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Pakistan's Proxy War Continues

In need of assistance.
In need of assistance.
Another 36 people, mostly young men, fell prey to the "proxy versus proxy" policy of the Pakistani government on March 9 on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, as a Taliban suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt amid a funeral procession.

Located around 20 kilometers southeast of Peshawar, the village of Adezai is an area used as a buffer between Peshawar and the semi-tribal region of Darra Adamkhel, once home to a flourishing -- and illegal -- arms market that produced and supplied unlicensed weapons to all parts of Pakistan.

The Taliban attacked the people of Adezai, as they have before, for raising an army of volunteers (Lashkar) in an effort to resist Taliban efforts at establishing a stronghold in the region. The Lashkar elders say that since its formation in 2008, 47 militiamen -- including its founding leader Abdul Malik -- have been killed.

In a somewhat desperate bid to neutralize the Taliban threat, Pakistan's security establishment actively encouraged the formation of Lashkars. Be it in Orakzai, Darra, Shah Hassankhel, Mohmand, or Adezai, militias of volunteers were militarized and brought to the front line against an enemy who is better-trained, better-equipped, and highly reckless when it comes to violence.

Once considered a proxy of the Pakistani security establishment to pursue the country’s "strategic depth" policy in Afghanistan and to humble a much bigger and more powerful adversary, India, on the Kashmir front, the Taliban -- and its splinter movements -- are increasingly outside the control of the security forces. Attacks on the Army’s General Headquarters and numerous blasts at army and police installations in different parts of the country are seen as the handiwork of the rogue elements, sometimes referred to as the "bad" Taliban.

Now, the government finds itself arming more militias that may end up turning against it. Lashkar volunteers across the tribal areas and Pashtun belt are lodging serious complaints against the government for withdrawing support after pushing them into a fight with the Taliban. Their frustration, if unaddressed, could force the militias to turn their guns against the government, or at least the unarmed people living in their neighborhood, or even join the Taliban.

It was a similar situation that led to the civil war in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country in the late-1980s, where armed-to-the-teeth and well-trained private militias and warlords turned their guns against each other to control major strategic cities.

Looking at the strength of the Pakistani security forces and their command and control system, an Afghanistan-like situation in Pakistan appears to be unlikely. However, trouble on a smaller scale can not be ruled out if the policy of proxy versus proxy continues.

- Daud Khattak