Author: Ghulam Qadir Khan Daur
Foreword by: Prof. Akbar Ahmed
Book Review: Ground realities, images and impressions of the lands and people of Waziristan can at best be merely conjured up in the imaginations of those keen to seek knowledge and truth concerning this remote region located in the FATA of Pakistan which shares an extensive border with Afghanistan. Controlled media sources ensure we are drip fed morsels of regularly distorted reports, while orientalist discourse, focused predominantly on terrorism, drone attacks and political unrest, prevalent in this region, has gained hegemony in the global consciousness, thus overshadowing and often bypassing the true nature, cultural and traditional norms practised and developed in these lands over thousands of years. Continuous upheaval, militant activity and bombardment perpetrated by both internal and external forces have been systematically inflicted on the people of Waziristan resulting in tumultuous suffering, desecration of infrastructure, deaths and displacement of tens of thousands of citizens along with, on many occasions, blatant abandonment of the people by state powers. Scholars and journalists attempting to unravel the truth or verify accounts concerning ground realities are not encouraged, and more often denied access to the region and its people, thus leaving the world with a one-sided, largely misinformed version of accounts.
Cheegha: The Call from Waziristan, the Last Outpost, is the work of Ghulam Qadir Khan Daur, a native of Darpa Khel village in North Waziristan Agency. Through his firsthand account, we are offered a glimpse into the mysterious lands of Waziristan, through the hearts of his family and his people, through comprehensive analysis of traditional socio-cultural norms and intrinsic features of tribal society, set within the context of recent historical events culminating in the factors which led to the current volatile state of affairs in the region. While the underlying theme, purpose and accounts put forward are of a serious nature and far from simplistic, one of the endearing qualities of this book is its lack of academic pretentiousness. The author narrates his experiences, opinions and accounts in a refreshingly simple straightforward fashion with such honesty, that on occasion certain anecdotes bring a blush to ones cheeks accompanied by unrestrained bouts of laughter. However, it is an overwhelming sense of injustice, hardship and betrayal that echoes through the pages, imposed on the people of Waziristan by State and non-State actors supported by figures the author categorises as ‘faceless people.’
The opening chapter highlights the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), a set of harsh, discriminatory “black” laws designed by British colonisers in 1901 and upheld after independence in 1947. The author points out that even today, under the FCR, there is no recourse to independent judiciary in the tribal areas and the state judiciary of Pakistan has no jurisdiction in the FATA. Under FCR’s ‘collective responsibility’ policy, the Political Administration (of the FATA) does not take action against a single offender, but against the entire tribe on whose soil an offence has been committed. The author narrates an example when militants fired on the Frontier Corp controlled Amin piquet in Miranshah, which resulted in the security forces issuing an ultimatum warning the tribe to leave the village as heavy firing was imminent. Before long, machine guns and heavy artillery wreaked havoc on the village destroying houses, killing two innocent civilians, injuring many more along with scores of livestock. Other similar incidents occurred in the villages of Haider Khel, Ippi and Hurmuz causing the deaths of hundreds of civilians and as the author discloses, not a single militant was identified or killed in the bombardment. The author goes on to state that people believe ‘the leadership is doing this intentionally to produce more militants.’ (38) (please note the book was written prior to the recent Zarb-e-Azb offensive)
Chapter 2 discusses Tribal Society, which the author states has been misunderstood and misrepresented. The tribe has the total responsibility towards each individual member. Divided into sub-tribes and further into Khels, every individual is equal and no amount of money or social status signifies superiority. Rawaj (way of the fathers), is the institution whereby customs and traditions are stringently adhered to, no decisions are taken on an individual basis and deviation from these norms are not tolerated. The author provides a clear, concise understanding of the main institutions of Pukhtunwali (code of honour), such as Melmestia (hospitality), Badal (revenge/exchange), Nikkat (share of tribe in profit and loss/affairs of tribe), Mashar (leading/respected/elder), Tiga (limited ceasefire guarantee), Badragga (escort), Nanawatey (unconditional surrender/forgiveness), Panah (asylum), Jarga/Maraka (council of elders). A special mention is given to the ‘Dum au Dhole’ (man who beats the drum); the man behind all occasions and ceremonies. As dance (Attan) and drum beat are an essential aspect of life in Waziristan, the Dum is messenger, caretaker, cook, barber, often managing affairs of the family. The author tells us he is looked down upon in society, presenting a contradiction to the principles of Pukhtunwali, mainly due to the fact that he is never armed with a weapon. He is looked upon as a ‘neutral’ non-entity and women don’t observe Purdah in his company. Nonetheless, as a most trusted confidante, both men and women feel safe to share their secrets with him.‘Cheegha’ (the call), is a tradition which demonstrates the concept of unity in times of crisis and uncertainty. The Cheegha is sent through the beat of the drum in order to gather a party of people to respond to any major injustice perpetrated against an individual, family or group. It is the initial warning and any related issues will further be dealt with through the Jirga.
The author offers the reader insight into his own family members, his Morr (mother) Baba (father) and Babajee (fathers elder brother). Babajee was Masher of the family and after his death, the author’s father (Baba) became leading elder not only of the Daur tribe but of all the tribal areas. In the book, his father comes across as a formidable man, compassionate, direct with an innate understanding of equal rights and the ability to judge fairly; a man whom the people trust and respect irrefutably. The author tells us that enormous responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Mashar. He maintains overall discipline, advises and decides for the young, keeps the family together and ensures everyone is treated fairly. (92)
Aspects of the lives of women are mentioned throughout the book, notably in the discussion regarding Panah (seek asylum), where the author tells us there were always five or six women in Panah at any given time at his home for various reasons. Here once again we gain a glimpse into the important role elders play regarding negotiations and resolving issues.
The author describes tribal women as brave, honourable with strong character. To demonstrate the extent of their bravery, the author recounts a hilarious tale involving his grandmother and a thief. During Eid night a thief pierced a hole in the mud wall of their family home and crawled in. As it was pitch dark, he didn’t see that the grandmother had heard the scuffle and was waiting for him. As he was on all fours, she grabbed him by the testicles from behind. As she squeezed ever more tightly, the thief tried to endure the pain. Once she was secure in the knowledge that she literally had him by the balls, she called for Baba who duly thrashed the living daylights out of him. Afterwards, his grandmother felt sorry for the thief, gave him food and warned him never to show up again. The thief swore on every religious item and every relation he had ever known in an effort to convince the matriarch that his thieving days were over!
In Chapter 4, the author discusses his childhood growing up in Darpa Khel which he describes as a ‘paradise on earth.’ The Mashar is respected, the weak are cared for, trees are laden with fruit, men and women work silently in fields and as spring dawns, the landscape is filled with breath-taking colour and new life. As the author goes on to describe the festival of flowers, the harvest festival, wedding celebrations, story-telling during long winter nights, the reader get the sense of a peaceful, joyous existence, a society where everyone knows there place and people are protected by fair and just means.
This idealistic, peaceful image is shattered as the reader turns the pages to the final chapter which deals with the ignominious turning point in recent history that would reshape and change the lives of Pukhtun people: the (so called) Afghan Jihad and rise in militancy. The author identifies many factors and players in the ‘Great Game.’ Purpose built Madrassas took in the most vulnerable poor orphans, indoctrinating them in Jihad, death and destruction. Those who volunteered were then sent to camps for training in warfare. Hikmatyar’s Hizb Islami was the favourite of the government, Arabs and the West, according to the author. Armed with a unending supply of funds, the Haqqani (Stalwart Hikmatyar Group), took over leadership of Waziristan. Hikmatyar received maximum support funding from the CIA and Arab states, although his eventual defeat was due to the loss of the support of the tribes on both sides of the Durand line. Having converted innocent children into militants, the author states the International community left behind monsters who continued to carry out acts of barbarity after the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan. Pukhtunwali was interfered with as Arab lifestyle started dominating the way of life, an alien culture began creeping into tribal affairs in the name of religion. (310) The author states that the problems really got underway after 9/11. People are slaughtered for no reason, militants throw dead bodies on roadsides, security forces destroy whole villages (usually without catching any militant), US drones kill indiscriminately. The author tells us that breeding militants continues to this day, some train them, some fund them, others protect them: faceless people provide them all the support they need, furthermore, the Pakistan government is playing a double game in taking sides instead of eliminating the menace. (312-14)
The author identifies illiteracy as one of the many enemies of the tribal people. He states tribesmen are misguided, cheated and betrayed because of illiteracy. He furthermore identifies division of nation into provinces and special zones and the slow prohibition of Pukhtunwali as problematic. Militants have systematically targeted and wiped out over 600 elders, in the knowledge that tribal life revolves around the Mashars. Jirgas are declared as un-Islamic and instead decisions are made by corrupt Mullahs. In fact, the author tells us that stoning or cutting human body parts was unheard of until recently and militant politics are totally unrelated to tribal custom and cultural norms. (350)
In conclusion, the primary sentiment ringing through this book is the enormous sense of loss, nostalgia, of longing for the return to peace juxtaposed with a dark foreboding concerning the future. The turn of events which led to an intrusive war imposed on a people through no fault of their own, brutally shattered and snatched away all sense of harmony, peace,dignity and humanity. As the author rightly states, the whole free world was a party to Waziristan’s downfall and once their objectives were achieved they carelessly walked away.(16) In a poignant ending, the author announces the ‘Cheegha,’ a call against what he identifies as the ‘faceless enemy,’ a call against proscribing Pukhtunwali, and its replacement by an ‘alien culture in the name of religion.’ (385)
Writer: Angelina Merisi
The writer hails from Ireland. She is part of the Pashtuns Times News Network. She is a PhD scholar at the University College Cork, Ireland. Her current research is focused on Islam and Pashtun male migrants in Ireland, masculinity and honour concepts. She can be reached at
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