Militias stem Pakistani Taliban, but at what cost?

Tribal militias allied with the government helped block a Taliban advance in this corner of northwest Pakistan close to the Afghan border.

Last Updated: Dec 28, 2010, 00:19 AM IST

Matani (Pakistan): Tribal militias allied
with the government helped block a Taliban advance in this
corner of northwest Pakistan close to the Afghan border, but
their success has come at a price: the empowerment of
untrained, unaccountable private armies that could yet emerge
as a threat of their own.

Tensions are emerging between authorities and the
dozens of militias that they helped to create predominantly in
and near the northwest tribal regions.

Operating from fortress-like compounds with
anti-aircraft guns on the roofs, the militiamen have made it
clear that the state now owes them for their sacrifices.

They show photos on their cell phones of Taliban they
killed and point to the scrubland outside, with graves of
relatives who died in the fight.

The leader of the largest militia near the town of
Matani, a wealthy landowner named Dilawar Khan, warns that he
will stop cooperating with police unless he gets more money
and weapons from authorities. Speaking to The Associated
Press, he adds what could be a veiled threat to join the
militants.

"Time and time again, the Taliban have contacted us,
urging us to change sides," he said.

Another local militia commander is locked in a dispute
with local police, who recently raided his compound and
accused him of stealing and overstepping his authority.

The experience in the Matani area 20 kilometres from
Peshawar, the largest city in Pakistan`s northwest shows the
advantages of using proxies to counter al Qaeda and the
Taliban, but also the pitfalls.

In Iraq, similar forces were credited with
creating a turning point in the war, when Sunni tribes rose up
against al-Qaida and other Sunni insurgent groups. Many of
those Iraqi Sunnis, however, now feel they are being
marginalised by the Shiite leadership.

In Afghanistan, the United States is backing the
creation of militias, dubbed local village defense forces, to
fight the Taliban.

The Afghan government is less keen, having seen the
damage that warlords with private armies did to the country in
the 1990s.

Pakistan`s own past shows the hazards of proxies. A
large part of the insurgency tearing at the heart of Pakistan
today is made up of armed militant groups that the government
trained and funded to fight wars in Afghanistan and against
Indian forces in Kashmir, as well Islamist extremists they
long tolerated to keep control in places like Pakistan`s Swat
Valley.

PTI