Editorial : Vulnerable militias - Friday, March 11, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/03/11/vulnerable-militias.html

WEDNESDAY`S attack on the Adezai tribal lashkar, which protects a strategic area between Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal agencies, took over 40 lives of a tribe that had already lost dozens in its struggle against militants. It was also a reminder that the longstanding lashkar concept needs some rethinking in its application to Pakistan`s current security concerns. These militias have long been useful where the writ of the state is weak, consisting as they do of local men who have a stake in the security of their areas, can identify intruders, and are familiar with the local geography. For these reasons, they also saw some success when revived in 2008 to fight the Taliban insurgency. From the settled areas of Buner and Dir to tribal agencies including Bajaur, Mohmand and Orakzai, they were embraced as the government`s partners and provided arms and ammunition.
But the Adezai attack is a reminder that in the face of a formidable Taliban enemy, the costs have been heavy for these untrained and ill-equipped armies. In October 2008, 100 men were killed in an attack on a jirga in Orakzai that was meeting to plan its lashkar`s campaign. The next month, an attack on a Salarzai jirga in Bajaur also planning an anti-militant campaign killed over 20 men. These were just two attacks of many, but in addition to demonstrating that these militias may not be capable of fighting such an intense war, they highlight another Achilles` heel of present-day lashkars: militants have eradicated the tribal leaderships in these areas. Where tribes have lost political influence, their lashkars are vulnerable as well. And the latest attack points to yet another set of issues: the Adezai lashkar had developed resentment towards the government because it was no longer being given arms and ammunition. It had reportedly also become involved in petty crime and kidnapping.
The examples above point to the need for rethinking the government`s policy towards lashkars. These forces have always been self-governed, but vetting and training them instead of simply giving them arms could help improve their performance and protect their lives. Second, development in their areas is necessary. Members of lashkars are not compensated; providing improved social services for them and their families might increase their willingness to cooperate with the government and reduce the likelihood that they misuse their power. Third, any local police and paramilitary troops must make sincere efforts to protect them as far as possible. Lashkars can be a useful bulwark, but only if they feel the government views them as partners instead of tools in its own war.

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