Pakistanis fighting the Taliban press for military backup
Villagers in northwestern Dir have 250 militants under siege, but say they need help from security forces to prevail. The military has a poor record of aiding these volunteer militias.
Islamabad and Peshawar, Pakistan
When villagers rose up against the Taliban in Dir district a month and a half ago, headlines cheered evidence of Pakistanis resisting militancy. But now, tribal elders say they are growing impatient that security forces haven't come to help, even as fresh waves of Taliban threaten to overwhelm their volunteer force.Skip to next paragraph
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Some 2,000 villagers in the northwestern district have kept 250 to 300 Taliban fighters under siege, but have failed to overrun the Taliban's defensive position. Over the past four days, Taliban reinforcements have been arriving from Swat and Kohistan, swelling militant ranks to 500, according to one village elder.
The volunteer militia, called a lashkar, initially felt confident enough to refuse help from the Pakistani Army. But lashkar leaders now say they are in dire need of manpower, arms, and ammunition.
"Now it is getting difficult, and we are threatened, because their number is increasing with each passing day," says Baboo Rahman, an elder with the Dir lashkar. "The lashkar people are also now fed up with continuous fighting, and we request the government should hit [the Taliban] from the air."
Waiting for military backup
For years, Pakistan has turned to lashkars as a means of tackling militants without launching destructive and sometimes unpopular military operations. But the government has a poor record of backing up these volunteers when, more often than not, they are outgunned or targeted for assassination.
In the past year alone, retaliatory strikes against villages forming lashkars have grown: Taliban killed 40 villagers in Buner, 110 at a jirga, or council, in Orakzai Agency, and another 40 at a jirga in Bajaur.
"The military can help if [the villagers] have surrounded the Taliban, and they can indicate to the military 'Here they are' – and the military should go do it," says Mahmood Shah, former governor of the Federally Administered Trial Areas, near Dir. [Editor’s note: The original version misidentified Mahmood Shah.]
Yet rescuing lashkars, including the one in Dir, poses both short-term and long-term dilemmas for security forces.
In the short term, "the Army is operating on a very wide front, and it has its own difficulties with logistics and [finding] the right manpower ratios," says Khalid Aziz, head of the Regional Institute of Policy Research and Training, a think tank in Peshawar.