[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 June, 2004, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Sounding the drum for al-Qaeda hunt

By Haroon Rashid
BBC correspondent in Peshawar

Lashkar gathering in Wana, South Waziristan
The Lashkar - or tribal militia - is a long tradition for local Pathans
It is early morning and a man in his early thirties is beating a beautifully decorated drum in an open field in Wana, main town of Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region.

He is playing the drum as loud as possible. The intention is to let people know proceedings have begun.

Soon men of all ages with guns hanging from their shoulders start gathering around him.

A few of the young lose control and start dancing to the drums.

The occasion looks festive, but it definitely is not.

This is the gathering of the traditional militia called the Lashkar, made up of volunteers in the rugged, semi-autonomous South Waziristan region.

Warrior race

Soon these tribesmen will leave on a hunt for al-Qaeda militants hiding in their area, close to the border with Afghanistan.

The tradition of beating drums is as old as the Pathan race that lives in this part of the world.

The drum is known locally as the "dhol" and in tribal tradition its beating announces a danger or emergency.

The Pathans in this area are considered a warrior race, so the Lashkar is an inseparable part of their life.

Lashkar is a Pashto language word meaning a group of men raised to fight a war against a common enemy.

The term can be applied to both a dozen men going to a nearby village to exact revenge or to the thousands who poured into the Kashmir valley in 1947-48 to attempt to wrest it from Indian control.

Historians say the drum became an integral part of the Lashkar as a tool of communication.

"In the absence of modern means of communication it is used to gather people and declare war but also as a means of entertainment for volunteers," says Hazrat Khan, a tribal writer from the Mohmand tribal region.

"It is also useful in raising the soldiers' morale to make them fight better."

Surprise tactic

A 4,000-strong Lashkar has for the past few days been searching for al-Qaeda suspects in South Waziristan's remote Shakai area.

Lashkar gathering in Wana, South Waziristan
A 4,000-strong Lashkar is currently searching for al-Qaeda militants

They have yet to catch any.

Much to the dislike of US forces in neighbouring Afghanistan, the Pakistani government has set two conditions for the tribesmen to clear their area of al-Qaeda suspects - either arrest them or make them leave the area.

The problem is that the al-Qaeda and Taleban militants enjoy a good deal of tribal support.

Consequently, some argue that it seems odd to use loud drums to lead a Lashkar for a surprise raid on al-Qaeda suspects.

An expert on tribal traditions, Raj Wali Khattak, says: "It's not clear why they are using the drums in these searches.

"No doubt it is a tradition but now politics have also crept in. Maybe the tribesmen don't want to arrest the militants. Their policy might be only to let them clear the area."

But a tribal elder, who preferred not to be named, defended the use of the drums, saying they were a long-standing tradition.

"A Lashkar without dhol is incomplete. In the present circumstances, it's even more necessary. Making 4,000 people gather and then conducting them is not an easy task in our under-developed areas."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific