Do not squeeze them anymore
By Daud Khattak
There is a Pashto proverb: ‘Oba pa kamzori zai mateegee’ (water makes its course on the weaker bank). It is happening in Waziristan now as the political administration is forcing the displaced Ahmadzai Wazir tribesmen to hand over the militants or face the music.
It is ironic that the warning comes from the political administration officials who themselves cannot venture to go into the area despite having all the resources at hand; instead they are pushing the hapless Ahmadzai Wazir tribesmen, who have been killed, beheaded, dislodged from their houses and dishonoured since the beginning of this war on terror.
The tribesmen are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Their land was leased out to al Qaeda and other foreign militants who first tactfully vanquished the tribesmen and are now suppressing them through their home-grown crop dubbed as ‘Taliban’, the self-styled defenders of religion and country.
Are the Wazirs or Mehsuds still living under slavery? Can a sane person imagine that the people who were uprooted from their homes and bullied by the Taliban and al Qaeda elements settled in their areas after the 2001 US attack on Afghanistan are capable of capturing the militants to hand them over to the government?
If it was so, or if the tribesmen enjoyed any influence in the lawless region, why were they removed from their homes? Why were they taken hostage by the armed gangs in their own areas? Why were they robbed of their centuries old traditions and forced to change their lifestyle just because it was based on Pashtunwali and did not fit into the Wahhabi frame of Islam? Last, why cannot the political administration and the army capture the wanted men themselves instead of forcing the Wazir or Mehsud tribesmen to do so?
Some may argue for Article 40 of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), but the institution of jirga (assembly of tribal elders) and maliks (nominated elders) is the authority responsible to the government under the FCR and action is initiated by it. But where are the jirga, malik and elders?
According to a careful estimate, over 500 maliks, elders and influentials have been shot dead, beheaded, blown up or tortured to death since the arrival of the ‘guests’ in the Wazir and Mehsud areas in particular and the rest of the tribal region in general. Hence, the institution of malik has almost vanished. Despite some degree of corruption, which had been prevalent in the malik system since the British era, the system was very effective in maintaining law and order in an otherwise lawless region.
Then there is the institution of jirga. Mainly it is composed of elders, but young men can also attend and can have their say. Before the coming of al Qaeda from Afghanistan, jihadis from the rest of the world and subsequent emergence of Talibanisation in the tribal areas, the tribesmen used to solve all their disputes through holding jirgas. However, the killing of maliks and the attacks on jirgas robbed the tribesmen of this centuries-old institution, thus paving the way for the prevalent chaos.
Alongside elders and jirgas, there was the political administration, which was using the carrot and stick policy with the help of FCR to maintain order in the tribal areas. But since the launch of the military operations, the office of political agent has almost been paralysed.
The hujra (community guest house), malik and jirga — the three key pillars propping up the tribal system — were destroyed by al Qaeda and the home-grown militants, while the institution of political administration was replaced by the army. The ultimate result is social and political chaos that is being fully utilised by the militants to draw support from the people frustrated by the neglect of the state.
Instead of assisting the tribesmen whose families were shattered, businesses destroyed, schools bombed (whatever available), communication links cut and near and dear ones killed either in drone attacks, artillery shelling, aerial bombing or fighting between the security forces and the militants, the political administration is pushing them to the wall.
Once living in fortress-like houses in their areas, the displaced tribesmen are now residing in tents and standing in unending queues before the UN and other aid agencies’ offices to get a few kilogrammes of rice, sugar, salt, cooking oil, pulses, tea and wheat flour.
To expect the dislodged tribesmen to hand over the militants is wishful thinking. It took only a few years to break the order in the tribal areas, but its restoration to its original position would take decades.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: The Daily Times, Pakistan