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Bandit Kings

Islamabad : Pakistan | May 30, 2009 at 5:24 AM PDT
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Pakistan troops battle for Swat - 23 May 09

As the army continues its operations in Swat the backlash from militants in the settled area’s of Pakistan has increased. In just two days there have been three suicide attacks in two of Pakistan’s largest cities. The first was an attack on an office of the Inter Services Intelligence in the heart of Lahore city. More than 30 policemen were killed and 100 other people were injured. Yesterday saw two bomb attacks in the city of Peshawar at the crowded Kissa Khwani bazaar. Those blasts left up to 9 people dead and dozens more injured.

The military says this is a direct result of the losses inflicted on the militants since the action began 3 weeks ago. In a statement the military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the militants were now surrounded in the Kalaam region and their supply lines were cut. He expected a quick end to the operation, though he could not say how soon. Both the military and the provincial government insist that the suicide attacks are a growing sign of the militants’ desperation. They say the militants are bound to try and weaken military and government resolve by attacking civilian targets.

It is also a matter of the nature of the militants groups. In previous encounters in Waziristan and elsewhere in the tribal belt, the military said small numbers of Pashtun tribesmen were reinforced by Arab and Central Asian fighters bringing experience and weaponry with them. They laid the blame with NATO and the Afghan military for allowing the militants a clear supply route over the Hindu-Kush mountains separating Afghanistan from Pakistan. But witnesses now say that the Pakistani militants in Swat are of a different nature.

One witness recently displaced from the valley of Buner said the Taliban were basically “bandit folk”. This description corroborates what many people in the military and from the region were saying for some time.

According to one local the militants recruit from among the disaffected youth of the area promising them guns, money and respect in the area if they are willing to fight. “Grow a beard, and we will give you Rs.25,000, a gun and a [toyota] Vigo,” is how one person described the militants offer to young men in the area. Sometimes they just took young men at gun-point forcing them to fight.

So far the military’s conduct of the war seems to belie accusations of extreme measures. Another witness said the military and army had been helpful while clearing the area. “The operation is right and the police and army are doing well particularly the [paramilitary] FC.”

At the heart of the Taliban’s recruiting efforts is the image of a Pakistan that is skewed towards the wealthy, the corrupt and those willing to sacrifice national and religious identity to foreign interests. Images of Pakistan’s social elite are broadcast everyday on television and in the Sunday social pages. It is these images that the militants use to radicalise young men, playing on their sense of disenfranchisement and frustration.

Often it is said that Pakistan is a country of two faces and extreme dichotomies, where the rich play in pools, while the poor languish in fields. For many people here it is not an issue. They say others are just born lucky, that it is in God’s hands. But endemic corruption and bad governance have led many to question just how much luck some people are entitled to. And in a country where the president is also accused of being one of the most corrupt men in its history, there are plenty of opportunities for playing with the truth.

Still it seems that the Taliban view of Islam and their methods of enforcement have turned the local population away from them. As one man said “The people here support Islam and Sharia, but we don’t want any fighting.”

Changez is based in Islamabad, Federal Capital Area, Pakistan, and is a Stringer for Allvoices.
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