Anti-Taliban tribal leader killed in northwest Pakistan
A leader of an anti-Taliban militia and head of the Darband Peace Committee,* Haji Hashim (Zaman) Khan, was killed in a roadside blast as he and his two colleagues were refueling their vehicle in the restive city of Hangu, officials reported yesterday. Haji Hashim led a faction of the 20,000-strong anti-Taliban lashkar (militia), the Aman Lashkar ("Peace Army"), which fiercely opposed the presence of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Islam in lower Arakzai and the Khyber Agency. In April, Hashim Khan and his militia helped Pakistani security forces clear most of lower Arakzai.
Pakistani authorities and US-trained bomb disposal experts who investigated the blast determined that the bomb, consisting of the powerful explosive pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), weighed approximately 400 grams. PETN is one of the most powerful military-grade plastic explosives available.
Officials speculate the assassins attached the explosive device to Hashim Khan's vehicle and then detonated it by remote control at a time of their choosing. Hashim Khan's vehicle exploded at a refueling station as he and his driver, Shah Habib, and a bodyguard, Shahnawa, were traveling to their headquarters in Babar Mela. Taliban fighters in Arakzai are key suspects in the attack.
Haji Hashim Khan's death is the second assassination of an Aman Lashkar commander by militants within the past two weeks. On Nov. 17, a roadside bomb killed Commander Hassan Khel, the Aman Lashkar leader of Kokkikhel and Hassan Khel, as he and his family traveled to Peshawar from the Tirah Valley in Khyber. A few days before, on Nov. 10, clashes between the Aman Lashkar and Lashkar-e-Islam militants left four militiamen dead in the Droadda area of the Bara tehsil in Khyber Agency. And earlier this year, militants conducted a series of high-profile suicide attacks against numerous local lashkars in Bajaur, Dir, and Khyber.
The Pakistani government has publicly voiced support for the raising of local tribal lashkars as bulwarks against Taliban expansion throughout the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The Peshawar Corps Commander, Lieutenant General Asif Yasin Malik, told reporters in October that the Aman Lashkars "have played a commendable role in maintaining peace and normalcy in some parts of the restive tribal regions," and further called upon the militiamen to "stand united against the Frankenstein of militancy."
Over the past few years, and with limited support from the government, tribes have organised lashkars in Bajaur, Peshawar, Dir, Buner, Lakki Marwat, Khyber Agency, and other areas. But some lashkar commanders say a lack of government resources and support has led to monumental strategic losses. One local peace committee in Hangu recently disbanded after taking numerous casualties, and blamed Pakistani forces for failing to provide promised arms and ammunition.
Pakistani forces first launched their military offensive against militants in Arakzai Agency in 2010. Security forces are still engaged in fierce combat with militants operating in upper Arakzai, however, including the areas of Khadezai and Ali Khel. The Mamozai area remains a stronghold of militants operating in upper Arakzai.
*Local chapters of the Aman Lashkar are referred to as "Peace Committees."