A road or game-changer?

Published December 8, 2012

— File Photo by AFP

FOR over a century, Ahmadzai Wazirs resented Mehsuds’ domination in their native South Waziristan. The Wazirs continue to grumble over the distribution of resources and privileges between the two tribes.

They moan over what they believe the injustices they suffer despite being in majority.

The Mehsuds, they complain, take away the lion’s share of all that comes to Fata’s largest tribal region.

This tribal resentment is mutual and almost entrenched in folklore.

The two tribes have had major flare-ups in the past too, that had claimed several lives, at times prompting clerics from the Wazir tribe to declare “Jihad” against neighbouring Mehsuds.

Yet the two tribes lived in peace side by side — borne largely out of Wazirs’ own compulsion: the road.

The once-broken down road to Wazirs’ area in the Wana region meanders through the Mehsuds’ heartland. And the wily Mehsuds used this strategic card to their own advantage, closing it down at will to bring the Wazirs into submission.

The Tank-Jandola-Wana road served as the lifeline for Ahmadzai Wazirs.

So challenging Mehsuds’ domination in South Waziristan would have been foolhardy.

But all that changed on June 18 this year. The country’s military strategists, propelled by their own security and logistic needs and some wise advice from the civil administration coupled with millions of American dollars, opened a 105-km-long dual carriageway, the Kaur-Gomal-Tanai-Wana road, to rid Wazirs of what they believed was Mehsuds’ perpetual blackmail.

This was a turning point in the Wazir-Mehsud relationship in South Waziristan.

People like 40-year-old Noor Mohammad, a Bahlolzai Mehsud by tribe, could never have imagined that Wazirs would have the nerve to order them to leave Wana in a matter of days.

“This is the will of Allah,” he says, with some remorse.

He is now struggling to find a shelter for his family of 30 people in Tank. This was his fourth displacement since the launch of military operations in South Waziristan.

What is worse, he says, the Wazir driver charged them Rs20,000 to transport them through the same military-built, American-funded road that the Wazirs say, they had attempted so hard to stop for years.

Government officials admit they were the principal movers behind the initiative to get militant Commander Maulvi Nazir evict the displaced Mehsuds from their midst in Wana.

Hiding among the displaced Mehsuds, officials claim, were Tehrik-i-Taliban men who would often cause trouble in a region that has largely remained peaceful, thanks to a peace agreement with Commander Nazir.

“The political administration told us to either get the Mehsuds to agree to register themselves with the authorities or ask them to leave. Since we have a peace agreement with the government, we asked the Mehsud to register but they refused. We had no choice,” Malik Mohammad Arif, a Zalikhel Yargulkhel Wazir and a notable tribal elder, who also represents the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party in the region, told Dawn by phone.

Getting Maulvi Nazir on board was difficult but he agreed, albeit reluctantly, to play ball, a senior government official told Dawn.

But just when he was making up his mind to order the eviction of Mehsud clansmen from Wana, he was hit by a suicide bombing in Wana bazaar on Nov 29. He survived the attempt.

“This was unmistakably TTP’s work,” a senior security official said.

“It was a pre-emptive move to stop Nazir from ordering the eviction,” he said.

Maulvi Nazir did not lose a single moment.

Soon after the incident, Ahmadzai Wazirs held a jirga to make the decision and announcements were made, ordering the nearly 40,000 Mehsuds to leave Wana by Dec 5.

All agree had there been no Kaur-Gomal-Tanai-Wana road, the Wazirs would never have made that critical decision. “We owe to the Taliban,” a disgruntled Mehsud said.

‘TALIBAN GIFT’: It were the TTP, he said, which forced the authorities to look for an alternative road.

“For 500 years, the Wazirs were beholden to us for passage through the Mehsuds’ territory. The Taliban have given them the gift of Gomal road,” he moaned.

Government officials are optimistic that they could replicate the Mehsuds’ eviction from Wana in Miramshah, North Waziristan. “This is a major initiative. We would like to showcase it elsewhere,” a senior government official said.

“Uthmakhel Wazirs in North Waziristan are three times bigger than Ahmadzai Wazirs. If Ahmadzai could do it, why can’t the Uthmankhels?” he asked.

“We would want them to stand up and kick out the bad guys from their midst too,” he said.

CHANGE IN TTP?: As if part of a larger scheme of things, military officials in the region are also reported to be throwing around feelers if a possible replacement of TTP’s trigger-happy chief, Hakimullah Mehsud, by a “moderate” Waliur Rehman—the group’s top militant commander for Mehsud region, citing irreconcilable differences between the two.

This may be a bit far-fetched, at least in the immediate, foreseeable future, those in the know insist. “I don’t see it happening,” a very senior official with knowledge of the region told Dawn. “They may have differences, but it has not reached the point where we could see any changes at the top,” he said.

For one, the TTP shura is dominated by those close to Hakimullah and there is no indication of a change of mood amongst its members of change of fortune of their radical, ultra-violent leader.

By all accounts, Hakimullah is more violent and has turned out to be a tough fighter for the Pakistani forces, but Waliur Rehman, a Malkhel Mehsud tribesman and a graduate of a religious madressah in Faisalabad, is not a “moderate” either.

In some respects, he has proven himself to be a more tenacious challenger to the military’s presence in his native land, where the security forces have come under increasing attacks, fire-raids, ambushes, motor attacks and roadside bombings since the launch of military operation in 2009.

But even then, some within the JUI-F, with which Waliur Rehman had ties once, are optimistic that, given an opportunity and some concessions, the 42-year-old militant commander could be brought around to stop fighting the state.

“His ascension (as the TTP leader) would be a good omen for Pakistan,” mused a JUI-F lawmaker who claims to have had attempted to mediate between the two sides. His attempts apparently made no headway, finding no backers within the military establishment at the time.

But there are those too, who are sceptical of attempts by some within the establishment to paint Waliur Rehman white. “If this is an attempt to drive a wedge between Waliur Rehman and Hakimullah, it wouldn’t work. But if there are some who genuinely feel that he is a moderate, they should know that a former military commander in Peshawar had once described Baitullah Mehsud a ‘soldier of peace’ too,” an analyst cautioned.



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