Pakistan’s anti-Taliban support risky

Pakistan’s support of local militias to help fight Taliban  and al Qaeda militants operating from its tribal areas is a sign of desperation that could backfire and lead to more attacks on U.S. and Pakistani forces or civil war in the borderlands, influential tribal elders, U.S. officials and analysts on the region say.

By Jason Motlagh 
The Washington Times

The militias, known as lashkars, are composed of ethnic Pashtun tribesmen angry over the presence of militant groups that have imposed harsh laws and used border areas to stage attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistani authorities have tried to co-opt the lashkars as part of an offensive launched in August to wipe out insurgent safe havens. Near-daily bombings and gunbattles have, by the Pakistani army’s count, forced 200,000 people to flee their homes.

While near-term gains may have been made, those familiar with the region say that the initiative disregards tribal mores and could stoke blood feuds and create private armies beyond the state’s control.

“The message sent by this approach is that the usual military tactics and political accords have not worked,” said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a leading authority on tribal affairs. “It looks like a matter of desperation.”

Results so far have been mixed.

In the Bajaur tribal region Thursday, a suicide bomber killed 22 tribal elders and injured 50. A group affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban movement claimed responsibility.

In Swat District, a scenic area and former tourism hub, 62 people accused of being involved in a plot to form a lashkar were abducted Oct. 30 by Taliban militants. All were freed, but militants later killed 12 members of the local jirga, or council, that had originally proposed forming a militia.

Elsewhere, a handful of local Taliban groups have surrendered to tribal elders and pledged to not shelter foreign militants.

The lashkar strategy has been compared to the so-called “Sunni Awakening” in Iraq, in which U.S.-backed Sunni Muslim tribesmen evicted jihadist militants from their neighborhoods.

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