The assassination of a powerful anti-Taliban figure has added to concerns about the security of key players in the government's effort to stave off an insurgent takeover in northwestern Pakistan.
Police discovered the bodies of Fahimur Rehman and three of his associates in a Toyota Land Cruiser abandoned on the outskirts of Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, on June 27. Within hours of the discovery of the bodies, the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the slayings, without providing details.
Police have announced that they are conducting autopsies on the four bodies, but were otherwise tight-lipped about their investigation into the killing of one of the government's most prominent local allies in the fight against the Taliban.
The government often employs volunteer militias, known as "lashkars," to help fight the Taliban. The 50-year-old Rehman led a 1,500-strong vigilante force in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where a number of leading anti-Taliban figures have been assassinated in recent years.
Just weeks ago, government officials praised Rehman for thwarting a Taliban effort to infiltrate the town of Bazidkhel, located just 15 kilometers south of Peshawar. Bazidkhel is situated in a region that separates the embattled capital from the Darra Adam Khel tribal region ,where the Taliban has a strong presence.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal earlier this month, Rehman thanked the authorities for supporting his volunteer force. He said 16 members of his militia had been killed by the Taliban over the past three years.
"Death is part of what we do because it is a vendetta. Sometimes we kill them and they, too, kill us," Rehman said. "They are so well-trained that 800 of our fighters cannot fight 20 or 30 of them."
Shamim Shahid, a journalist in Peshawar who kept close contact with Rehman and last interviewed him a week before his death, says Rehman was a determined adversary of the Pakistani Taliban who had survived many attempts on his life, including three attacks by suicide bombers.
He says that Rehman told confidants a few days ago that he was going to Thandiani, a popular summer resort near Abbottabad, to escape the scorching summer heat in Peshawar. Infamous as the town where Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed, Abbottabad is the home of the government's most prestigious military academy and garrison.
Shahid expresses bewilderment that Rehman ended up dead, possibly after being kidnapped, considering his tight security detail and the strong government presence in the area.
"If he went to Thandiani, the government is very powerful there. It is next to a military garrison," Shahid says. "How was he kidnapped there? How was he killed? How was his corpse then dumped on the ring road, close to Peshawar" [eds.: 130 kilometers to the west of Thandiani]?"
Peshawar-based journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai says that the militias are ill-suited for fighting the Taliban, and that their leaders are prime targets for extremists.
"These lashkars have not been effective in Afghanistan and Pakistan," Yousafzai says. "I think it is the responsibility of the government and military to provide security to the people."
Hundreds of anti-Taliban leaders, most of them Pashtun, have been killed over the past eight years.
In May, unidentified gunmen killed Malik Jahangir Mohmand, an important tribal leader from the Mohmand tribal region, in Peshawar. Also in May, paramilitary leaders Muhammad Javed and Fazl-e Rabbi were killed in a massive suicide bombing in the adjoining Bajaur region. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed some 30 people.
Written and reported by Abubakar Siddique, with contributions from RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal