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Pakistan militants prepare for war in Afghanistan

| Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, 9:06 p.m.

ISLAMABAD — Militants in Pakistan's most populous province are said to be training for what they expect will be an ethnic-based civil war in neighboring Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw in 16 months, according to analysts and a senior militant.

In the past two years the number of Punjab-based militants deploying to regions bordering on Afghanistan has tripled and is now in the thousands, says analyst Mansur Mehsud. He runs the FATA Institute, an Islamabad-based think tank studying the mix of militant groups that operate in Pakistan's tribal belt running along much of the 1,600-mile Afghan-Pakistan border.

Mehsud, himself from South Waziristan where militants also hide out, says more than 150 militant groups operate in the tribal regions, mostly in mountainous, heavily forested North Waziristan.

Dotted with hideouts, it is there that Al Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri is thought by the United States to be hiding, and where Afghanistan says many of its enemies have found sanctuary.

While militants from Punjab province have long sought refuge and training in the tribal regions, they were fewer in number and confined their hostility to Pakistan's neighbor and foe, India.

All that is changing, analysts said.

“Before, they were keeping a low profile. But just in the last two or three years hundreds have been coming from Punjab,” said Mehsud. “Everyone knows that when NATO and the American troops leave Afghanistan there will be fighting between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns.”

And the Punjabi militants will side with the Afghan Taliban, who are mostly Pashtun, Afghanistan's dominant ethnic group and the majority ethnic group in Pakistan's northwest region that borders Afghanistan.

Like many in the Taliban, the Punjabi militants share a radical and regressive interpretation of Islam.

“We will go to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban as we have done in the past,” said a senior member of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant Sunni Muslim group, who goes by a nom de guerre, Ahmed Zia Siddiqui.

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