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Lashkars And The Killing Of Muhammad Nazeer

Are these the good guys?
Are these the good guys?
Last week, the BBC's Urdu service reported on the killing of poet Muhammad Nazeer by the Mohmand tribal militia, or lashkar. In a manner reminiscent of the Taliban, the lashkar elders publicly claimed responsibility for the killing of the famed writer.

The style of the killing and the claim of responsibility exemplifies the trouble awaiting the area, where the custodians of peace now look to be walking on the same path as the militants they are supposed to protect against.

The lashkars were formed in villages and towns of northern Pakistan following the failure of the Pakistani security agencies to defeat the Taliban who continued their march from the tribal areas to the settled districts of Pakistan.

In a March 2011 article in the CTC Sentinel, I detailed many of the risks inherit in the arming of local militias. In short, arming untrained locals to fight against a force like the Taliban would likely end poorly and was not a permanent solution to the security problems in the region.

Muhammad Nazeer was a resident of the Khwezai area of Upper Mohmand who had published three poetry collections and was working on two others. Locals in Mohmand openly asked the obvious question: how could such a person work for the Taliban, who hate art and music?

"We arrested Nazeer and then shot him dead,” Malak Ayaz, the lashkar leader who claimed responsibility, told RFE/RL. He added that Nazeer and his two sons were Taliban fighters.

Nazeer's son Tafseer Khan tells a different story. He said his father left the house to purchase some household items and did not return. Khan told RFE/RL that the family was informed of his father's death the next day.

Khan said his family had migrated to Peshawar three years ago. "How is it possible that my father was working with the Taliban while living in Peshawar?" he wondered.

Amjad Ali, political agent of Mohmand tribal agency, told RFE/RL, "The security forces arrested the person who publicly claimed responsibility." This is a good thing, they did their duty. But can someone say the arrest will stop the civilian militias from turning their guns on the innocent people already bearing the brunt of Taliban suicide attacks and targeted killings?

In a society flooded with arms, and where personal enmities on trivial issues continue for years and decades, arming civilians to fight what is essentially a state-sponsored enemy makes no sense. Rather, the approach further deepens suspicions about the role of security agencies, already under fire on the local and international front following the May 2 raid in Abbottabad, in fighting terrorism and curbing militancy.

The killing of poet Muhammad Nazeer raises yet more questions about the wisdom of arming civilians in Pakistan.

-- Daud Khattak