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 2,600-kilometer (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 U.S. to be hiding, and where Afghanistan says many of its enemies have found sanctuary.