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Pakistan tests civilian militias to keep Taliban out of Swat Valley

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The first lashkar since the military retook Swat in June was formed in August, and plans are now afoot to ensure that every union council – roughly equal to every village – in the Swat Valley eventually boasts its own, according to Swat military spokesman Major Mushtaq Khan. "The military is going village to village, speaking with elders and encouraging them to form their own lashkars and unite with existing ones," he says.

Current estimates by local leaders put the number of fighters at more than 8,000, a figure some tribal elders claim will at least double by the end of November.

Lashkars' troubled record

The idea of sponsoring the traditional tribal security structure is nothing new. During the era of British rule, the system was used to quell the subcontinent's Wild West frontier. The lashkars sponsored in recent years by the Pakistani government, however, usually fizzled in the face of a marauding, well-organized, and well-supplied Taliban that effectively outgunned and demoralized local opposition.

A recent case in point was the murder of anti-Taliban leader Pir Samiullah in December 2008. His body was exhumed by the Taliban to be hung up in the main market square of Mingora as a warning to others who would resist.

The much-touted Salarzai lashkar in Bajaur, one of Pakistan's tribal areas, initially succeeded in missions against the Taliban, during the summer of 2008. But it suffered greatly following the killing of its leader and is now much less active, according to Rahimullah Yusufzai, the Peshawar bureau chief of The News, an English daily.

Lashkars have been a "limited success," Mr. Yusufzai says. "They could be temporarily used in some areas where the Taliban are weak or heavily resented, like in Swat. But at the end of the day, the villagers need to do their work; they can't be armed every night."

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