By Farhat Taj
The punishment was the destruction of the Ali Khel tribal leadership and the displacement of the entire tribe in the sham army operation that was later started in the area and to this date has not been ‘able’ to ‘clear’ the area of the Taliban
October 10, 2011 was the third anniversary of the devastating suicide attack on a grand tribal jirga in Orakzai that killed the entire Sunni-Shia tribal leadership of the Ali Khel tribe, the biggest tribe in Orakzai. The jirga was leading an anti-Taliban Lashkar (militia) against the Taliban in the Ali Khel area — Tirah in Orakzai. Faced with growing Taliban atrocities and lack of state protection despite the repeated requests to the government of Pakistan, the Ali Khels were forced to take up weapons against the Taliban.
The Taliban militants who came to the Ali Khel area around early 2008 initially committed atrocities against the Shia Ali Khels and those Sunnis who defied the Taliban’s social boycott of the Shias. In response, the minority Shia section of the tribe requested the majority Sunni section of the tribe to support them against the Taliban. The Sunni Ali Khel section, already alarmed by the growing highhandedness of the Taliban, decided to protect the Shias by removing the Taliban from their area through force following the government of Pakistan’s reluctance to take action against the Taliban.
An anti-Taliban lashkar consisting of over 2,000 Shia and Sunni Ali Khel tribesmen was created. Within weeks the lashkar burnt down Taliban centres in the Ali Khel area, killed several Taliban fighters and the remaining Taliban militants ran away like cowards. A grand Shia-Sunni Ali Khel jirga consisting of over 5,000 confident tribesmen was convened to decide the fate of the Ali Khel boys who had joined the Taliban, but now had surrendered themselves to the mercy of the jirga. In the meanwhile, a Taliban vehicle loaded with 150 kilos of explosive material rammed into the jirga gathering and instantly killed over 100 Ali Khel tribal leaders of various socio-political stature, along with tens of other tribesmen, and injured hundreds.
Through their anti-Taliban resistance the Ali Khel raised themselves above the Shia-Sunni differences that the Taliban wanted to create among them. Collectively, they rejected the notion of a Muslim order led by Sunni extremists. The Ali Khel tribe is supposed to be about 40,000. Assume that 50 percent of the population, i.e. 20,000, is female, who do not participate in public affairs like this jirga, a natural outcome of the archaic order codified and imposed by the state on the tribal population rather than something essentially gender discriminatory in the tribal culture — a misleading view that most FATA ‘experts’ would like the world to believe. Keep aside the male elderly, children and labour migrants, the remaining population out of the 20,000 male inhabitants of Orakzai, would be around 5,000, the same number of people who participated in the grand jirga that was destroyed in the suicide bombing. This implies that all those Ali Khel people whose views form public opinion in their area had supported the anti-Taliban struggle. Moreover, Ali Khel women, although not part of the public anti-Taliban initiatives, are as much anti-Taliban as their male counterparts. I have yet to see any Ali Khel woman who expresses sympathies with the Taliban or their cause. Thus the Al Khels displayed a truly popular tribal backlash against the Taliban.
The government of Pakistan provided no security to the Ali Khels even in the aftermath of the jirga tragedy despite passionate requests by the tribe, especially the security over the roads leading to the Ali Khel area to ensure that no more suicide bomber-driven vehicles laden with explosive material enter the area. The request squarely falls within the FCR law whereby the government of Pakistan is responsible for security of the roads. The request was never entertained, which made it clear beyond all doubt to the Ali Khels that the state is in collusion with the Taliban and the intelligence establishment of Pakistan, which controls FATA, would prefer the Ali Khels to be slaughtered to the last man if they continued to resist the Taliban. This broke the Ali Khel resistance against the Taliban since it was obvious that the poor tribe was no match for the collective might of the Taliban and their state handlers.
The Ali Khels, like tribesmen in the rest of FATA, are strictly supposed in the strategic depth policy to be the angry Pakistani Pakhtun who have become Taliban militants in response to the Pakistani state alliance with the US in the war on terror and the US presence in Afghanistan, thus providing the Pakistani state the plausible deniability of its double role as an enemy as well as an ally in the war n terror, i.e. it is the ‘fiercely autonomous’ tribal population rather than the state that is running the militancy in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The tribesmen are thus not supposed to take up weapons against the Taliban, kill them and burn the Taliban centres. But the Ali Khel did just that and they had to be severely punished for that. The punishment was the destruction of the Ali Khel tribal leadership and the displacement of the entire tribe in the sham army operation that was later started in the area and to this date has not been ‘able’ to ‘clear’ the area of the Taliban.
Today the Ali Khels continue to live as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in many parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They, along with other FATA IDPs, have largely been left to the aid organisations for survival. Many of their children, who were in schools in Orakzai, stand deprived of education. They cannot even publicly mark the third anniversary of the jirga tragedy for two reasons: one, they are scattered as IDPs and two, a public marking of the tragedy might invite more suicide attacks.
To add insult to the injuries of the Ali Khels (as well as other FATA tribesmen) the political and military leadership of Pakistan decided in the recently held All-Parties Conference (APC), convened in the context of the US pressure on Pakistan on the issue of the Haqqani Taliban, “to give peace a chance by holding dialogue with our own people- the Taliban”! Without any sense of responsibility towards their people, the leaders lied to the world, especially the US, that the Taliban are ‘our own’ people while ignoring the popular resentment against the Taliban in FATA. One wonders, could the Pakistani leaders look into the eyes of the Ali Khels and say that the ‘Taliban are our own people’? But they can! They have the power to do so and the Ali Khels are overpowered people whose lives do not matter at all, especially when they have shown so much anti-Taliban resistance.
The writer is the author of Taliban and Anti-Taliban.
Source: The Daily Times, Lahore