What Are We Doing To Waziristan? – Ayaz Wazir

Part – I

Waziristan was divided into two units by the British for purely colonial purposes – to control the tribes much more effectively. The two agencies, south and north Waziristan, make up more than half of the total area of Fata inhabited mainly by the Wazirs, Maseeds (Mehsud) Dawar sand Burkis. 

Wazir is the biggest tribe but is divided between the two agencies. The Ahmadzai Wazirs live in the south and Uthmanzai Wazirs in the north. The Maseed (Mehsud) and the Burkis are in the south and the Dawars in the north. The area where the two agencies border Afghanistan is inhabited by the Wazirs while the other tribes are to be found in areas down below towards the settled districts.

North Waziristan where Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched on June 15 is divided, for administrative purposes, into three sub-divisions and eleven tehsils. The operation is being conducted in the two tehsils of Mir Ali and Miran Shah with some aerial sorties being carried out in Shawal whereas the rest of the tehsils have been excluded from the operation. In other words the military operation is limited and does not cover all of North Waziristan.

The operation has thus uprooted the Dawar tribe mainly as they, along with a smattering of Wazirs, live in the area constituting the fertile valley of Tochi from Khajori to Datta Khail. Since this area has now been officially declared ‘free’ of militants it stands to reason that the displaced persons should not needlessly be restrained from returning to their homes.

Where all the militants have gone is a question every IDP asks. Have they gone to areas outside the operation zone but within North Waziristan? Have they gone to the adjoining tribal agencies, to other settled districts like Islamabad and Murree or have they left for Afghanistan? Nobody knows anything as independent reporting is not permitted from that area and all news emanating from there is controlled by the military. Therefore it is difficult to confirm what is stated in the press. Those claimed to have been killed sometimes surface later or their bodies remain to be shown to the media for confirmation of death.

I often wonder what went wrong and disturbed the peaceful atmosphere that used to exist in Waziristan. What shattered the trust that was built, over the years, between the security forces and people of that area? What were the contributory factors that widened the gap so much that now they treat each other as rivals if not enemies?

As a child I remember often seeing soldiers of the Frontier Corps/Scouts commanded by officers from the army, going for their routine ‘gasht’, a local term for exercise by marching a certain distance into the countryside – without being bothered by anybody and without creating a problem for anyone. The trust between them and the locals was exemplary.

We need to see what went wrong with this understanding and why Waziristan descended into chaos. Why were things allowed to go that way when the government machinery was fully entrenched?

The seeds for this mistrust were sown by dictator Ziaul Haq by allowing many remnants of the Afghan jihad, including the Haqqanis, to establish themselves on a permanent basis in Waziristan. Other groups joined when the US invaded Afghanistan and attacked Tora Bora. Policies followed by another dictator, Musharraf, further strengthened the intruders and in no time the militants mushroomed in Waziristan and militancy spread over the whole country.

A major factor that contributed to the rapid growth of militancy in Fata was the deliberate dismantling of the tribal hierarchical and justice system without giving a political/judicial system as a substitute. This was done with the active assistance and connivance of the powers-that-be in a short-sighted approach of creating space in the area for the ‘assets’ that they were nurturing. They would also turn a blind eye to the targeted killing of the leading maliks and notables in Fata. The killings continued unabated without any retaliatory action by the forces. As a result the people stopped cooperating with the forces.

The civil government had by then vanished from the scene handing over everything to the army. With their lack of foresight little did these powers-that-be realise that one day their ‘assets’ would grow into a Frankenstein monster which would terrorise every part of the country. 

This mistrust grew further in the turbulent years that followed. Much of that can be traced back to the initiatives of a general in the initial years of the war. He not only concluded an agreement in 2004 with the militants, much against the wishes of the local notables, but also garlanded their leader in public raising his stature, overnight, from local bandit to celebrity. It is interesting to note that he went against the established practice by concluding the agreement in a seminary instead of a government seat where reportedly he was disarmed and security provided by the militants instead of the soldiers.

His lack of understanding of the tribal culture, customs and traditions of the people there, even the local language, the misinformation regularly supplied by his lieutenants and above all his choice of people through whom he interacted with the tribes drastically changed the course of events thereafter.

To be continued