October 21, 2010

The ruthless bombing of innocent Pashtuns in Mohmand Agency, killing 105 people and injuring another 100 is a stark reminder of the plight of innocent civilian Pashtuns, being grinded by the ongoing battle between of wrenching control between State and Talibans. The attack was aimed at a Jirga of Utmankhel tribe that was underway in the Assistant Political Agent’s office, to chalk out a strategy to counter Taliban and plan to restore peace in the region. Taliban, claiming responsibility for the attack, told journalists of telephone that it was aimed at the Jirga of Utmankhel Tribe, which has formed a Local Lashkar to fight them in the area.

The innocent Pashtuns are between the devil and the deep sea. Today, 23 million Pashtuns live on the Afghan side of the border, while 12 million live in Pakistan, divided by Durand Line — a haphazardly line drawn by Henry Mortimer Durand in 1893, in the wake of Britain’s fears that the Afghans’ fight for independence could inspire others. This present misery of Pashtuns started with US’ post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan. Pakistan’s Government at the time, led by General Musharraf sided with US and Army entered the Tribal areas to eliminate Talibans — escaping from US invasion. Musharraf played a double game with the US and did not want to eliminate Talibans. The intention was to keep them as a strategic weapon for future use in post America’s Afghanistan, to prevent the formation of a pro-Indian government in Afghanistan and to keep the quest of, so called strategic depth, alive. Talibans were given breathing space in the garb of peace pact and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) was formed under the aegis of, now slain TTP leader, Baitullah Mehsud. It expanded its influence and control to whole of the FATA, adjoining settled areas of Bannu, D.I.Khan and other settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwah including the picturesque valley of Swat — the tourist’s heaven in Pakistan. In all this build up, the biggest sufferers were the innocent Pashtuns, who had to live under the tyrant clutches of rapacious and malevolent Taliban and to unwillingly adhere to their version of Islam. All kinds of entertainments and music were banned, including the centuries old tradition of ATTANR — a traditional Pashtun dance to a peculiar beat of DHOL (drum), celebrated in marriage ceremonies and other joyous occasions. Scores of Innocent people, both influential and those who opposed them, were slaughtered mercilessly in the process of firming their hold on the region. The government and security establishment were mere spectators in this ghastly game played with innocent Pashtuns and the situation worsened to the extent that in Kulachi, a town of Southern district of Dera Ismail Khan, the police used to tell locals to register their complaints with the Talibans, as they are helpless and can not support them. Locals were alienated after realizing that the security apparatus is paralysed and can not protect them, so they have to unwillingly side with the Talibans to survive in the area. Every clan and family has to recruit few persons in this militant outfit in order to settle their personal scores with rivals and to survive respectfully. It is pertinent to mention here that the dilemma of Pashtun Culture is that power grows out of the barrel of the gun — respect can only be earned and preserved if one is powerful. Taliban established a proper command and control structure, down to section level, in every city and village. These militants were so glorified that their commanders used to receive red-carpet treatment and became icons and role models for the mostly ignoramus Pashtun teenagers. Lists of their recruits were issued to Police Stations for not meddling with them (Police stations are only in the settled districts of Pakistan). Flocks of teenagers were railroaded by these fiendishly clever tactics to join their ranks and were brain washed to become deadly suicide bombers.

The tides suddenly turned with the ouster of Gen Musharraf and at last the Army and the Government realized that the Frankenstein is getting out of control.But it was too late. Now the innocent local population has a new dilemma at hands, coping up with wrath of Fighter-Bombers, Helicopter-Gunships and heavy Artillery. Since most of the local populace disliked Talibans and their activities, they welcomed the Security Forces with open arms. But they were unaware of the horrors of so called ‘cumulative damage’. Army launched a number of operations across FATA and Swat and succeeded to an extent in flushing out the militants to other adjoining areas.

The operations have left the areas in tatters. Rustam Shah Mohmand — a former ambassador of Pakistan and an expert on tribal areas — described the devastation” could not be more heartbreaking”. He paints the devastating picture of the area from one end to the other;” the whole tribal area presents the spectacle of a war zone. Houses blown up, villages decimated, infrastructure no more. Vast swaths of territories are in ruins. Whole villages in Buner have disappeared. Matta and the adjoining areas in Swat present a picture of a powerful cyclone having devastated the whole area. Between Khar and Nawagai, in what once was a most fertile area, villages on both sides of the road have been razed to the ground. Many of the returning IDPs of Bajaur and Dir could not determine where their villages had once stood, to say nothing of their homes. They had to make return journeys to their camps.”

Situation is worse in Orakzai, once a most peaceful area, which has become a latest battle zone and bears the wrath of aerial bombing on daily basis. With tens of thousands of people having left, life has come to a standstill there. The relentless punishment, indiscriminate and merciless, continues with no regard to its horrendous implications. Waziristan, the birth place of ongoing conflict, is no different from the rest. Institutions are shut, public services suspended. Bombing by helicopter-gunships is commonplace. As a matter of fact, it’s surprising if, on a particular day, bombs are not dropped and shells not fired. As elsewhere, it is innocent civilians, including women and children, who bear the brunt. Life has almost come to a stop across the tribal area, and parts of Malakand and Dir.

The question is, who to blame for all this mess that has engulfed the whole Pashtun region? Can the Security Forces be blamed? Perhaps the answer is negative, as far as the Field Commanders and foot soldiers fighting on the ground are concerned. ‘Fighting in Built Up Area’ (FIBUA) and that too in own territory instead of enemy’s, is the most difficult of the operation; the troops have to undertake the cleansing operation of the terrorists hiding in the midst of local population. Problems like, friend and foe identification, restricted rules of engagement, difficulty of command and control, unfamiliarity of the area and its alleys, restricted observation and field of fire, difficulty in determining the exact direction of hostile fire and a never ending list of allied problems adds to the complexity of these operations. Once this operation has to be undertaken, it has these inherent problems of cumulative damage.

These innocent Pashtuns have no where to go — they are trapped in this cross fire. They are being grinded by the different policies of Musharraf and the present government. Government and Security Establishment — largely responsible for the growth of militancy in the area — are persuading local elders to form Lashkars against militants. Local residents have responded to these calls by the government and formed a number of Lashkars to fight militants in these areas but these were mercilessly attacked and killed. In February 2008, eight pro-government tribal elders were killed in NWA. In March, the same year, 42 Tribal elders lost their lives to a suicide attack in Darra Adam Khel, close to Peshawar. In October 2008, 136 people sacrificed their lives in Orakzai, when a suicide bomber blew his explosive laden vehicle in the midst of an Anti-Militant Tribal Lashkar. In Bajuar, a Jirga of Salarzai tribe was targeted by suicide bomber in November 2008, killing 22 Tribal elders. On 5 January 2009, 114 people were killed in a suicide attack in Shah Hassan Khel, Lakki Marwat, attack was also aimed at a pro-government Jirga. These are some of the major incidents out of scores of suicide attacks. Hundreds of pro-government locals have been killed for siding with the government and opposing militants across whole of the Pashtun belt. The Security Forces and Government have miserably failed to protect these brave volunteers from the wrath of tyrants.

On the other hand, refusal to government order of joining these Jirgas and Lashkars result in imprisonment and meting out of other harsh punishments. One of the newspaper, quoted Toor Khan — a tribal elder from Mohmand Agency, whose house in Peshawar was attacked by an IED — as saying that his cousin Malik Chandan Khan, an elder of Mohmand Agency, is in the custody of Political Administration for refusing to return to his village, Manzari Cheena, and for attending a Jirga to devise strategy against Taliban. He also revealed that 16 other Elders of the area are also imprisoned as they were not ready to return to their homes in prevailing circumstances and joining the Jirga.

Innocent Pashtuns are now weary of burying the dead and treating the wounded. They are being used as scapegoats between the ghastly game played by ISI, RAW, CIA and with backstage performance of other state and non state actors. Now this brave and ancient race is at the crossroad of death and disgrace and is looking for some heavenly help to pull it out of this quagmire.

Originally published at on October 19, 2016.

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