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By Javed Aziz Khan
PESHAWAR – Brandishing AK-47 rifles and wearing jackets loaded down with ammunition, thousands of volunteers from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have been patrolling their towns to counter militant attacks. But now the Qaumi Lashkars (volunteers) have become targets of terrorists.
“The lashkars have proved effective in restoring peace in the tribal and settled areas and that is why they are coming under attacks,” Abid Majeed, secretary of co-ordination at the Civil Secretariat for FATA, told Central Asia Online.
Lashkars, which have government support for fighting the militancy, have helped maintain peace across the agency, he said.
“The same is the situation in Mohmand Agency and that was why many of the lashkar members from Mohmand have been killed in Peshawar,” Majeed said.
Many lashkar members killed in Peshawar
The success, however, has infuriated the militants, who have focused on attacking such groups in recent months.
“Over 30 elders of different Mohmand tribes and members of their local peace committees have been killed in different parts of Peshawar during the last few months,” Ibrahim Safi, a Mohmand tribal elder, told Central Asia Online. Safi said many lashkar members have migrated to Peshawar since the security situation has become bad in their areas, but the terrorists are still pursuing them.
There is no exact data on how many lashkar members have been killed in terrorist attacks but several attacks stand out. More than 40 people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked the funeral prayers of lashkar leader Bakht Sultan in Lower Dir September 15. The militants were targeting supporters of the lashkar in that case.
Malik Muhammad Zarin – Bakht Sultan’s uncle, the leader of an anti-militant group and a former governor Kunar Province, Afghanistan – was killed in a suicide attack in April.
Government supports lashkars
The government supports lashkars all over KP and FATA.
“Villagers are confined to home after taking up arms against the militants,” said Shad Malik, chief of a Qaumi Lashkar in Upper Dir. “The government should support them in every way.”
He said the government provides rations and sometimes inducts lashkar members into the regular police.
“We rush our forces whenever they need. They also co-operate with police when we ask for their assistance during operations and other actions,” Abdul Kalam Khan, superintendent of police in rural Peshawar, told Central Asia Online.
“We have recruited 70 volunteers of the Adezai Qaumi Lashkar alone in the special police force,” he said. “They are getting Rs. 700,000 (US $8,010) from the force every month.”
The lashkars are also being provided with weapons, ammunition and rewards, he said.
Adezai Qaumi Lashkar has lost 130 members
The Adezai Qaumi Lashkar in Peshawar is one of the first lashkars raised against the militants from Dara Adamkhel and Khyber Agency.
“Over 130 members of the Adezai Qaumi Lashkar, as well as villagers of Adezai and Matani, have so far been killed in over 40 terrorist attacks during the past almost three years. Those killed in these attacks include the founder of the lashkar and former union council nazim (mayor), Abdul Malik,” said Abdul Qadir, a commander of the Adezai Qaumi Lashkar.
Abdul Malik was one of 13 people killed in a suicide bombing in Matani Bazaar November 8, 2009. His son, Noor Malik, succeeded him but was gunned down in January.
Another top leader of the Qaumi Lashkar, Israr, died in an explosion in 2010. More than 40 people were killed in another suicide attack on the members of Adezai Qaumi Lashkar and villagers who were offering funeral prayers for a local woman on March 3.
Those who talk about peace in Kalakhel are targeted
The tribesmen of Kalakhel area of Khyber Agency have come under fire in recent months for talking about peace.
The militants attacked the people of Kalakhel on three occasions in the past two months. The latest was the rocket attack on a school van that was carrying students from the Kalakhel tribe on September 13. Four students and the driver were killed and 17 others were wounded.
“Apart from attack on school van, on two occasions, explosives were planted in passenger pickups carrying people to Kalakhel, killing 12 people,” said Ijaz Ahmad, a senior police officer.
“Our volunteers have sacrificed their lives while many sustained wounds in attacks since formation of the lashkar. However, the volunteers have been left on the mercy of militants as they are arranging even weapons and rounds at their own,” said Dilawar Khan, chief of the Adezai Qaumi Lashkar.
The federal interior minister Rahman Malik had announced a prestigious national award, Pride of Performance, for Dilawar after his men shot and killed a suicide bomber and his handler and wounded another militant commander Jangrez on August 11.
“They are doing a great job and countering terrorist attacks on Peshawar and other areas,” Malik told media.