As a precondition for returning to their homes, tribespeople who fled because of incessant Taliban violence and military attacks are facing a huge collective fine imposed by authorities in the country's northwestern tribal areas.
Tribal leaders of the Sipah clan in Khyber tribal district say local government officials have asked them to pay the government a large sum before hundreds of displaced Sipah families can be allowed back to their villages, which they left after a local extremist leader began a violent campaign 12 years ago.
Authorities want the clan to pay for the attacks attributed to Mangal Bagh, a member of Sipah who leads the militant faction Lashkar-i-Islam (LI), which is now closely allied with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The two organisations are seen as Pakistan's key jihadist enemies and are still active in Khyber and other parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
Shah Faisal Afridi, a Sipah leader, says the fine is cruel because years of insecurity destroyed their livelihoods and civilian tribespeople were targeted both by LI members and the security sweeps claiming to target them.
"Now the government has imposed a fine of 120 million rupees (roughly $120,000) on the Sipah tribe because Mangal Bagh is one of its members," Afridi told RFE/RL's Gandhara website. "We reject this punishment because we believe we have suffered many more losses than the government in the fight against terrorists."
Afridi says years of insecurity have destroyed his tribe's livelihoods in Bara, a key trading town in Khyber, and the collective fine is an unfeasible burden for families barely surviving in displacement camps or rented houses in the nearby city of Peshawar.
"We were banished from our homes, and now we have no sustainable source of income. How can we pay such a huge sum?" he asks.
Sipah is part of the larger Afridi Pashtun tribe, which straddles the historic Khyber Pass linking Pakistan and Afghanistan. Since his emergence in 2003, Bagh, a former trucker, virtually controlled the lives of more than 200,000 civilians in Bara and surrounding villages.
The state belatedly moved to end his de-facto rule years later when the militant leader began extending his control to the outskirts of Peshawar, some 20 kilometers east of Bara. Peshawar also serves as the regional headquarters of a major military formation.
Still, the Political Administration in Khyber says the fine imposed on Sipah is part of re-enacting the collective responsibility clause of the draconian Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR), which is the law of the land in Fata.
This century-old law stipulates that if a person commits a crime, the Political Administration can arrest and punish his family, clan, or even the entire tribe without a transparent judicial process.
Resenting the government's decision of imposing a fine on the Sipah tribesmen, another tribal elder, Maqbool Khan Afridi, says terrorism is an international issue not limited to Bara.
"We never supported Mangal Bagh or his people. We have always supported the government in its efforts against terrorism," he said. "Our tribe has handed over all the wanted men to the authorities. Punishing us now despite all this is total injustice."
Khyber's officials, however, still hold the Sipah tribe equally responsible for the losses inflicted on public infrastructure by militants hailing from the same clan.
Fahad Wazir, an assistant political agent in Khyber, told Gandhara that the use of pressure under the collective responsibility clause of FCR often proves helpful in prompting cooperation at the local level.
"We have resolved several cases and forced several criminals and wanted men [to surrender] after exerting pressure on their families under the collective responsibility clause," he said.
Bara residents say it is the government — not the locals — that is responsible for taking action against militants and terrorists. "We are the affected party. We can't even afford to move families back to their homes. How can we pay such a huge amount?" asks another Sipah elder, Naseer Afridi.
Lawmaker Malak Nasar Khan, who represents Bara in the National Assembly, says he has already raised the issue with the Political Administration.
Khan now intends to voice his concerns to the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Tens of thousands of civilians, militants, and soldiers have been killed in the decade-old Taliban insurgency across Fata. The fighting has displaced millions of civilians, and more than 1 million civilians from Khyber and other tribal territories remain displaced.
This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.