“As flies to wanton boys are
We to the gods.
They kill us for their sport.”
–King Lear, Shakespeare.
A few days ago the Government of Pakistan celebrated the successes of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan and other parts of FATA over the last one year. Justifiably the official reports quoted figures about the number of terrorists taken out in the aerial bombardments and ground operations. Also justifiably, were given the numbers of personals of LEAs who sacrificed their lives in fighting to defend the country against terrorism. The people of Pakistan are obviously proud of their soldiers who have given supreme sacrifices in a war being fought for defending them. They are genuine heroes and there are no two opinions about that.
But what about the Pashtuns of FATA in general, and the Pashtuns of Waziristan in particular? What horrible tragedies have they been through for not just the last one year, but during the last decade for no fault of theirs? Who has ever investigated into and registered their heart wrenching miseries and agonies during their brutal occupation by Al Qaida, Haqqani Network and TTP when North Waziristan was turned into the capital of terrorism in the region? Hundreds and hundreds of pro-state maliks and tribal elders were murdered by terrorists to make an example out of them and the responsible state authorities were not even bothered enough to offer mere condolences to the bereaved families, let alone providing them justice.
“We who have been killed (unknown) in the dark alleys.”
For years it was a routine for the people of Miran Shah and Mir Ali to find dead bodies dumped on the roads in the morning with a written chit on their chests accusing them to be spies and with warnings to the rest of the population. The illustrious Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz seems to have written the line for them when he said, “We who have been killed (unknown) in the dark alleys.” The bitter fact is that the colonial policy regarding FATA, as a strategic space for the great games in the region, still continue. It is even worse than being a periphery or political backyard.
In December 2001 when OBL and other Al Qaida leaders were holed up in Tora Bora in the border area of Afghanistan facing heavy US bombardment, a number of their followers entered Pakistan via Tirah valley of Khyber Agency and Khurram Agency that were closest to Tora Bora. Many of them were caught by the Army deployed in the area and handed over to the US. But the senior terrorists knew better. They walked south inside Afghanistan before turning left and entered through the open borders into South and North Waziristan where they gradually established bases and started the Pak-supported third war in Afghanistan.
Musharraf was accused by many for his famous u-turn but actually it was a double u-turn that literally handed over Waziristan to terrorists starting a nightmare for the people of the area that has yet to be over. He has recently owned this war in a public interview. Terrorist killings, Drone attacks and military operations became a routine for many years after that, making life a living hell for the locals. They had to pay the price for misguided state policy towards Afghanistan.
They had to pay the price for misguided state policy towards Afghanistan.
There is not much in terms of an institutional record of their suffering, even when more than a million of them had to leave their homes and hearths at a notice of few hours and become IDPs in June 2014 just before the start of Zarb-e-Azb. Yes there were some symbolic gestures made by the high state functionaries for a few days in the beginning but that was all about it. Even after the high profile approval of the 20 point NAP in December 2014 after the Peshawar tragedy, in which winning the hearts and minds of the IDPs (better known locally as Intentionally Displaced Pashtuns) was an important point, nothing has changed.
For the media, which has always looked at FATA from Islamabad’s telescope, there were many distractions. Prolonged brawls over “Takht-e-Lahore”, the Saudi war in Yemen and turns and twists in the Karachi operation were important enough to dominate the media head lines leaving no space for the news emanating from Waziristan.
Do the Pashtun need any further proof about the cheapness of their blood?
So when on June 22 the IDPs in Bakka Khel camp in Bannu protested against the lack of water, and the security forces opened fire on them, there was no place for the incident in the news. Neither the Governor of Pakhtunkhwa nor the Minister of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) bothered to visit the camp or issue a condolence message. Even the provincial government turned a blind eye towards them. Do the Pashtun need any further proof about the cheapness of their blood?
There has been a lot of talk about the repatriation of the displaced Pashtuns but the picture on the implementation side is dismal. Although there are official claims about the clearance of 90 percent of the North Waziristan territory, so far only a small town Idak has been formally declared to be “cleared” from terrorists to which the displaced persons can return after Ramazan. No decision has been made so far about the wide Tochi valley that includes the towns of Mir Ali and Miran Shah. Most of the residential and commercial areas have been destroyed in the towns but there is no tangible plan to reconstruct them.
Most of the residential and commercial areas have been destroyed in the towns but there is no tangible plan to reconstruct them.
In fact, to the horror of local population the authorities were seen bulldozing some of the structures that are still intact. The wisdom behind it, if there is any, has to be explained to the people. Even the “cleared area” is not accessible to media or civil society to know about the collateral damage and the current security situation on the ground. A number of terrorists have been holed up since June 2014 in the areas of Shawal and Datakhel.
The area regularly receives aerial bombardment and drone strikes but the ground forces have yet to clear it. Interestingly enough more than one hundred thousand displaced people, who had crossed into Afghanistan, find no mention in the repatriation plans. The worst aspect of the whole process is the total absence of parliamentary or political oversight. The blackout of the situation in media is complete. The process is totally monopolised by civil and military bureaucrats who have insisted on signing of the humiliating “social contract” for the repatriation despite widespread opposition from the local population and public opinion. Lest we forget, Waziristan is but an epitome of the situation in FATA.
Originally published on the Nation