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Abandoned Patriots – by Imran Khan

Cross-posted from his blog

photo credit - long war journal

It is a fact that most Taliban are Pakhtuns, but to many that fact alone is reason enough to declare them as representatives of Pakhtuns at large. Many theories that have been doing the rounds portray the Taliban as an ethnic rather than an ideological phenomenon. During the heyday of the Swat Taliban, there was a widespread belief that the people of Swat are so fed up with Pakistan’s judicial system that they are flocking to the Taliban. Many Marxists also chipped in with what they saw as a rise of the “Pakhtun proletariat”. The explanation that is currently en vogue ties the existence of Pakistani Taliban to the American presence in Afghanistan. It is predicted that the departure of the US from Afghanistan will result in an almost magical disappearance of the Pakistani Taliban.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally the proponents of these theories seek legitimacy for the Taliban movement; by assuming a popular Pakhtun support for the Taliban, they make a case for a non-militant response to Taliban militancy. The impact of these relentless efforts, carried out by media pundits as well as politicians, can be seen in the perceptions of the Pakistani people; despite 87 suicide attacks and 49 beheadings in 2009 (PIPS), the approval of the Taliban in Pakistan has risen from 10% in 2009 to 15% this year (PEW Research).

But these theories fail to take into account other relevant facts: a majority of the Taliban might be Pakhtun, but so is a majority of their victims. Around 69% of the fatalities related to suicide bombing in 2009 were from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. Similarly, the focus of Taliban’s kidnapping activities has been limited to Pakhtun areas. Add to this the humiliating restrictions and economic costs faced by the Taliban controlled tribal areas, and one can easily conclude that the Pakhtuns themselves are the biggest victims of Talibanization, and for that reason assuming their majority support for the Taliban is downright ridiculous.

As the biggest affectees of this complete failure of the Government in providing security, people in many areas across Pakhtunkhwa and FATA have resorted to respond by raising their own Lashkars (militias). These Lashkars are raised on a tribal level and have majority approval through Jirgas.

This indigenous Pakhtun resistance, in effect, negates all those explanations that exalt the Taliban to anything more than a minority fringe movement among Pakhtuns. These Lashkars show that most Pakhtuns would rather pick up a gun and fight the Taliban, than enjoy the fruits of a “speedy justice” that comes in the form of beheadings, lashings and amputations. These volunteers are overwhelmingly from the “proletariat”, and are openly refusing the stronger financial incentives of joining the Taliban. Furthermore, despite the bonds of Pakhtunwali, the guns of these Pakistani Pakhtuns are not out to fight Americans in Afghanistan, but instead, this democratically ordained Pakhtun Resistance is focused entirely on the Taliban.

There is no doubt that the Taliban feel threatened by these Lashkars, and their leaders are on top of Taliban’s hit list. Consider the case of the Lashkars of Adezai and Matanai, who have endured around forty attacks from the Taliban in the last two years. The recent attacks in Darra Adam Khel and Badah Bair, that claimed more than 60 lives, were also focused on the leadership of anti-Taliban Lashkars. But despite the consequences, the resolve of these rag tag militias remains unshaken. With their limited resources these modern day Davids are taking on a Goliath that is spread across two countries, and receives millions of dollars every year through extortions, drug peddling and foreign funding. While for the rest of us Pakistanis, avoiding the Taliban threat means shopping trips to less crowded places, for these sons of the soil, the threat of Taliban means no schooling for their children, and no mosques for their prayers, IEDs and targeted suicide bombings. Yet, despite these costs, they have chosen to stand their ground, and become the vanguard of Pakistan’s resistance to Talibanization.

So how does Pakistan, a country that bleeds for Palestinians, Chechens and Kashmiris, treat those who are fighting in its name? According to Dilawar Khan – The leader of the Adenzai Lashkar, a lashkar that is accredited with thwarting the march of Taliban towards Peshawar, the Government is showing extreme indifference towards him and his people. Besides complaining about a lack of logistical support, he makes a very valid point that while the victims of suicide bombings are compensated, the families of the martyrs from his lashkar still await official recognition from the Government.

But not only are these militias devoid of logistical support, they are also not getting any moral support. Less than two hours into the second bombing on Friday, most of our media channels decided to switch to “regular programming”. The who’s who of our anchors on November 5th as well as 6th decided to concentrate on “more important” topics such as; Inflation, Faisalabad’s textile industry, Corruption, Dr. Imran Farooq, Judiciary, mid-term elections, the Karachi plane crash and believe it or not an hour long ode to the PAF.

This apathy is more pronounced if seen in comparison, God forbid, if more than 60 people had died in the more “developed” parts of Pakistan, our media would be covering the event non stop, awareness loops would have been played over and over again and anchors would have shelved everything else to concentrate on the issue. None of the same for this lot, who are sacrificing much more than the rest of us and doing so for an end that will benefit us all for generations to come. But our overall ignorance of their sacrifice stops us from doing the least i.e. acknowledging their efforts.

The existence of these Lashkars highlights the point that Pakhtuns have not succumbed to the Taliban yet. The collapse of these indigenous defenses however will be a big victory for the Taliban. It goes without saying, that such a scenario would not be the end of the aspirations of the Taliban, as regardless of how the Taliban movement is painted, it considers itself above ethnic differences.

Published in Pakistan Today on the 9th of November 2010

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    Between the military and militants —Farhat Taj

    Recently, there has been news in the national and international media that Jalaluddin Haqqani’s network, based in North Waziristan, is being shifted by the military establishment of Pakistan to Kurram to flee the relentless US drone attacks that have considerably damaged the group. Most media discussions about this development focus on external factors, like how difficult it may become for NATO and US forces to gather intelligence and strike the Haqqani group in Kurram, and the possibility of an extension of the US drone attacks to Kurram. The last possibility is also claimed as leading to more anti-Americanism in the wider society of Pakistan, which, unlike tribal society, seems to oppose the drone strikes as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.

    No due attention is being paid to the impact of the arrival of the Haqqani fighters on the people in Kurram and the areas close to it. With the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, all the nearby districts were destabilised. D I Khan, with its mixed Sunni and Shia population, was rocked by sectarian attacks, the people in Tank and Bannu were attacked and the civilians in all frontier regions came under repeated terrorist actions.

    The point is that Jalaluddin Haqqani is widely respected among the Taliban groups and he uses his position to influence them and to make peace among warring Taliban groups. When two Taliban groups anywhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan have a go at each other’s throats, Jalaluddin asks his sons to invite the two to one of his guesthouses in North Waziristan. He ultimately convinces them to stop fighting against each other by giving money to some and weapons to others. People in Waziristan constantly complain that our intelligence agencies always try to push all militants, Pakhtun, Punjabi and foreigners, into the ‘Haqqani loop’. Staunchly anti-Shia sectarian groups are also linked to the Haqqani network. So many militant groups now coming to Kurram, including the sectarian groups, will inevitably intensify sectarian violence against the civilians from Kurram to Kohat, the region with a mixed Sunni-Shia population.

    This means that the Sunni IDPs from Parachinar (Kurram), displaced since 2007, and Shia IDPs from Sadda (Kurram), displaced since the 1980s, should forget about going back to their native areas in the near future. The Shias in upper Orakzai suffered at the hands of the Taliban and this was followed by the Taliban atrocities against the Sunnis in upper Orakzai. The Ali Khel, the biggest tribe in Orakzai, lost its entire mixed Sunni and Shia leadership (over 100 tribal leaders) in a suicide attack by the Taliban. The Shia area in lower Orakzai that has remained largely stable could face acute, violent attacks from the anti-Shia groups. Some of the Orakzai Sikh families displaced by the Taliban have been given refuge by the Shias in lower Orakzai. Instability in lower Orakzai could displace the Sikh families once more. Both Kohat and Hangu with their mixed Sunni-Shia population have already been victims of several sectarian attacks. There have also been suicide attacks on the general public in both cities regardless of sectarian distinction, including the attacks on markets and families of policemen. Residents of the two cities may now be exposed to intensified violence of the kind never seen by them before.

    Moreover, the US is putting pressure on Pakistan to start a military operation in North Waziristan and, seemingly, Pakistan will give in. With the Haqqanis moved to the safety of Kurram, a military operation will begin in North Waziristan that will kill innocent civilians and also lead to large-scale human displacement from the area. In all the areas of FATA where military operations have been conducted, people complain that the army deliberately targeted civilians and let the Taliban flee or avoided firing at the terrorists. This is the key reason why so many people became displaced in the tribal areas where the military operations have been conducted. This is also precisely the reason why the people in FATA favour drone strikes on the militants instead of military operations; the former never miss their target, the latter always kills civilians in large numbers and have been unable to kill any leading Taliban commander in so many military operations. Despite the relentless drone attacks in North Waziristan, there is no mass scale displacement from the area. There would be large-scale human displacement from North Waziristan if a military operation begins in the area.

    How long will the ‘strategic assets’ — the Haqqanis — of the military establishment be moved from one area of FATA to another to destabilise it along with nearby districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? It has been years since the people of FATA and the adjoining districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been trapped between the military and the militants. The two have killed civilians when they are fighting each other as well as when they are not fighting each other. The recent media debate about the Haqqani’s new destination in Kurram is from the point of view of NATO and US forces, the strategic considerations of the military establishment of Pakistan, and state level relations between Islamabad and Washington. There seems to be no one to voice the local people’s perspective in the whole debate, the people who will most likely become innocent victims of the strategic transport of the Haqqanis from North Waziristan to Kurram.


    PESHAWAR: A woman and her minor daughter were killed in a Taliban attack on Adezai anti-Taliban Lashkar early on Thursday, police and locals said. Matani Police Station Muharir Hijabullah told Daily Times that the Taliban attacked Adezai village with rockets at 2am. He said that one rocket hit the house of Rajwali, a member of an anti-Taliban Lashkar, in which his wife and a minor daughter were killed. He said that four other villagers were also injured in the attack. It was the Taliban’s first attack on Adezai anti-Taliban Lashkar after security forces’ operation in suburbs of Peshawar and the Frontier Regions (FR) some two months ago. Adezai lashkar chief, Dilawar Khan, told Daily Times that a woman and her minor daughter were killed in the Taliban attack. He said about 40 men armed with sophisticated weapons, including rockets, attacked the village from some distance. He said the terrorists wanted to destroy his and other key lashkar members’ houses, but the lashkar retaliated forcing them to flee. staff report