Saturday, November 8, 2008


Since September, the newspapers have been awash with news about pro-government jirgas and lashkars being assembled by tribesmen in various areas of FATA to resist the Taliban. This is good in that after nearly seven years, the locals are taking a firm stance against the militants, whom they initially treated with much hospitality. Support of the people of FATA will be key to success in what has now become a full-fledged war on the militants there. The locals' knowledge of the area and the simple fact that they will no longer give refuge to militants will help tremendously.

But this whole business of the lashkars fighting a proxy war for the government makes me very uncomfortable. Tackling the militants is the government and the military's responsibility and not of civilians living in that area. For the government to garner their support and make sure they are not harboring militants is one thing, but for it to use these armed tribesmen as a buffer against the ruthless militants is inhumane.

To make matters worse, not only is the government encouraging lashkars, it is, as the Herald reported this month, also arming them. Our experience of arming the mujahideen to fight the Soviets and the Taliban to fight in Kashmir should be proof enough of the folly of such endeavors. These groups that the state arms have a tendency of using those very arms against the state later. When the militants have been controlled, I am sure, the last thing we will want is to have to fight another war to check armed lashkars.

On a related note, I find it hard to be very enthusiastic about the so-called "vigilance committees" that have sprouted up in Buner. These committees are basically armed vigilante groups that guard villages in Buner against militants. The Herald speaks of these committees in glowing terms, calling them "a miracle" and encouraging people of Swat to follow suit and "become the masters of their own destiny". Such glorification of vigilante groups is quite unnecessary. They are a woeful symptom of the state's failure to protect its citizens and can become a threat to the state's authority. The media was right in condemning acts of vigilante justice in Karachi and in calling on the government and society to address its root causes. In an editorial, Dawn called the burning of robbers by civilians in Karachi a "terrifying new phenomenon". They should be consistent and do the same with the armed and organized vigilante groups in NWFP.

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