One area halfway between Islamabad and Taliban country looks like the California Central Valley, with donkey carts. The roads in the area, the Haripur district, are lined with eucalyptus trees, agricultural fields tumble off in the distance, and brickmaking kilns puff smoke from stout stacks.
The Taliban have threatened to come to this area to free comrades held in prison. As a result, officials mobilized extra security forces and intensified intelligence activity. But Haripur's best defenses lie with the people. "There is absolutely no support for Taliban in this district," says Yousaf Ayub Khan, Haripur's nazim, or ruler. The main reason: This is non-Pashto country.
More than 90 percent of residents speak Hindko, as opposed to Pashto, the language of the Pashtun people – and the Taliban. It's a common saying these days in Pakistan that all Taliban are Pashtuns, but not all Pashtuns are Taliban.
Haripur sits along a vast ethnic fire wall against further Taliban conquests. To the north and west are Pashtun lands, to the east and south – toward Islamabad – other groups dominate. "Pashtun areas have always been very conservative and religious, so they become easy prey," says the nazim, who also happens to be Pashtun. "People are docile here [and] their thinking is more toward Islamabad."
The grievances that the Taliban exploit, such as unemployment and tribal feudalism, don't exist as much here. Schools poke out from nearly every alley of Haripur city, and the district – with more than 1,000 private academies – is among the most educated in the country. Lush farmland and an industrial center support relative prosperity.