FATE OF CIVIL MILITIA IN FATA
The war on terror was initiated after collapse of twin towers of World Trade Center hit by hijacked airplanes in September 9, 2001. The war was waged by U.S led NATO forces against the alleged militant organization named Al-Qaeda across the world while Pakistan joined this war immediately after its inception. The moment Pakistan became Non-NATO ally of the U.S, it started facing problems. This non-NATO ally status became the cause of numerous deaths of civilians and security officials in Pakistan. The 14 years old Malala Yousafzai is one the victims of this war against the terrorism.
Since the war against terrorism is being fought with the support and involvement of civilian in the name of civil militia/Amn Lashkar etc, the cost of the war is growing higher and higher for the civilians in FATA. The civilian involvement in the war as combatants, make not only the war dangerous but also complex. The civilian involvement, as combatants, ends up often with their loss of lives along with material. The future of civil militia seems very fatalistic to them as well to civilians in FATA.
Experts of strategic studies are divided between two contradicting view points; a school of thought believes in the active participation of civilians in the counterinsurgency process while the other rejects the notion of civilian participation. Both schools of thought have their own arguments to prove their stance. The former view point seems valid to the extent that no strategy can be successful without participation of civilians but it ignores the casualties they face as a result of direct combat with the militants. The civilian participation may only be useful if the strategic plan is followed by clear goals and objectives along with the identified enemies.
The phenomenon of war in FATA is very confusing where the enemy could not be identified yet. Many of the scholars are of view that Taliban are the enemy while the others think otherwise. The division of pro and anti state militants categorized by the state, in itself is very perplexing. This division is not exposed clearly therefore individuals are unable to differentiate between pro and anti state Taliban.
The confusion increases when the heads of the Taliban commanders claim close terms with security forces. The Taliban commander Taasil Khan based in Shakai, South Waziristan was shifted to Pindi CMH through a military helicopter after becoming the target of bomb blast planted by unknown miscreant. This incident witnessed by many residents of South Waziristan left masses in lurch to identify their real enemy.
The civilian involvement reduces the cost of counter insurgency for the security forces. Undoubtedly it benefits the security forces but at the cost of civilian lives. According to Sameer Lalwani, civilian-involvement in counter-insurgency helps security forces but he ignores the complexity of the situation results in mass-involvement in counterinsurgency move. We can observe that plight of the people becomes worse comparatively where they are involved in counter insurgency moves; the case of people of Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan is very much evident of the fact. When we move from the south to the north of FATA the involvement of people in counter insurgency-move increases hence their plight too.
If we analyze state pampered Lashkar (civil militia) in FATA we may categorize it into five groups; i) encouraged, ii) supported, iii) sponsored iv) employed and v) compelled by the security forces against the militants in the region. The initial four kinds of Lashkar are the stages of involvement of civilians in the war against terror that in one or the other way it includes the willingness of Lashkar-members to participate in this process. The fifth stage (i.e. compelled) of involvement of civilians in counter insurgency is based on their sheer unwillingness. In the first kind of participation, people are just encouraged to be the part of the strategy. At the second stage, people are provided with moral support which includes awards and honors. At the third stage, civil militia is provided with somewhat material and logistic support. The difference between supported and sponsored is that the latter category is provided with material support while the former receives only moral support from the state. At the fourth stage this civil militia is employed on temporary basis. One can find this sort of stat-employed civil militia or commonly known peace committee in the northern part of FATA and in Swat, Malakand and Dir in KPK.
Hundreds of employed militia men were killed by the militants after the completion of their short tenure in the militia. Thus we find a great number of Lashkar men killed by militants in the northern parts of FATA.
The people of a village Bangokas in district Dir are very hospitable and peaceful. Once I visited the area with my friend. I was warmly welcomed by them upon my arrival at a Hujra as all of people raised themselves from their seats as a token of respect but Saadullah and Raza khan. I was astonished on their culturally indifferent attitude at the very outset but later on I realized that both of young men had lost their legs in the six month employment in militia. While meeting people in this Hujra I had to close my eyes upon witnessing a distasteful sight of a young man with crippled-arm. He had also become the victim of militants due to his temporary employment with forces in Swat operation. I came to know, later on, that hundreds of people have been killed and/or injured after getting retirement from their temporary employment in civil militia.
This strategy of temporary employment was severely criticized when 25 retired militia men were brutally killed by Taliban in district Dir Upper. The government did not provide security to these militia men and left them vulnerable. Once they were armed they were safe but they had to be disarmed after the expiry of their temporary employment as security personnel. They should be provided with proper security and financial support after their retirement. Disbanding any militia without necessary arrangements remained problematic for both the militia men and for the society as well.
The most pathetic thing is that these affected people were never compensated by the government of Pakistan. Saadullah and Raza Khan and many others like them purchased their own wheelchairs. “The government just used us and left us in the lurch”, Saadullah said. Media has covered the story of 25 people who were slain by militants but the aftermath of the event was overlooked. The families of temporary soldiers were not compensated. One of cousins of affected Raza Khan has left the permanent military employment when he saw his relative was disregarded by the state of Pakistan.
The fifth kind of Lashkar is ‘compelled’ where the security forces compel the locals to fight against the militants in the area. This kind of Lashkar is mostly found in Bajaur Agency and Mohmand Agency. In the vicinity of Mandal in Bajaur, security forces compelled ten locals for the security of each specified area. They were compelled to patrol at nights. In one of their activity, Taliban abducted ten patrolling tribesmen including Abdullah, a school teacher, at mid night. Taliban chopped Abdullah’s ear while threatening the other tribesmen to refrain from patrolling in the area. But civilians could not give up patrolling under the pressure of security forces. Few days later Abdullah has been killed brutally by the militants. The security forces even did not compensate the family of the slain tribesman.
These are a few among thousands of such cases in FATA and north of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where civilians became the victim in this counterinsurgency strategy. To be brief, this is the legacy of our partnership with the US on the war on terror. Education, health and social structure have badly been affected in this war without getting anything from it.
The case of 14 years old Malala Yousafzai is not different one; a nominee of international peace award Ms Yousafzai was shot because she was used by state as an anti Taliban national hero. The government awarded her with millions of rupees along with other titles but she was left among the people who already threatened her and other girls in Swat. All the girls seeking education must be protected, said by majority of the people of Swat when girls’ schools had been blown up, prior to military operation (operation Rah-e-Rast, launched in 2007) in Swat. The attack on Malala Yousafzai depicts the story of negligence on the part of the security forces that failed to provide security to her. In one way or the other Malala was the part of counterinsurgency; that is why she became the target of militants. She wrote a dairy against Taliban activities in the region even at the time when the writ of Taliban was strong in Swat. She not only kept her education continued but also encouraged other girls to do so even at the time when Taliban banned girls’ education in Swat. She has been projected by state as education icon.
The government must compensate the victims and protect the civilians in the areas (FATA & KPK) where the war has been imposed. The best way of protecting civilian from militants is to keep them away from counterinsurgency strategy. Their involvement causes their deaths. Though the local tribesmen are very valorous and can fight effectively against their enemy but in the case of Taliban or other militants they are quite confused. They do not know whether the government is sincere in curbing the militant elements from society or want to keep them for some hidden state-strategic purpose. There must not be any confusion among the locals of the region in identifying friends or enemies so that they may fight against their enemies; if necessary, with clear goals and objectives. If the government really wants to utilize the potential of communities in sustaining peace then they must be utilized in areas which have already been cleaned by the security forces. Direct combat by civilians with the militants would always be dangerous.
The writer is a research fellow at Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Politics and International Relation at International Islamic University Islamabad and works as a Senior Research Analyst at FATA Research Center.
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