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PESHAWAR: Lashkars fail to subdue militants

October 21, 2008

PESHAWAR, Oct 20: The government’s strategy to counter militancy through raising lashkars is proving counterproductive in Fata particularly in volatile Bajaur region where armed volunteers are reluctant to go after militants, providing a chance to Taliban to regain strength in some areas.

Information gathered by Dawn and background interviews with tribesmen revealed that lashkars were losing battle against militants mainly because of lack of the government’s support.

The tribal elders who have formed these lashkars are now fleeing their areas, shifting to Islamabad and Peshawar. According to sources, militants have started consolidating their positions in Charmang and Mamond.

Many families have stranded in the embattled area where fighter planes and helicopters are daily targeting suspected positions posing threat to their lives.

A lashkar organised against militants in Charmang area of Bajaur has disintegrated and volunteers are on the run. Sources say that militants are burning houses of their opponents.

They said that militants burnt dozens of houses in Babara, Hashem village, Hilal Khel and Kerkana in Charmang.

A tribesman of Charmang tribe told Dawn that 24 houses were destroyed in Babara village and Taliban had regrouped in Charmang and Mamond areas, considered strongholds of the militants.

Security forces had launched full scale operation against militants in Bajaur on Aug 6. Interestingly, the tribesmen of Bajaur said that not a single militant commander had been eliminated during the two-month long operation in which air power was also used.

Tribesmen blamed government and security forces for their defeat.

An inhabitant of Charmang said that militants were well trained, organised and had sufficient quantity of sophisticated weapons while lashkar had poor weaponry.

“We had requested for government’s support and asked it to provide air support but the request fell on deaf ears,” he said. On contrary, he said, Taliban had enough stock of weapons and lashkar could not match them.

“Charmang tribesmen have now sandwiched between security forces and militants.

Planes are dropping bombs and militants are burning their houses besides capturing them,” a resident of the area said.

He said that government had encouraged tribesmen to raise lashkar and assured them that security forces would provide full support to them.

The government has chalked out strategy to counter militancy in Fata and planned to organise lashkars in Bajaur, Orakzai, Khyber tribal agencies and Darra Adamkhel.

The strategy was effective only in Salarzai area of Bajaur where militants had been eliminated.

“But, now, those who sided with the government in the fight against militants are being killed in air strikes and also by the Taliban,” another tribesman said.

The government also supported lashkars in other parts of Fata to fight back militancy but the strategy suffered setback in other areas owing to lack of coordination among the local administration, security forces and organisers of lashkars. For example tribesmen in Orakzai Agency were demoralised after a deadly suicide attack on a jirga on Oct 10 which left around 100 people dead and 200 wounded. Similarly lashkars in Khyber Agency and Darra Adamkhel did not produce desired results. Militant activities in Landi Kotal and Jamrud sub-divisions of Khyber have been contained to great extent after raising lashkars by the tribes.

The strategy of raising lashkars was earlier tested in South Waziristan in 2003 when security forces planned to launch operation against militants. Initially, the lashkars dismantled houses and hideouts of militants but when the government withdrew its support, the insurgents started target killing of pro-government elders and Maliks. Over 200 prominent tribal elders were eliminated only in South Waziristan.

Sources said that tribal people had lost trust in the government and were reluctant to raise more lashkars against militants.

Fata Additional Chief Secretary Habibullah Khan, when approached, brushed aside the impression that lashkars were losing ground to militants in Bajaur.

He said that military action was in progress in Charmang and heavy casualties had been inflicted on militants. The government was content about the way the operation against the militants was conducted, he added.

“Of course lashkars’ movement has slowed down in Charmang and Mamond after infiltration of some 2,800 militants from Afghanistan. It was not possible for lashkar to confront such a large number of trained and better-equipped militants,” he said. The action, he said, would be stopped only after eliminating insurgency.