I went scanning the Pakistani English-language press for fallout over the American covert training presence in the FATA (just one low-key item in Dawn). Instead I stumbled across coverage of a proposed Village Defense Council program in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP). That’s the province that contains both the troubled Swat valley and larger Malakand disctrict, where the Pakistani government recently agreed to a controversial ceasefire deal with militants. (See Ahmed Humayun’s Briefing.)
Both the News and Daily Times report that the province’s governor plans to distribute 30,000 rifles (you read that right) to carefully screened participants, who will be required to leave a deposit. The arms will be seized if the individual does not use them to fight terrorism and crime. No word on whether the weapons would be distributed in Swat.
This is along the same lines as some recent plans floated by American war planners for Afghanistan. The Daily Times article suggests the Pakistani initiative has American backing, but spokesmen for the Pakistani army and Interior Ministry claimed to be unaware of the plan.
The principal precedent for the VDC model, of course, is the Sons of Iraq program that drove a wedge between Iraqi Sunnis and foreign al-Qaida elements in Anbar Province. But that program, while contributing to improved Iraqi security, will ultimately be judged by how well the SoI militias are reintegrated into either the Iraqi security forces or civilian life, a process that is still underway. Although that process has so far not resulted in much-feared conflict, it is far from complete. It seems reckless to duplicate it elsewhere in the absence of that final benchmark.