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Interpreting tribal leaders of FATA — by Farhat Taj

Anger against the Pakistan Army and the Taliban is intense and getting more intense with every passing day and so is disappointment with the government of Pakistan

I am compiling a list of the tribal leaders of FATA who have been victims of target killings from 2003 onwards. This is still a work in progress and my estimate is that the names in the final list would be well over 1,000. There is a widespread perception in FATA that the intelligence agencies of Pakistan have killed the tribal leaders through their proxies, the Taliban. Those who have managed to stay alive have either fled FATA or face grave security threats. The media in Pakistan have generally ignored them. The wider society in Pakistan never looks into their predicament.

Sometimes, however, the media do interview them. But they cannot speak openly. If they do, they would meet the same fate as their assassinated colleagues. But still they open up their hearts through connotations. One has to be very sensitive and thoughtful to extract the real message from what they say in media interviews.

To our good luck, Khan has made it easy for us to understand what the tribal leaders wish to communicate. Let me first introduce Khan. He is a son of Pakhtunkhwa and has written a revealing book, Armageddon in Pakistan: The Crisis of a Failed Feudal Economy. I suggest to the readers to read this book for an interesting perspective on the root cause of the socio-economic problem in Pakistan and its linkages with the current insecurity in FATA, i.e. the crisis of feudal democracy and a feudal military. Following is an extract from the book in which Khan is interpreting the words of two tribal leaders from a TV interview. The interviews were recorded following a deadly suicide attack on a mosque filled with worshippers in Khyber Agency.

“The mosque blast was done through a remote control device by some external hand.” The interpretation is that he surely does not feel it was the US (India or Israel) since otherwise he would clearly say it. The vague phrase of an external hand implies that he may be eliminated in case he spells out the truth.

“It was to create chaos by the Americans.” This implies that he can be killed saying otherwise.

“Presently all the development funds for FATA are used only to bring death and destruction in the tribal areas.” In this he wants to say that the military establishment gets dollars from the US for FATA development and fills its own pockets.

“All people have left tribal areas, look at the refugee camps.” Here the tribal leader is cautious. He speaks of peace and justice before any development. He wishes to say that all the governments, both military and civilian, have brought death and destruction in the tribal area for the last so many decades and no peace or development.

“Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), the old colonial law for the tribal areas, still remains in place.” This is a criticism of all rulers, whether civil or military, of Pakistan.

“The representatives of FATA (in parliament) cannot do anything for their people.” This means all the people of FATA, including their parliamentarians, are helpless.

“FATA needs democracy; it should be in control of political parties.” Here he takes pride in his early history of tribal democracy in the form of the tribal jirga (assemblies). All this has been destroyed by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and the Taliban through assassination of tribal leaders all over FATA.

“Almost 10 million people live in FATA on the border with Afghanistan, but Pakistan does not consider their problems as the problems of Pakistan.” Here he implies that the tribal people almost hate the military and all governments of Pakistan for all the misery they have been in, whereas the tribal people sacrificed all the time for the state.

“We rebuked Nehru when he came to our region after the colonialists had left India, even then Pakistan does not care for us.” This implies that the military and the governments of Pakistan are not friends of the tribal people.

“Most attacks are on houses, most of the people dying in the war are innocent.” Here he is not referring to drone attacks, otherwise he would say it clearly without any hesitation. He means to say that the Taliban and the army are killing innocent people.

“Wherever the Pakhtun go, they take their culture with them. The Pakhtun working in the Emirates have more facilities, more education for children. We cannot have such environment for our children in the Frontier province and FATA.” This means he has seen the world and wishes that he could have the same development and peaceful environment in FATA. He considers himself next to none. He is angry that the tribal children could not have all these things in their homeland. He hates going away from his people. That is why he says wherever he goes he takes along his culture and would always like to speak in Pashto with his own people in other countries. All civil and military governments did nothing for FATA.

“We Pakhtuns are not terrorists. We like to show love and empathy; we are not the way we are portrayed; we wish other people would understand.” By implication, the propaganda of the establishment and pro-establishment forces that all Pakhtuns are against the Americans is being disclaimed here. Anger towards the Taliban and the military is shown here. The predicament is very painful for a simple tribesman or woman.

“Hidden forces are creating insecurity in people’s lives.” This means the Taliban and the military. Any vague phrase like this means truth cannot be stated for fear of his life.

The reason why I reproduced these from the above-mentioned book is to warn my fellow Pakistanis, especially in Punjab, to pay attention to FATA. Anger against the Pakistan Army and the Taliban is intense and getting more intense with every passing day and so is disappointment with the government of Pakistan. FATA may soon be doing down the path on which East Pakistan went and became Bangladesh.

Pakistanis on the eastern side of the Indus remain obsessed with anti-Americanism and Indian and Jewish conspiracies. All this is nonsense for the people of FATA. They are sick and tired of the Taliban, the establishment’s abuse of their land for strategic aims and the apathy of fellow Pakistanis in Punjab, the biggest federating unit of Pakistan. Any eventual damage to the integrity of Pakistan in FATA will also be the responsibility of influential Punjabis in politics, media, academia and civil society in general, for they have criminally chosen to ignore the establishment’s atrocities in the area.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. She can be reached at

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  • Army must destroy Taliban, jirga declares

    * National peace jirga urges govt to reach out to terrorists, but also to crush those unwilling to negotiate
    * Dismisses earlier offensives as ‘military dramas’
    * Tribal leader says ‘it should be a genuine military operation like the Sri Lankans did against the Tamil Tigers’

    ISLAMABAD: Hundreds of tribesmen from regions near the Pak-Afghan border ended a rare tribal council on Saturday with a declaration calling for the army to crush the Taliban.

    The meeting in Peshawar was called by an umbrella group of aid organisations and political parties in an effort to bring together people from the region.

    Participants called for the army to escalate attacks against the Taliban across the tribal regions, dismissing Pakistan’s earlier offensives as “military dramas”.

    “It should be a genuine military operation like the Sri Lankans did against the Tamil Tigers,” said Sayd Alam Mehsud, a powerful tribal leader, referring to the brutal military campaign that destroyed the separatist Tamil army in Sri Lanka.

    They also called for more power for traditional councils.

    “If we strengthen these councils and make them more functional, I believe it will win us half of the war,” said one participant, Salar Amjad Ali, 34. “We, the Pashtuns, live for our culture and tradition and we die for it,” he added.

    While Saturday’s meeting was not a formal jirga, it is rare to have so many tribal leaders gather together.

    A declaration at the end of the meeting called democracy vital to rooting out terrorism, arguing that the military should keep out of politics.

    “A sapling of terrorism cannot grow in democracy. Any attempt to derail democracy is like letting the terrorists walk all over us,” the declaration said.

    One organiser, Sayd Alam Mehsud, said the meeting was a way to bring together people from the area that is suffering most in Islamabad’s war against the militants.

    “We have just tried to unite people for the sake of peace,” he said. Participants said they had little faith in the US-Pakistan alliance, and that Washington and Islamabad were more worried about internal political issues than dealing with the deep-set social issues at the root of much of the violence.

    “If we do not address the mindset of the terrorists, we will not be able to eliminate terrorists,” said Alam.

    Crush the unwilling: The tribal leaders urged the government in Pakistan to reach out to the militants – but also to crush those unwilling to negotiate.

    “We tribesmen are more patriotic than anybody else,” said one participant, Din Muhammad Khan, who had come South Waziristan, where a government offensive that began last fall is thought to have killed hundreds of terrorists.

    “Pakistan is ours. We are for Pakistan… we will die for this country if required,” he said. Meanwhile, in Karachi, police arrested three Taliban militants on Saturday and seized a bomb-making factory, a counter-terrorism official said.

    Police raided a house in the city’s industrial area and forced the militants to surrender after a gunbattle, said Raja Omar Khatab, No one was injured.

    After their arrest, the suspects led police elsewhere to the bomb factory, and a large number of explosives, detonators and other bomb-making material was seized, he said.

    Violence has surged in Pakistan in recent days as terrorists – thought to be part of a loose network of insurgents fighting the US-allied Islamabad government – launched a wave of suicide bombings. ap\21\story_21-3-2010_pg1_8