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Pakistani Army Struggles Against Taliban

9:45 AM, Nov 11, 2008 • By BILL ROGGIO
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While Pakistan's president thinks the war against the Taliban in the tribal areas is going well, several reports from the frontlines tell a different story. The London Times, the Washington Post, and the New York Times all share grim accounts of the fighting in Pakistan's tribal agency of Bajaur.

The London Times also reported that detailed plans drawn up by the Taliban were recovered in Bajaur. The Taliban established weapons and ammunition caches and set up fixed bunkers and networks of trenches. The fight on one stretch of road about eight miles long was so bad it took nearly two months of heavy fighting to clear the area.

The most disturbing aspect of the reports is the Pakistani government's plan to get the local tribes on their side to fight the Taliban. This effort is often touted as Pakistan's version of standing up an Awakening as happened in Iraq's Anbar province. I've detailed some of the problems associated with the government's efforts to win over the tribes: There is no organization between the tribal groups; the tribes that join are largely on the margins; they often refuse to work with the military; and they are vastly outnumbered by the Taliban.

But the Washington Post provides another disturbing detail in the efforts to get the tribes to fight the Taliban. Instead of working with the tribes, the government is threatening them to join the effort or face the wrath of the military.

But, 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.

"They are between the devil and the deep sea," said Akhunzada Chitran, a tribal representative from the Bajaur area. "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."

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 to 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.

"We're in a constant state of panic and fear. We're sandwiched between the government and the Taliban," said Rahimullah, a resident of Charmang who, like many ethnic Pashtuns in the area, uses only one name. "If we support the government openly, then we have to face the wrath of the Taliban."

Coercing the tribes to fight the Taliban is a deeply flawed tactic that is sure to backfire on the Pakistani state. This is no way to win an insurgency.