Peshawar, Nov 12 : The tribesmen in Pakistan living in villages along the Afghan border are caught between the devil and the deep sea, as, one the one hand, the Government wants them to form Lashkars to fight back the Taliban, and, on the other hand, they continuously run the risk of being beheaded by the Taliban, as happened around three weeks ago when a couple of tribal leaders beheaded and their bodies tossed on the roads setting an example for others.
The use of local tribesmen to fight the Taliban in Pakistan could prove useful for the US and NATO military leaders who are considering similar tactics in neighboring Afghanistan. Top US military officials have pointed to the example set in Iraq, where tribal sheiks turned against al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents, as a potential model. "But analysts in Pakistan and Afghanistan have cautioned that such a strategy could inflame, not extinguish, tensions along the troubled border without proper government support," said an article in the Washington Post.
According to the paper, as the Pakistan Army's efforts to stamp out the insurgency in the rugged areas along the border with Afghanistan have faltered, Pakistani officials have "turned to tribal militias to make up ground in an increasingly complex conflict".
It added: "So far at least, the tribal militias have been no panacea. Instead, the use of the militias, known as lashkars, has set off a debate over whether such a strategy will contribute to a civil war in the northwest that could engulf all of Pakistan. Yet some tribal leaders say they have little choice but to fight their brothers, cousins and neighbors: The Pakistani military, they say, has threatened to bomb their villages if they do not battle the Taliban."
Akhunzada Chitran, a tribal representative from the Bajaur area, said that they are not able to decide what to do. "We are between the devil and the deep sea. On the one side, there is the Taliban, but on the other side, they are being forced by the government to fight the Taliban or flee or the government will bomb them. It's a very difficult choice to make, but we have made up our minds to take on the Taliban," the paper quoted him as saying.
So far, more than two lakh people have fled clashes in Bajaur, setting off a humanitarian crisis as the refugees struggle to find food and shelter.
Mohammad Afzal, a tribal elder from Bajaur who was hospitalized after the Pakistani military shelled his village last month, said the bombardment came after he and fellow tribesmen refused to set up a checkpoint to limit the movement of Taliban fighters. "We had a meeting with the government representatives and told them that the checkpoint wasn't necessary because there were no Taliban in our area. Then a few hours later, the bombing started," added Afzal.
Tribesmen who decide to fight face the risk of bloody Taliban reprisals. In Charmang, a town about 30 miles east of the border with Afghanistan, two tribal leaders were kidnapped and beheaded three weeks ago after organizing 300-400 tribesmen into a lashkar to fight the Taliban in Bajaur. Their bodies were tossed into the road for all to see the next day, witnesses said.
Rahimullah, a resident of Charmang, said: "We're in a constant state of panic and fear. We're sandwiched between the government and the Taliban. If we support the government openly, then we have to face the wrath of the Taliban."