Pakistan tribesmen being screened for Afghan jihad
By Tahir Ikram
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Hundreds of armed volunteers were being screened by leaders in the tribal rim of Pakistan on Thursday to fight beside the Taliban in Afghanistan against the United States, an Islamic party official said.
"The screening is going on but I have no other details of how many will be sent for jihad (holy war)," a spokesman for the Tehrik Nifaze Shariat Mohammadi movement told Reuters by telephone from a remote Maidan village in the Malakand division.
The selection was being made from among thousands of volunteers who want to fight in Afghanistan in line with conditions agreed between the movement's firebrand leader, Sufi Mohammad, and the Taliban after several days of meetings in Afghanistan.
"But I don't know what the criteria are," the spokesman said.
Angered at Pakistan's decision to support Washington's war on terrorism, the followers of Sufi Mohammad have now spent nearly a week sitting near the border waiting to be called up.
Sufi Mohammad was in Jalalabad on Thursday preparing to welcome the Pakistani mujahideen, or holy warriors.
A resident of Bajaur tribal agency, where thousands of the tribesmen have camped, said a team had been sent back by Sufi Mohammad from Afghanistan and was now screening for "able-bodied" fighters.
"People above the age of 50 are told politely that please you do not go and you stay here and wait," said one resident.
"They are forming groups to organise these voluntary fighters," he added.
It was not known when the first batch would be allowed to go.
The Taliban say they do not require more fighters because ground battles have not started yet against the United States, which wants to hunt down Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden and punish his Taliban protectors.
So far, the U.S.-led campaign has remained airborne with a single ground operation last month near the southern city of Kandahar, stronghold of Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
President Pervez Musharraf's government says Pakistanis are not allowed to go to Afghanistan to fight but it has little control over the movement of people in the tribal belt -- a semi-autonomous region that operates under its own laws in a system virtually unchanged from the days of British colonial rule.
Local authorities in the North West Frontier Province say they will not stop anyone from crossing over to Afghanistan.
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