WHILE the country was caught up in the cricket World Cup frenzy, the tribal districts were inching towards provincial elections to the KP Assembly. Elections had been delayed earlier, and there were fears they might be called off if the law-and-order situation did not improve. We have come a long way and will apparently have the elections to the provincial assembly — truly a milestone.
It is strange that throughout the Afghan jihad there was no law-and-order situation in the then Fata. Three million Afghan refugees entered Pakistan; housing and feeding them was a gigantic exercise. Pakistan, along with the free world, supported the mujahideen openly. Training camps in the tribal areas and the distribution of weapons among Afghans was an open secret. Yet it seemed as if both Pakistan and Afghanistan were on the same side. What was different, then?
The difference was that Pakistan was giving all logistic, moral and financial support to the mujahideen but was never involved directly in the war. No air bases were used against Afghanistan and no direct intervention of the army was witnessed, not even in Pakistan’s tribal areas. While interfering in the affairs of Afghanistan, the government kept its distance and it appeared an indigenous movement.
There’s always been a trust deficit between the tribes and the rulers.
This is how the British interfered in Afghanistan. There was a saying that the tehsildar, Malakand, decides who rules Kabul. What is pertinent to note is that the tehsildar had the might of the great British Empire behind him. By drawing the Durand Line, the British divided the tribes living astride the border into two distinct parts, the Recognised Tribes and the Assured Tribes. The former were all the tribes to the east of the Durand Line, a part of India. The Assured Tribes were to the west of Durand Line, a part of Afghanistan. So the Wazir of Alwarra are the Recognised Tribes and the Wazir of Birmal are the Assured Tribes.
The Recognised Tribes were privileged aliens with most of the rights of an Indian citizen. The Assured Tribes, though a part of Afghanistan, had some privileges in India, like seasonal movements and grazing rights. Some elders of the assured tribes were also paid a stipend by the Indian government.
The trick was to retain the bondage between the lar (western) and bar (eastern) Pakhtuns and to use them as one Pakhtun whenever the need arose. So if there was a need to influence the ruler of Kabul the Assured Tribes would be mobilised through the tehsildar. Supported by the Recognised Tribes, they would form a lashkar. This lashkar of lar and bar Pakhtuns would move on Kabul. Sir Olaf K. Caroe refers to this in his book The Pathans as “Mehsuds and Wazirs, the kingmakers in a game of thrones”. It would seem an indigenous uprising without any involvement of the Indian government. The return of King Nadir Khan to Afghanistan and the overthrowing of Habib Ullah Kalkani (Bacha Saka) with a lashkar of Mehsud and Wazir tribes is an example.
Moving the military into the tribal areas was opposed by many including the sitting prime minister. President Musharraf made a bad decision to appease the US and marched on the tribal areas. There was no realisation that the tribal areas could suck in endless numbers. At one point during the British Raj, there was more army in Waziristan than the rest of India.
Since the British Raj, there has always been a trust deficit between the tribes and the government. The tribes were termed hostile for petty crimes committed by individuals and seen as adversaries. This deficit has been exacerbated by more recent events. The emergence of the PTM and other voices of dissent are a manifestation of this trust deficit.
The movement claims it is against war and all the groups that perpetuate war. The army on the other hand has been fighting militancy for the last so many years and has sacrificed many fine men in order to achieve peace. The biggest enemy on the ground is the TTP.
A question that has been asked is that if both are against the TTP, why not fight a common enemy jointly? Let us find solutions. Removing landmines, closing check points, wrapping up aman committees and fighting a common enemy can be discussed. Unfortunately, KP’s political leadership doesn’t have the capacity. Such serious issues cannot be left to the likes of Ajmal Wazir, adviser to the KP chief minister.
The government should consider forming an acceptable committee from the Mehsud, Wazir and Dawar tribes, to resolve these issues. It should ensure free and fair elections, a giant leap towards the normalisation of the tribal districts. The mindset to retain former Fata as a black hole should change; the government and tribes should be seen as partners in development, not as adversaries. Mohsin Dawar’s and Ali Wazir’s production orders should be issued to dispel the impression of discrimination against the tribes. A common problem can be resolved jointly.
The writer is a former bureaucrat and author of Cheegha: The Call.
Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2019