How Pakistan's border region could get a few more good 'minutemen'
Tribal elder Khan rallied his lashkar, or minutemen, to repulse a Taliban attack near the Afghan border last week. He says his and other lashkars could help the government hold recently cleared turf if they received more backing.
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From that success, Khan gained a reputation as a leader and residents grew confident in their abilities. When Khan returned to the border last week to fight again, other residents quickly rallied to him.Skip to next paragraph
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At 4 a.m. on June 1, several hundred fighters poured out of Afghanistan’s Kunar Province into the Upper Dir areas of Shaltalo and Nusrat Dara. The fighters, says Khan, included former residents of Dir and Swat, as well as Afghanistan. They were speaking Pashto and Dari. The group overran schools that were being used by police as checkposts.
He and his men arrived in the evening and defended the area until the military arrived the next day. The Upper Dir police chief says the battle claimed the lives of 28 pro-government forces and more than 45 militants.
'If only they had the support of the military'
The incident prompted a diplomatic role reversal, with Pakistan complaining to Afghanistan about not doing enough to remove militant havens across the border. Over the past year, the US has pulled back from the Kunar region in Afghanistan.
Militants have ruthlessly cut down many such tribal leaders up and down the Afghan border to tamp down resistance from residents.
Tribesmen would rise up in large numbers against the militants if only they could be certain that the military would support them, says a tribal leader from South Waziristan who requests anonymity for fear of military authorities. He says locals suspect that the military at times helps the militants, discouraging tribesmen from risking their lives by joining a lashkar.
“Just give them logistics, weapons – they will do the job for you because now the tribal people are sick and tired of this,” he says of rooting out militants. “It will be done like this,” he adds, snapping his fingers.
But any widescale effort to arm residents could backfire by creating a new set of warlords, warns Mohammad, adding that any use of lashkars should come with a timeline, a plan for disarming them, and a sustained strategy.
He also argues that the deficiency in this fight hasn’t been in gunmen, but in civilian government engagement.
“Unfortunately in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there has been the overmilitarization of the counterinsurgency effort,” says Mohammad. “Counterinsurgency comprises of political reforms, economic packages, social reforms. [Instead] the complete effort has been given to the military.”
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