliban would "welcome" peace talks, "it doesn't mean we are weak or disorganized."
"But," he continued, "the government does not seem serious, as it is still targeting our people and our many commanders are in the government's custody. We will continue our attacks until there's a cease-fire from the government."
Farman said peace talks were under way in other countries without a cease-fire being in place.
"Peace talks are being held in Qatar without a cease-fire," he said, adding, "Afghan President Hamid Karzai is holding talks with the Taliban, again without any cease-fire."
Pakistan, too, he said, could hold talks with the Taliban without agreeing to any cease-fire as a prerequisite.