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As peace approaches, Turkey's anti-PKK militias may disband

Ankara is struggling to find a solution for the state-sponsored village guard system now that the peace process with the PKK is proceeding.
Pro-government village guards wave from their truck as they pass through the south-eastern Turkish border town of Cukurca, upon their arrival from northern Iraq, February 29, 2008. Turkey's military General Staff said on Friday that its troops had returned to bases in Turkey after a major ground offensive against Kurdish PKK rebels in northern Iraq.  REUTERS/Fatih Saribas  (TURKEY) - RTR1XQ53

In any counterinsurgency strategy, the segregation of “bad guys” from the rest of the population is a significant objective. To achieve this objective, forming, arming and using local militias may be a viable strategy, particularly in rural, remote, mountainous and tribal areas in which security forces face challenges to reach the local population. In recent years, the “Sons of Iraq” or the “Anbar Awakening” campaign in Iraq and the “Tribal Security Forces (Arbakai)” project in Afghanistan were contemporary examples of this strategy. It is yet early to determine whether the strategy of forming local militias yielded successful results in Iraq and Afghanistan. The village guard system in Turkey, however, provides insights about the use of this strategy.

In Turkey, an interesting debate about the fate of the village guard system — a paramilitary armed force comprising 65,456 armed village guards, 46,113 of whom are employed and are paid around $300 monthly by the government, and 19,343 of whom are volunteers — has been going on while the conflict in the Kurdish-populated southeast Turkey was winding down with a fragile peace process underway between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). In April 2013, as part of efforts toward the peaceful settlement of the Kurdish issue, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) proposed the abolition of the village guard system. Although the government has not addressed this issue so far, this system, which was introduced as a counterterror strategy to isolate PKK fighters from the rest of the populace in the late 1980s, still exists in 23 provinces of Turkey.

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