What is becoming of the Adeyzai lashkar is precisely the story of almost all anti-Taliban lashkars in FATA. The lashkars were encouraged by the authorities with promises of help. The promises never materialised
Leaders of the anti-Taliban lashkar in Adeyzai, a Peshawar village on the border with FATA, are preparing to hold a press conference in Peshawar to announce the termination of their cooperation with the provincial Awami National Party (ANP) government and the security forces of Pakistan in the war on terror. Following the press conference, the lashkar leaders will approach the Taliban for an agreement whereby they (the Taliban) will assure no attacks on the people of Adeyzai inside the village or outside, and the villagers would allow the Taliban to peacefully pass through Adeyzai for any attacks on civil, military or police targets in any part of Peshawar.
What has made the Adezai lashkar change its anti-Taliban stance? The lashkar courageously stood up to the Taliban for two years despite great human and material losses. The reason is that the government as well as the military have extended the lashkar almost no moral and material support since it was formed in 2008. Without the state’s support, their anti-Taliban stance has cost them heavily. The Taliban have punished the entire village through repeated bomb attacks. The lashkar people, their family members and supporters have been killed and their small businesses burnt down by the Taliban.
Despite no state support, the lashkar volunteers continued to cooperate with the government and security forces in the war on terror. They have been providing actionable intelligence to the authorities about the Taliban. They established the writ of the state in Adeyzai that helped the ANP government rebuild girls’ schools bombed by the Taliban, and the police came back on normal duty. Prior to the formation of the lashkar, the people had stopped sending girls to schools due to Taliban threats and the police could not come out of the police station following the beheading of some policemen in the area. Upon the request of the military authorities, 50 volunteers from the lashkar participated in the military operation against the Taliban in Bora-Prastavana, the FATA area adjacent to Adeyzai in September 2010.
The lashkar leaders have a long list of complaints against the government and the military. The authorities have not been promptly responding to the actionable intelligence against the Taliban provided by the lashkar leaders. The lashkar volunteers who participated in the Bora-Prastavana operation for five days used their own weapons. The lashkar was never compensated in cash or kind by the military authorities for the weapons and ammunition they used in the operation. The lashkar men were even kept hungry and thirsty during the operation. Over 40 villagers have died in clashes with the Taliban and suicide and rocket attacks by the Taliban, including lashkar leaders, volunteers and their relatives, village elders and other villagers, including women and children. The Taliban have bombed shops and other small businesses belonging to the villagers. No compensation whatsoever has been provided by the government for the human and material losses suffered by the people of Adeyzai for their anti-Taliban stance. The villagers wonder why the government never compensates them whereas the victims of terrorism all over the country are compensated to some extent. Despite pledges made by the governor and chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, no weapons or cash have been given to the lashkar to support its stance against the Taliban.
Amid attacks, the Taliban have also been sending messages to the lashkar leaders to give up their pro-government stance in return for compensation for the human and material losses suffered by everyone in the village, including the lashkar volunteers. The lashkar and people of Adeyzai have been turning down such offers for two years. They, however, argue that without state support, they cannot continue their armed struggle against the well financed and organised Taliban anymore.
Most people in Adeyzai, including the lashkar leaders, are farmers and drivers or run small businesses related with transport or grocery shops. It has become increasingly difficult for them to provide weapons, ammunition and rations for their 300 armed volunteers. Hence the lashkar’s decision to strike a deal with the Taliban out of sheer helplessness due to the absence of state support.
What is becoming of the Adeyzai lashkar is precisely the story of almost all anti-Taliban lashkars in FATA. Taliban gangs were unleashed on peaceful civilians and they were left to fend for themselves. Out of sheer desperation, they formed anti-Taliban lashkars. The lashkars were encouraged by the authorities with promises of help. The promises never materialised. The Taliban were given a free hand to slaughter the lashkars. Some anti-Taliban people were killed, others were made to run away and the remaining were forced to make deals with the Taliban or join them as fighters and commanders. This is how the ‘popular support’ of the fiercely autonomous tribesmen has been engineered in FATA. Through acute insecurity, the region has been rendered inaccessible for outsiders so that no free scholarly or journalistic investigation is able to question the authenticity of this popular support for the Taliban in FATA. All this is in pursuit of strategic depth in Afghanistan.
Adeyzai, however, is not a part of FATA – the unfortunate area under the absolute control of the intelligence agencies who use it as strategic space for strategic depth in Afghanistan. Adeyzai is part of Peshawar, under the Pakhtun nationalist ANP government. The Pakistani state in FATA has already lost its legitimacy to the tribesmen. The state there means nothing but death and destruction because of the state’s collusion with the Taliban and al Qaeda. Now the people of Peshawar may be drawing the same conclusion. It is no wonder that I keep hearing from the people of Adeyzai that the state has no will to eliminate the Taliban. What will become of the legitimacy of the state in this situation in Peshawar, an important garrison town? The most unfortunate aspect is that all this is happening under the ANP government.
There is an urgent need for the sake of legitimacy of the state that the lashkar and people in Adeyzai are provided some state support. The government may start by providing immediate compensation to all the people in Adeyzai for their human and material losses. This must be followed by targeted operations in the FATA areas around Adeyzai so that the village drivers and farmers have no need to make anti-Taliban lashkars. If that is not doable on an urgent basis, the lashkar must be provided with necessary support so that the Adeyzai villagers and other people in Peshawar can live in peace.
The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban