THE district administration of North Waziristan issued a circular informing the residents (Wazir tribe) of Alwarra, to vacate the area so that it can be cleared of militants and made as safe as the rest of the district. After this, the temporarily displaced persons will be rehabilitated, development works initiated and, of course, work on fencing the border expedited. It is pertinent to note that the Wazir tribe lives astride the border, which is not clearly demarcated.
Many see the tribes as adversaries and don’t appreciate the fact that they have always and unconditionally supported government policies against militants. Despite having arms and ammunition, they never retaliated against the orders of the government. Residents of populated areas like Miramshah and Mirali vacated the area at a moment’s notice, leaving behind everything they had. Yet, somehow, people are heard saying that the army has smashed the myth that the tribes are undefeatable. Instead of honouring them for taking yet another very courageous step for the country, they are seen as a vanquished adversary.
Much has been written on militancy and Zarb-i-Azb, the sufferings of displaced persons, and the rehabilitation process that was to follow. Suffice it to say that it was the impact of years of conflict and inordinate delays in compensation that ultimately led to widespread support for the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM).
The trust deficit in North Waziristan has widened significantly.
Now that the state is entering a new, perhaps last, phase of operations, it needs to be particularly careful. In addition to the Wazirs of Alwarra, almost four districts on the Afghan side of the border are Wazir. Our relationship with the Afghan government is at an all-time low and, as expected, they created mischief by attacking troops working on fencing the border.
Wazir is a big tribe; the recent Khaisora incident saw the Wazir grand jirga spring into action under the leadership of Ali Wazir and Gul Alam, both PTM leaders. Not only did the chief of Wazir support them, those who had denied the occurrence had to present themselves to the jirga and beg forgiveness. Thankfully, sanity prevailed and the issue was handled tactfully. The point is that the old maliks are gone, replaced by a new leadership not even half as accommodating.
Compounding frustrations, targeted killings and IED explosions have started once again. The local population is unarmed so they conveniently absolve themselves of any responsibility. People ask how these terrorists are able to enter and leave without a trace. The light at the end of the tunnel appears to be fading.
The people’s hopes have dimmed too. After so much loss, they are losing confidence in the government to deliver peace; in the nation to acknowledge their sacrifices; in the merger and reforms process to usher in prosperity; in the promised funds for rehabilitation and compensation that would help rebuild their lives. The trust deficit between the public and government has widened. The large, well-organised PTM gathering in Miramshah on April 14 is proof of people losing faith in the government, and showed how strong the PTM has become over the last year.
People are weary of war. They agreed to go to the camps in exchange for peace, but are disappointed with what they got instead. The youth does not want whatever is handed to them; they are fed up with their shattered lives. They want everything that is rightfully theirs, or nothing. They have shown great restraint by staying non-violent all this time, despite having their nerves tested. There is a Pashto proverb: “Forgiving is human, forgiving twice is divine, forgiving thrice is cowardice.”
Why are they fed up? There are no visible development activities in the tribal districts, no initiatives for universities or professional colleges, industrial estates or new townships. The cleared areas have yet to be consolidated. Targeted killings have yet to be completely eliminated. Aman committees and militants who surrendered are seen as the return of militancy.
People are afraid of a return of the old times, so they flock towards the PTM leadership. But, unfortunately, the PTM is on the wrong side of the government because of their demands, which are all security-related. The prime minister and chief minister are happy no one is pressuring them for mega projects; the chief minister announced Tall Mirali road in his recent visit without it even being demanded.
Respite from militancy in this area has been achieved after a lot of pain and sacrifice, and any action that might take us towards those dark times is not advisable. The displaced persons in Baka Khel camp and those stuck in Afghanistan need to be resettled urgently. New initiatives should focus on development. Until people find livelihood, frustration will be high and any small incident may spiral out of control.
The writer is a former bureaucrat and author of Cheegha: The Call.
Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2019