Pakistani tribesmen living in the northern district of Dir took revenge on the Taliban after last week’s deadly bombing at a mosque killed 49 people and wounded scores more.
Local tribesman in Upper Dir raised lashkars, or tribal militias, and conducted multiple attacks against known Taliban fighters and leaders in the region. The first round of attacks took place yesterday after hundreds of tribesmen in the remote village of Hayagai Sharqai attacked the Taliban. Four Taliban fighters were killed and six homes were torched, while the tribal leaders gave the Taliban until June 15 to leave the area.
Today, a lashkar that formed in the Darra Kot region killed 13 Taliban fighters and destroyed several Taliban “hideouts,” Geo News reported. “Foreigners” were reported killed, and the locals ordered Afghan refugees to leave the area.
Thousands of fighters from a lashkar are reported to have surrounded more than 300 Taliban fighters in the Shotkas and Ghazi Gai areas in Dir. Heavy fighting has been reported.
Tribal opposition has been ruthlessly crushed in the past
Last fall, the Pakistani government and the military encouraged tribal leaders to raise lashkars to oppose the spread of the Taliban. Since the beginning of 2008, Pakistani tribes have organized lashkars in regions in Bajaur, Peshawar, Khyber, Swat, Dir, Buner, and Lakki Marwat. The tribes have had some success in driving the Taliban from local areas by conducting patrols and burning down the homes of Taliban fighters and their supporters, but ultimately have failed to halt the Taliban advance.
“The Taliban is more vicious, more motivated, and more capable than the tribes,” a US military officer who closely follows the situation in northwestern Pakistan told The Long War Journal. “Time and time again, the Taliban has ruthlessly crushed any resistance. It doesn’t matter if it is the tribes, the police, the Frontier Corps, or the Army, the Taliban continues to gain ground.”
The Taliban have viciously responded to efforts by tribal leaders to oppose the spread of extremism in the tribal areas. Tribal opposition has been violently attacked and defeated in Peshawar, Dir, Arakzai, Khyber, and Swat. Suicide bombers have struck at tribal meetings held at mosques, schools, hotels, and homes.
The Taliban have also made examples of local leaders who have dared to resist. Last December, the Swat Taliban executed a local tribal leader named Pir Samiullah, then returned to the village to dig up his body and hang it in the town square. The villagers were warned not to remove his body or they would face the same fate.
Samiullah’s tribe had been the showcase for Pakistan’s “awakening,” the indigenous tribal uprising against the Taliban modeled after Iraq’s Sunni resistance to al Qaeda and allied jihadi groups. After Samiullah’s death and desecration, the Swat tribal resistance collapsed..
Problems with manpower, training, geography, coordination between the tribes, and lack of support from the military and government plague the tribal efforts to oppose the Taliban.
The Pakistani tribes are operating as distinct, local fighting forces with no central coordination, while the Taliban can coordinate their activities across the northwest and even from inside eastern Afghanistan. The Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan [Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP], Baitullah Mehsud’s unified Taliban command, was established to share manpower and resources and to coordinate activities.
“The tribes are limited by geography, the TTP is not,” a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal in September 2008 [see LWJ report: Pakistan engages the tribes in effort to fight the Taliban]. “Moreover, the Taliban out-number and out-gun them by more than 20 to 1. The tribes may achieve tactics success in some areas, but likely will fail to achieve strategic success.”
Tribes unwilling to cooperate with the military
The problems are complicated by the tribes’ unwillingness to cooperate with the government and the military. “We keep the government away,” a senior tribal leader in Lakki Marwat told Geo News last fall.
The tribes fear that cooperation with the government will further turn the Taliban and sympathetic tribes against them. “If we became part of the government they would become an excuse, a liability, a rallying cry against us,” the Lakki Marwat tribal leader said. Similar sentiments were expressed by Buner tribal leaders earlier this week. This attitude prevents the military from providing the needed security to oppose massed Taliban attacks. This sentiment has been echoed in Dir, Buner, and elsewhere in northwestern Pakistan.
The military offensives against the Taliban in Swat, Dir, and Buner have achieved some success in dislodging and driving out Taliban forces from the region. But the military must remain long after the end of the fighting to secure the regions; reestablish the local police forces, which have been plagued by desertions; and support tribal groups willing to stand up to the Taliban. And the military must continue the attack against the Taliban in their strongholds of Waziristan, Mohmand, Bajaur, Khyber, Kurram, and Arakzai. As long as the Taliban are able to regroup, they will retain the ability to attack the tribes and retake ground the military has left.
For more information on problems with Pakistan’s “Awakening,” see: The Pakistan Problem, and the wrong solution from Nov. 21, 2007.