By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management
43 persons were killed and another 52 sustained injuries when a suicide bomber attacked the funeral prayers for the wife of a volunteer of a Qaumi Lashkar (community tribal militia) cadre in Adezai village on the outskirt of Peshawar, the provincial capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), on March 9, 2011. A bomb disposal official disclosed that about eight kilograms of explosives and ball bearings had been used in the attack. This was the second suicide attack targeting the Quami Lashkar, which has been fighting the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants in the village, about 35 kilometres from the Peshawar Cantonment, since 2008. Peshawar District Coordination Officer Seraj Ahmed said the attack was aimed at eliminating the leadership of the Lashkar. In November 2009, the Adezai Lashkar’s founder Haji Abdul Malik and 13 others were killed in a blast in the Matni area of Peshawar.
Immediately after the March 9 suicide attack, Haji Dilawar Khan, the leader of the anti-TTP militia, warned that the Lashkar would end cooperation with the authorities if they were not provided adequate material and financial support from the Government within two days. Dilawar Khan said, "Either the Government accepts our demands within two days or they should let us join the Taliban... We are no longer capable of fighting them alone. We need the Government’s help."
Haji Dilawar Khan had issued a similar warning on March 3, 2011, when he told a Press Conference that the Government was not providing the militia promised ammunition and rations, and set a deadline of one week for the Government to respond. Khan argued that the Government was pursuing "an ambiguous policy" towards the TTP in Adezai, and accused local legislators of supporting the TTP. "The local MPA (Member of the Provincial Assembly) and MNA (Member of the National Assembly) of the Awami National Party do not support the volunteers of the Lashkar against the Taliban (TTP), as they don’t belong to their Party," he alleged. He said the tribes of Adezai formed the Lashkar in 2008 on the instruction of Government. "47 of our people, including former chief of the lashkar Haji Abdul Malik and several commanders have been killed in blasts, attacks and exchange of fire with militants so far, but the Government is yet to compensate their families," he complained. He further stated that, at the time of the Lashkar’s formation, Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Dr. Muhammad Suleman and former Commissioner Azam Khan had assured them that they would be provided with ration, arms and ammunition, "but the commitment is yet to materialise." Though some weapons were provided, the volunteers were short of ammunition and rations, and "were forced to sell their properties to buy ammunition... Several houses, markets and schools have been destroyed in the area. Scores of people have sustained injuries but the Government has failed to compensate them." Further, he added, "Owing to militant attacks, our children have stopped going to schools and colleges. Agricultural fields have turned barren and the entire Adezai Bazaar is closed as people have to take arms round the clock... The Government on one hand deploys Police, anti-terrorist squads, elite force and Frontier Constabulary in the important areas of the city, but uses the Lashkar against militants in the front."
The resistance militia had been formed at a time when Adezai, Matani and other suburban localities of Peshawar had become ‘no go areas’ for the Police, owing to the increasing influence of TTP extremists. Even now, it is feared that the TTP would enter Peshawar if the Lashkars stopped fighting them. The Peshawar Police witnessed its worst time when CCPO Dr. Suleman led a heavily armed flag march on August 6, 2008, but was forced to withdraw under militant attack. The militants, Dr. Suleman disclosed, had set up their own courts and were deciding cases openly. However, the writ of the Government was partially re-established in the area after formation of the Lashkar.
The state has supported the similar militia in other parts of the Northwest, mostly to hold of retake ground from the TTP, or provide intelligence on its movements. Paying tribes to fight for the state has a long tradition in the region, dating back to British Colonial days. The need and importance of tribal militia came to fore after the failure of successive attempts to tackle the rising militancy in Pakistan’s Pashtun regions. In the aftermath of the US-led NATO campaign in, and flushing out of the Taliban from, Afghanistan in 2001, the Pakistan Government and Army fitfully encouraged local tribal people to stand up against elements of the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda, who took refuge in the region.
One of the most noteworthy anti-TTP uprisings took place in the Buner District of KP, on August 30, 2008, when tribesmen retaliated by killing a group of six TTP extremists, who had attacked a Police Station in the Kingargalli area, killing eight Policemen. Since then, other anti-TTP militia have been encouraged to hunt for the terrorists in various parts of the Province. Lakki Marwat was the first District in KP to raise a volunteer militia to evict militants from the area.
As the tribal Lashkars succeeded in evicting the TTP from certain settled Districts of KP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), they increasingly attracted the wrath of the extremists. An unspecified number of tribal elders and pro-Government tribal militia members has fallen victim to a sustained campaign of annihilation that have virtually destroyed the structure of traditional tribal power in these regions. The South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, relying on erratic reportage on the subject in the Pakistan media, records the killing of at least 90 tribal elders since 2005 in 58 incidents. At least 162 militia members were also killed and 172 injured in 38 extremist attacks over the same period. 126 militia members were abducted by militants, and their whereabouts are still unknown.
Tribal elders killed in Pakistan: 2005-2011
*Data till March 13, 2011.
Some of the major attacks (involving three or more fatalities) involving tribal militia include:
December 7, 2010: Twin suicide bombers in Police uniform killed 50 members of an anti-TTP militia and pro-Government elders in Mohmand Agency in FATA.
May 27, 2010: TTP militants armed with rockets and grenades stormed the home of a pro-Government tribal elder, killing him, his wife and son before blowing up the house in Asghar village, about 40 kilometres northwest of Khar, the main town in Bajaur Agency.
April 7, 2010: At least three persons, including a pro-Government Lashkar leader, were killed in a shootout in the Shahi Khel area of Hangu in KP.
November 15, 2009: Volunteers of a Lashkar shot dead three veil-clad militants of the TTP-linked Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) near the residence of an anti-TTP nazim (administrator) in Bazidkhel village of Peshawar District in the KP.
September 24, 2009: Taliban militants killed seven tribal heads. Their bodies were found from various parts of Bannu in KP.
July 4, 2009: 15 men of an armed tribal Lashkar and three militants were killed when fierce clashes erupted in the Fam Pokha and Kharai Darra areas of Ambar sub-division in Mohmand Agency.
These attacks on the Lashkars have repeatedly demonstrated their vulnerabilities in FATA and KP. After the December 7, 2010, suicide attack in Mohmand, the TTP 'chief' of the Mohmand Chapter, Umer Khalid, claimed responsibility and threatened death to anyone who organised or joined a Lashkar against the TTP.
With the Lashkars at the very top of the TTP hit list, the Government’s apathy and neglect remain inexplicable. There is evidently a measure of mutual distrust and ambivalent loyalties on both sides, underlining, both, the risks of employing private armies of uncertain allegiance, on the one hand, and of state agencies deeply embroiled with particular shades of extremist formations, on the other. The Government’s capacities have been successfully challenged and eroded by the TTP across KP-FATA, but concerns about ceding too much power to the Lashkars are also obviously weighing in. Despite the continuing vulnerabilities of the state, in the wake of the Adezai incident, KP Senior Minister Bashir Bilour reportedly told the media that the militias "were no longer useful". The sheer opportunism of the state, its unprincipled use, in the first instance, of private armies to fight its battles, and then its arbitrary abandonment of these elements, can only undermine the state’s own authority and legitimacy. Worse, it threatens to further strengthen an increasingly lethal TTP, with the added danger that, in the next round of decisive confrontation, it will have loose the support of tribal groups that were instrumental in recovering influence and territory in the past.
Source: SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW