As soon as the United States declared its going to stay in the war-ravaged Afghanistan for an indefinite time period, rumors about resumption of the Taliban’s FM stations in Bajaur Agency surfaced among locals.
Bajuar is a tribal region bordering Afghanistan’s green and hilly Kunar province.
This province is believed to be the base camp of the fugitive Taliban leader, Mullah Fazlullah aka “Mullah Radio” whose Taliban once had unleashed a reign of terror in Swat, a scenic valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.
In yet another development, a faction of the Taliban reappeared in Wana, South Waziristan Agency; this time under the guise of a peace committee, which put a ban on cultural and social activities and restricted women going outside their homes without male members of their families.
The peace committee has warned locals to strictly abide by their guidelines made public through pamphlets in Wana town otherwise violators would face punishments.
In Khyber Agency a similar incident happened when a group of religious leaders set music instruments ablaze and warned locals from spreading immorality.
Local tribesmen are perplexed at how to define the situation. Whether the Taliban reappeared as a result of the state collusion where they are being given space under its strategic designs or the successive governments have really failed in providing safety to tribesmen against these elements?
The world will know about the truth when military operations are no more in the federally administered tribal area (FATA), and no American boots on Afghan soil. Then truth will start trickling into media as by then no one will be be silenced for revealing the truth. These days truth revelation is seditious and traitorous.
Some faint voices do dare to question that how in the face of a toughest law–Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), imposed in 1901 by British India under which collective punishment for the crime of an individual is permissible these elements do away with the law by challenging the writ of the government again and again. A recent incident defines FCR in a more succinct way.
This month, the political administration arrested nearly 200 tribesmen in South Waziristan over a dispute whereas the locals were fined six million rupees (Pakistani currency).
Over 50 prisoners have been released so far after the fine was paid by the tribesmen yet many still remain behind the bars. Then how these militants manage to run ‘state within state’?
Worth millions of dollars civilians’ properties including houses and markets have been bulldozed by the political administration and the military under this law while some of the houses have been blown up by the Taliban yet no high profile militant commander could be held accountable and severely punished to make them history for others.
The painful part of the play is whenever there are foreign forces in Afghanistan, either Soviet troops or American forces, an unwelcome situation appears mysteriously from nowhere in FATA.
In the first episode the Taliban appeared in FATA quite the same way.
First they established peace committees then started awarding punishments in public and ultimately a reign of terror unleashed. What does their reappearance mean this time?
A rehearsal for a new war in Afghanistan by them against the new American troops or a new attempt to unleash terror in the Pashtun belt in Pakistan?
These questions will be answered by developments in Afghanistan in the near future as what Trump is going to do.
Unlike former American president Barack Obama who wrapped up ISAF combat mission in Afghanistan, Trump wants them in action against the Taliban once again.
The end of ISAF’s combat mission can be construed as if more and more space was being given to a political settlement and peace negotiations to end the Afghan conundrum. But Trump reversed that as for him in peace talks have delivered no substantial results so far. So ultimately the use of force is an option on the table.
Political and security analysts in the region are of the opinion Trump will not hesitate from expanding the drone war into Pakistan’s settled areas.
This clearly means the Pashtun belt in Pakistan once again is passing through a tumultuous juncture. The tribesmen have no hope and no escape too.
Simultaneously the Taliban if on one side are attempting to reappear on the other many other Taliban commander surrendered to Pakistan’s military. Among them the commander of Waziristan Inteqam Group Maulvi Abdul Khaliq Haqqani and those from Lashkar-e-Islam and Amal bel Maruf in Khyber Agency are some of those worth mentioning. Abdul had in 2008 threatened if the American boots reach FATA, a squad of 22 suicide bombers will welcome the Americans.
This scenario has given birth to to many doubts and uncertainties. Tribesmen are being used as the whipping boys for Pakistan’s strategic and security failures.
American troop stay in Afghanistan for an indefinite time period benefits Kabul in many ways yet their stay affect the tribal belt and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa enormously in an adverse manner.
There have had been already too many military operations, drone strikes and millions of internally displaced persons and if a diplomatic and political approach is not weighed and expedited, addressing the Afghan crisis through military seemingly is not working out. To compel the Taliban to come to table of negotiations their resistance capacity needs to be weakened or else they will take as usual the option of talks for granted.
Against this backdrop the visit of two high profile American officials, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, are visiting Islamabad in the upcoming two weeks is extraordinary Mattis will whether Pakistan is taking demonstrable actions the Haqqani Network.
Their visit is also crucial as more than one thousand families have been evacuated from South Waziristan on a short notice by the military.
The latest Waziristan displacement has caused an extreme wave of frustration in the entire tribal belt.
These families are stationed in Bakakhil temporary displaced persons (TDPs) camps with extreme scarcity of fundamental facilities.
Nearly three million South Waziristan tribesmen along with others from six more districts in FATA have been forced to leave their homes since 2003.
In total over 5.5 million tribesmen were displaced by insurgent violence and military operations after a host of Taliban groups appeared in FATA following the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001.
These high profile American officials will definitely be informed that because of Pakistan’s sacrifices in war on terror it has suffered a lot and they will tell them when you come with a “do more” list and we are here with a “give more aid” list because Islamabad termed the current aid as peanuts.
Before the visit of these two Americans, the US Congress has approved US$700 million for Pakistan under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF).
Of this Islamabad will get US$350 million after the US Defence Secretary James Mattis certify that Pakistan took demonstrable actions against the Haqqani Network.
This certification is going out to be the replay of the Pressler Amendment.
This amendment passed by the US Congress in August 1985 required the US president to certify that Pakistan does not have nuclear weapons. This was a blessing in disguise for Pakistan. This time again this certification is turning to be a blessing in disguise.
Pakistan has been bolstering up its defence capacity with the aid coming from the US and the tribesmen are becoming homeless.
In such a situation the tribesmen just can hanker after peace as they have no say in the government’s security designs because the authority to anvil their political future neither rests in their hands nor in the hands of their elected members sitting in the parliament in Islamabad. Ironically these elected members from FATA can participate in law making for the rest of the Pakistan, but cannot participate any law making procedures for their own tribes. They are barred constitutionally from this right.
So far these tribes remain deprived of their basic human rights Pakistan cannot develop democratically and economically as well. They want merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or a provincial status yet the forces are status quo which want them used in the strategic games see them freterred in tribalism.
On top of that the development budget allocated for facilitating the return of the TDPs of Waziristan tribal region was diverted to various other programs such as paying for the contingent liabilities of the JF-17 Thunder contractual payments, as well as security allowances and raising a special security force for CPEC.
The amount earmarked for this program was Rs100b; it was axed by Rs38b.
All these incidents clearly indicate that the Pashtun belt particularly the tribal will ever remain a worst victim of the fallout of the American war on terror.
By Roohul Amin:
The author hails from the tribal belt in Pakistan. He worked as a journalist from 2006 to 2016, and currently lives in Germany.