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Walking on a sword’s edge

July 23, 2012


THE private militias under the patronage of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government to fight Taliban are not without consequences.

Meant to defend communities against terrorist attacks, these armed groups of volunteers, dubbed as Aman Lashkars (peace forces), offer more to worry about in the longer run than providing a sense of relief.

If one pays attention to the people, who make part of these forces, social problems the official policy has caused, and what it entails in psychological terms for the people at large, there appears to be much to feel jittery.

Undoubtedly, these private armies have had a fair share in law enforcement agencies’ marginal successes against Taliban in Peshawar, protecting the provincial capital from the terrorists’ unchecked onslaught.

The government functionaries insist that the peace committees in Badhber and Matani areas, on Peshawar’s outskirts, have helped the government to check the terrorists’ ability to carry out subversive activities.

After having been armed to the teeth, members of the peace bodies have over the years stood shoulder to shoulder with police to fight against Taliban in Peshawar’s suburbs.

They faced repercussions and lost a number of volunteers to Taliban’s targeted assaults. Their losses caused deeper social problems. Several women became widowed and children lost fathers. Areas’ students rendered without schools after Taliban bombed educational institutions. Poverty deepened as private businesses shattered owing to deteriorating law and order situation.

Families have been exposed to economic problems. They lost earning hands to the dreadful reprisal attacks and improvised explosive devices explosions by Taliban. Many non-combatant civilians, too, died in Badhber and Matani areas because of the reign of terror unleashed by the ruthless maniacs, dictating their brand of religion to others.

Alas, in these deaths and miseries is hidden the government’s failure. The government that was supposed to protect people’s lives and properties opted to partly transfer the responsibility to private citizens.

The policy of encouraging private militias has caused deep psychological consequences. It causes one to believe that the law enforcement agencies are not stronger enough to protect people’s lives and properties.

It gives an impression that billions of rupees spent on police every year by the government have been without much impact. It shows a weakening writ of the state.

It shows the state has run out of options. The government has projected as people’s saviours those, who were in the past dubbed as ‘anti-social elements.’

Badhber and Matani have always been known in Peshawar for playing safe heavens to criminals, gangs involved in carjacking and kidnapping for ransom. Serving as abodes to criminals, these areas have always been a pain in the neck for the trade and business community of the provincial capital.

The fact that many of the members of the peace forces are active members of criminals’ gangs is known to many. The more disturbing bitter fact is that they have now been provided arms by the government that apparently serves an acknowledgement of their combative skills and abilities.

Adezai peace lashkar’s former chief Haji Abdul Malik, who was killed in a targeted suicide bomb attack in 2008-09, remained behind the bars for two months for his association with Taliban. He was released after he consented to fight against his old associates and accepted to head the peace force.

Dilawar Khan, who succeeded Haji Maalik as head of the peace body, is not a man with a clean slate as well.

Fahim Khan, former head of Bazidkhel peace force in the Matani area, too, had a tainted record.

After having fought along the police during the past about four years, these gangs are more trained in carrying out organised combat missions. They have become well aware of the police’s combat tactics, abilities and shortcomings. That makes them a far bigger challenge than they have ever been to police.

The disturbing accounts of police and members of a peace force undercutting each other are already under circulation.

According to these accounts, Bazidkhel’s peace force has had an alleged hand in SP Kalam Khan’s murder.

He was killed in a suicide bomb attack by Taliban.

Similarly, members of Bazidkhel peace body suspect police of allegedly playing a role in the killing of the force chief Fahim Khan, who was recently killed in a violent attack under mysterious circumstances.

The working relations between police and Adezai peace body, too, are not a story of cordiality.

Police lost some of its bright officers to militancy during the past few years. There are few officers, who would willingly accept policing assignments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa given the scale of.

The policy to sponsor private militias has made their job more risky and challenging.