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Waziristan: Paradise regained?

AFRASYAB KHATTAKSouth Waziristan is inhabited by Pashtun tribes of Ahmadzai Wazir, Masood (locally pronounced Maseed) and Bittani and the main Pashtun tribes in North Waziristan are Utmanzai Wazir and Daur. Sections of these tribes also live in the adjacent districts of Tank, Lakki Marwat and Bannu. Both the districts of South and North Waziristan (known as political agencies as parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas) have paid a horrible price for the notorious policy of “strategic depth” followed by the Pakistani state towards Afghanistan over the last four decades. It was due to this misguided policy that Waziristan was occupied by a syndicate of international terrorists including Al Qaida, Taliban and so many other groups from the region and beyond. The main aim was of course to provide sanctuary to Afghan Taliban for regrouping and starting a new war against the newly established Afghan republic and the international forces stationed in Afghanistan for supporting it after 9/11. General Musharraf enjoyed playing on both sides. Waziristan was lost to terrorists. Paradise lost!

For establishing their own writ and creating fear in the area the terrorists started brutally murdering tribal elders who had traditionally represented writ of the state. Only their elimination could create a vacuum, by filling of which the terror syndicate could overwhelm the local Pashtun tribes and rule the area. It was from Waziristan that the de facto terrorist state fought a war in Afghanistan; spread its tentacles into not only other tribal districts but also into different settled areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This is how we witnessed partial “Fatafication” of the Pakhtunkhwa province and even official documents describe parts of the province as de facto FATA. This is also how Pakhtunkhwa could not enter the post conflict phase even after the defeat of Taliban in Swat and other parts of Malakand division in 2009 as terrorists could carry on their subversive activities from their bases in FATA. Although a number of military operations were launched in the area, none of them decisively decimated the control and command structure of even the TTP in any of the political agencies, as they would cross over into the next tribal agency. But the people of Waziristan, along with the people in rest of FATA, bore the brunt of the conflict. As one senior journalist puts it: “Taliban suicide bombing and targeted assassinations, Pakistani artillery barrages and air strikes and US drone strikes have killed tens of thousands of militants, soldiers and civilians. For every combatant at least five civilians have died.” Millions became IDPs and lost every thing they had. Wana valley in South Waziristan remained comparatively stable as the local Wazir tribes were able to throw out Uzbek and other foreign terrorists in a bloody uprising in 2006. But Shki and Masood area beyond it and Tochi valley in North Waziristan have seen large scale death and destruction. Miran Shah bazar had more than 10,000 shops full of all sorts of goods. Mir Ali had 6,700 shops. Not a single one of these shops has escaped destruction and the goods in shops and belongings in the houses have gone. In fact these towns were completely flattened. Even the material of the demolished structures was sold by others. Unlike Swat operation of 2009 where provincial government provided political oversight and intervened on the question of civilian losses of life and property, operations in Waziristan had no civilian or political oversight.

It was only in 2014, that Operation Zarb-e-Azb destroyed all the overt terrorist bases in FATA. Interestingly it coincided with the drawdown of ISAF troops from Afghanistan and most of terrorists were able to enter for fighting in Afghanistan. In any case, finally, Waziristan isn’t anymore a terrorist headquarter exporting violence. But the question is can the paradise be regained? And this brings us to issues such as repatriation of IDPs, their rehabilitation, reconstruction of infrastructure and social and political empowerment of the people. The system of political agency still exists in theory but for all practical purposes the power of making decisions has shifted to military commanders who have full control over the area. Many of them do not speak Pashto and are not acquainted with local customs. For people of Waziristan, most of whom have become IDPs, complete disempowerment is painful and humiliating. The restrictions that they face while entering their own area are a nightmare. Even where the armed conflict is over long time ago the authorities suddenly and without any solid reason decide to bulldoze houses that are still intact. For example last month they wanted to demolish about 1,200 houses in Danday Darpa Khel that led to strong protest by Daur tribe. Local people are being given the impression that they are not owners of the land on which they have been living for centuries. Ghulam Qadir Daur, a senior civil servant hailing from Waziristan, has poignantly depicted the excruciating conditions of people’s lives in his powerful book ‘Cheegha’ (the Cry) published last year. In an interview to a TV channel he said: “I have felt that the voice of the people of tribal area is not being heard. I want the elites in Islamabad, the Punjab and international community to know about our pain and losses”. Local civil servants have formed the Tochi Welfare Organization for providing help and rehabilitation.

For achieving a sustainable solution to the conflict in Waziristan (and in the rest of FATA) three policy reforms are a prerequisite. First, Pakistan should really and practically give up the policy of strategic depth in Afghanistan based on supporting Taliban and both countries should fight a coordinated war against terror. Leaders of both countries had agreed on this policy in 2014 but it wasn’t implemented. Let’s not forget that intensification of war in Afghanistan will ultimately engulf FATA also. Two, there is no justification for dragging feet on political and administrative reforms in FATA. Integration of FATA in the state system will go a long way in not only stabilising the area itself but it will also help in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. Three, an oversight committee comprising of FATA parliamentarians, elders and representatives of all political parties should be formed to oversee the process of repatriation of IDPs and their rehabilitation and to work as bridge between the military and local population.

Writer: Afrasiab Khattak

The writer is a retired senator and a leader of Awami National Party (ANP). He tweets    @a_siab 


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