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A need for national discourse

October 25, 2012


Internally displaced civilians fleeing from military operations against Taliban militants in South Waziristan. – AFP (File Photo)

A nation’s inability to resolve its conflicts through dialogue or attempts to settle them through use of force invariably faces massive brain-drain and finally destruction of union itself.  Pakistan happens to be a classic example where civil society also remains afraid of touching sensitive issues in the open knowing full well that can result in swift punishments or even death!

Acceptance by TTP for attacking Malala Yousufzai and her friends generated a wave of condemnation throughout the world, giving rise to some speculations that a military operation was eminent in North Waziristan. Yet as dust settles and Taliban supporters have started to come out of the closets, whispers are changing into loud noises and explanations are turning into justifications for the despicable attack. Some of the persistent arguments include claims that no Muslim or a Pathan could attack innocent girls; that the fourteen-year-old was a budding American agent, along with questions as to why victims of drone attacks were any less precious or lack of our efforts for release of Afia Siddiqui from US jail.

Civility demands against insulting dissent. We must build consensus through healthy debate; instead of getting worked-up as a nation, we shall be able to build universally acceptable ‘code of conduct’ for future.

Waziristan and Fata have become synonymous with militancy and extremism today. While there has been an overwhelming condemnation for 253 US drone attacks over Fata during last five years. Out of these 241 or 95 per cent attacks were carried out against targets in Waziristan and only 12 elsewhere in Fata or Pakistan. One does wonder about such anomalies or their probable causes!

Let’s start by trying to understand socio-economic and political complexion of Waziristan in historical context. Waziristan spreads over an area of 11,585 square kilometres with an estimated population of around 1.12 million, roughly double in size of that of Rawalpindi but only one-fourth in population.  Essentially a single unit, it has been divided into two agencies for ease of administration – North and South Waziristan. High and difficult mountains with deep and rugged passes stretch across Waziristan with heights reaching 11,400 feet.

Out of a dozen major tribes residing in Fata, North Waziristan is inhabited by Utmanzai Wazirs, Saidgai and Dawars while South Waziristan is dominated by Mahsuds – a sub-tribe of Karlani Pashtun same as rest of Wazir tribesmen. South Waziristan also boosts Burkis, Ahmadzai Wazirs and Dotanis.

Fata is inhabited solely with Pashtuns that are mostly Hanafi Muslims and strict adherents of their traditions. They see any change as an intrusion and inherently bad. Unable to distinguish between culture and religion, Pustuns consider their stringent ‘code of conduct’ commonly known as “Pushtunwali” an integral part of their religion.

Pashtunwali is made up of six basic tenets guiding actions and normative behaviours.  These tenets are a) Revenge, b) Self-respect and bravery, c) Hospitality and asylum, d) Gender separation  e) Pride, defence of honour and f) Jirga or Council.  Pashtunwali also condone vices like cunningness, greediness, selfishness, envy and stubbornness.

Sherbaz Khan Mazari in his book writes: “The tribesmen of the frontier, ever ready to lend a hand wherever there was trouble and a chance of plunder, poured into Kashmir and soon had the Maharaja’s forces on the run’ ….. Instead of capitalizing on their success and pushing towards Srinagar, the tribal invasion soon dissipated into a frenzy of looting and rapine carried out in the guise of Mal-e-Ghanimat, much to the embarrassment of the Pakistani Government”

Charles Trench add, “It seemed that nothing could stop these hordes of tribesmen from Frontier taking Srinagar with its vital airfield. Indeed nothing did, but their own greed. The Mahsuds in particular stopped to loot, rape and murder; Indian troops were flown in and the lashkars pushed out of the Vale of Kashmir into the mountains.”

During a mid-nineties visit to Miramshah at the invitation of a local JUI leader, facilitated by a Major in ISI, we were advised not to hand-over even keys of our vehicle because that person may claim on oath later that it was given at free-will and therefore, his to keep!

To understand such moral contradictions and primitiveness one must appreciate the physical terrain inhabited by the Pashtuns on the two sides of Durand Line. Mountainous terrain where hardly anything grows clubbed with extreme poverty sometimes makes it difficult to sustain family without horrible actions.

Waziris providing safe-heaven to retreating Salafi militants may have brought death and misery through 10 years of bombs and bullets for 40,000 Pakistanis. This grim situation finally forced Pakistan’s establishment for taking action against militants.

Still Pakistani armed forces did not make a genuine effort until militants started to challenge state’s writ as close as Swat; just a stone throw away from Islamabad and our cherished nuclear assets. After Swat clean-up in early 2009, some 28,000 ground troops moved into Mahsud strongholds of SWA on October 19. With Navy’s surveillance aircraft monitoring militant’s movement and Air force pounding militant positions, the amy was claiming victory by mid-December, but stopped short of taking-on militants in North Waziristan.

Many believe that Shura-e-Murakeba, an alliance of five Pakistani and Afghan militant groups consisting of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan led by Commander Hakeemullah Mehsud; Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Mohammad Omar, Haqqani network of Sirajuddin Haqqani and the militant groups of Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Mullah Nazir was based in North Waziristan. They might have run-out of patience with TTP and may even agree to take them on. Yet some within civil-military elite insist that any action at present could force Afghan Taliban to support local miscreants and that would be a strategic mistake. One could disagree with establishment’s policy of pick-n-chose or considering Jihadi elements useful future assets.

It is probably for same reason that while Hakeemullah Mehsud was threatening the media for criticism, the establishment has been trying to single out Moulvi Fazal-ullah allegedly based in Afghanistan, for plotting cowardly attack over Malala.

Our armed forces devour over 650 billion every year for securing our ideological boundaries; as against collective budgetary allocation of mere 30 billion for health and education. They would like to see Afghans move back coinciding with US withdrawal. And therefore any suggestion to target TTA, Mullah Omer, and Haqqani network will be considered suicidal. However such tactics are bound to fail and expose a lack of understanding of Salafi, Takfiri and Wahabi ideology.

As far as cases against Afia Siddiqui are concerned, Americans do not just make a case - they work hard to make them stick. This is where our legislature, police and judiciary need to learn a rope or two so that in future we do not allow criminals to go scot-free; after keeping them in custody for many months!

The author is a social activist, a member of Citizens for Democracy and the former Administrator of Karachi.