By Areeba Falak
15 January, 2017
For Jamshed (name changed) and his family members, Waziristan is their home that ceased to be their safe haven. After developing severe blisters on their skin, Jamshed, along with his family members, fled to Bannu, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, as IDPs (Internally Displaced People). It was only when the doctors in Bannu examined the raw wounds and blisters that they realised that these had been caused by chemical weapons used by the Pakistan army on the civilian population of Waziristan.
According to the sources who provided the photographs of Jamshed’s family members to this newspaper, the Pakistan army is indiscriminately using chemical weapons in Waziristan and in certain areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, both areas dominated by Pashtuns—apart from Balochistan. Until recently, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa acted as a rescue point for IDPs escaping the Pakistan army’s so-called war on terror in Waziristan and surrounding areas. The Pak military has been using the “war on terror” to bombard its restive regions that are seeking independence from Pakistan. Pakhtuns—more commonly known as Pashtuns—have been demanding a free Pashtunistan, which would primarily comprise FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. According to activists, this region has become increasingly restive as Pakistan has made it its military backyard. In Balochistan, Baloch activists too have alleged that the Pakistan army has been poisoning their water supply and using poison gas on the civilian population.
A source close to Jamshed’s family said, “Pakistani aircraft use chemical weapons and cause all the suffering you see in the photographs. When Waziristan is bombed, people go to Khost, Paktia and Paktika in neighbouring Afghanistan, while some other people get internally displaced to different districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, especially Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and Karak. They are not allowed by the Pakistan army and the government to live with their relatives in Panjab. The Pakistan army even threatens the people who accommodate IDPs in their houses in Peshawar and other districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.” Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and Karak are remoter than the easily accessible Peshawar, the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the different districts of Panjab.
Jamshed’s family fell victim to Pakistan’s chemical weapons around February last year. “There were other victims as well. But Jamshed’s family managed to flee Waziristan and reach adjacent Bannu as IDPs. When doctors in Bannu understood the situation, the information reached the local social media where people started a fundraising campaign for Jamshed’s family. But since the medium of communication was Pashto, the campaign remained out of the reach of the English media,” said the source.
Speaking on the chemical attacks taking place in the region, Umar Daud Khattak, a Pashtun separatist leader currently visiting India, said, “They (Pakistan army) destroyed the Pashtuns living in the tribal areas on both sides of the Durand Line (international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan) in their so-called war against terrorists. The Pakistan army’s operations are apparently aimed at defeating the terrorists, but in reality, they are causing the maximum losses to the lives, and the economy, of the tribals. They are perpetrating limitless cruelties on Pashtuns in the name of attacking terrorists belonging to the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, etc. The fact is that Pakistan has destroyed innocent civilians who had nothing to do with religious extremism. They made the people of Waziristan vacate their houses forcefully, destroyed their homes, schools, clinics, hospitals and made Waziristan a safe sanctuary for different international terrorists. Those who did not vacate their homes, got carpet bombed and brutally killed.”
Various Baloch and Pashtun separatist leaders explained how Pashtun tribal areas, known as FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), became home to terrorists as a consequence of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, after which the proxy war in the Middle East intensified and these loosely governed tribal areas became the centre for training activities of various terrorist groups under ISI patronage.
Khattak explained, “Extremists from the Arab world, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Chechneya, Palestine and similar other big and small international extremists assembled in Waziristan and FATA as a strategic point. They can easily move across the porous border (the Durand Line) between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and through Afghanistan, can reach the central Asian countries. The North Waziristan-Karachi seaport route is used by the international mafia for the smuggling of narcotics, opium, etc., to Dubai. This is the main economy of the terrorists. Waziristan is used as a breeding ground for terrorists. Almost all the international terrorists who are fighting in the Middle East and are used by certain states who want to keep the war in the Middle East going, are there.”
Khattak added, “If the Pakistan army does not stop the use of chemical weapons in the tribal areas, these can potentially fall in the hands of both their home-grown terrorists and the international terrorists they have invited to Waziristan to stay under ISI patronage. If that happens, there will be huge chaos in the region and the world. If these weapons fall in the hands of Daesh (ISIS), which is a possibility, Central Asian countries and especially China will face a big threat. Activists from China’s Uighur fundamentalist movement and Uzbekistan’s Islamic movement are also present in Waziristan. They may get hold of the chemical weapons. China and Central Asian countries should impose economic and political sanctions on Pakistan so that it stops the use and making of chemical weapons in the tribal regions that belong to the Pashtuns.”
Sudarshan Ramabadran, deputy director with the India Foundation, who has done extensive research on the restive regions of Pakistan, stated that the Pakistan army has been using of chemical weapons for many decades: “From 1977 onwards, the world has known that Pakistan has been developing and using such weapons. J.N. Dixit, former Indian National Security Adviser, had spoken about this in the late 1970s. Now the world, including China, needs to come together to take a stand against these atrocities being committed by the Pakistan army.”
According to well known strategic expert and director of the Centre for Security & Strategy, India Foundation, Alok Bansal, the human rights commission of Pakistan has stated that the Pakistan army has been using incendiary bombs. “There have been allegations that they have used chemical bombs and this needs to be abhorred and criticised by the international community,” he said.
On Balochistan, Bansal said, “Balochistan is important not just for India, but globally too because of its strategic location and the access it provides to Afghanistan and Central Asia. It is a sparsely populated zone with huge mineral resources. The population there has by and large been successful in avoiding radicalisation. So it is a huge region with huge resources at an appropriate position, right at the axis of Hormuz where you can enter Persian Gulf. Any port in Balochistan can emerge as an ideal transhipment port.”
With inputs from Abhinandan Mishra