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Anti-Taliban militia targeted in Pakistan

world Updated: Mar 11, 2011 08:09 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad

The attack this week on the outskirts of Peshawar by a suicide bomber who blew himself up and killed 37 others comes at a time when the government claims it is winning the war against Taliban militants in the tribal areas of the country.

However, on ground realities suggest that the war between the Pakistan army and Taliban militants, aided by a number of religious extremist groups, may be far from over. In this, the suicide attacks on anti-Taliban militia may tilt the balance of power in the favour of the Taliban, observers have warned.

The head of the anti-Taliban militia targeted in Wednesday’s suicide bombing at a funeral in Adezai warned that its volunteers will be forced to join the Taliban if it does not get material and financial support from the government within two days. “Either the government accepts our demands within two days or they should let us join the Taliban,” Haji Dilawar Khan, who leads the Qaumi Amn Lashkar, told the media.

The tribal laskhars (armed groups) were set up with the help of the military to counter the Taliban. Initially, these lahkars were very successful in driving out extremists who were firmly entrenched in different villages and small towns in the restive Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and in the Federally Administered Tribal areas.

"In many instances, people got together to force out the Taliban because they were fed up with their ways," recalls Khadim Husain of the Aryana Research Institute, based in Islamabad.

But now the Taliban has started to target the laskhars, alongwith military and government installations. And the military, which is fighting the Taliban on many fronts, has been unable to provide the much needed back up to the lashkars, who it is hoped will one day tilt the balance of power. “We are no longer capable of fighting them alone. We need the government’s help.”

Locals said that Wednesday's attack came in the Sheikh Neka Baba graveyard two kilometres north of Adezai, as locals were offering funeral prayers for a woman related to the head of an anti-Taliban lashkar.

Medics at Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) said that 36 dead and 52 injured had been brought to the facility and 10 of the wounded were in serious condition. The death toll had risen to 37 by evening.

Peshawar police chief Liaqat Ali Khan told reporters at the scene that it was a suicide attack targeting the militia. He said that militants had been attacking these villages with conventional forces before. Now, after the militia had managed to beat them away, they were sending suicide bombers.

There are also wheels within wheels and the Zardari government's war against militancy is being blunted by right-wing parties at home. For one, almost all right-wing parties say that the suicide attacks in the country are a direct consequence of the drone strikes in the FATA and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

"Stop the drone attacks and you will stop the suicide attacks. It is as simple as that," says Munawwar Hasan, the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, which is supportive of the Taliban. Hasan calls those killed in the suicide attacks as "collateral damage" and blames America for their deaths.

But following on the footsteps of the right-wing parties are the supposedly mainstream rightist parties like the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz, headed by former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid faction, headed by Chaudhry Shujaat Husain. Both parties have links with extremists groups and have in the past called for reconciliation with the Taliban and not confrontation.

Sensing the dangers of this line, the army high command this week held a briefing for select journalists in which it categorically said that drone attacks were right on target and were helping in eliminating the leadership of the extermist groups with accuracy.

Even allies of the Zardari government seem to be weakening their resolve to fight the Taliban. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Senior Minister Bashir Bilour, a senior member of the Awami National Party, had reportedly told the media that the lashkars "were no longer useful." But on Wednesday, Bilour released a press statement pledging that the government would negotiate the matter with the Lashkar soon.