|Fantasising about FATA|
| Tuesday, February 17, 2009
In her article on Jan 28 Shireen Mazari argues that the people of FATA support the militants because they see the Pakistani army as fighting America’s war. This is the most absurd thing I keep hearing from people who clearly have little idea about the culture and people of FATA. My question to them is a simple one: if the Taliban militants are so popular, how does one explain the formation of so many anti-Taliban tribal armies all over FATA?
The Taliban have target killed the leaders of those armies, which according to the popular Pakhtun perception, was with the tacit consent of the intelligence agencies. How could the people of FATA support those who have assassinated their entire tribal leadership and have massacred so many young men of the tribal armies?
How come the people of FATA support the Taliban who have replaced their Pakhtunwali with a Taliban order? The residents of FATA are not ready to surrender their Pakhtun way of life and therefore are bearing the brunt of Taliban savagery.
Under the code of Pakhtunwali, an outsider may go to FATA wearing an culture specific to his or her own culture without inviting any sanction from the tribes. This is because members of the tribes will understand that the outside is from a different culture and would hence respect the outsider for what he or she is. However, under the Taliban, the same person, especially a woman, venturing into FATA, without a burqa or similar attire would be liable to be punished with lashes.
Also, it may come as a surprise to many readers that in FATA’s culture the drum and dance have always played an important role. However, since the Taliban’s occupation of the area, these two age-old traditions have been banned. Hence, only outsiders who are not well-informed would think that the local people would be supporting the occupiers who have replaced their melodious Pashto music with jihadi anthems that are played loudly throughout the region.
The common perception among all Pakhtuns, including those in FATA, is that the Taliban are “strategic assets” of the military establishment and have been given a free hand by the establishment to eliminate all those Pakhtuns who dare to challenge them. Many Pakhtuns see what is happening between the military and the Taliban in FATA as instances of “friendly fire.” The belief is that, by doing so, they both get what they want – the Taliban, a terrorised population on whom they can implement their jihadi agenda and the establishment gets to play its power games vis-a-vis regional and international powers. From what one reads and hears, it seems that most analysts in the media are either not aware of this reality, or deliberately hide it from their readers/audience.
People believe that the army is perfectly capable of crushing the Taliban but that the will is lacking. Many people in FATA and other parts of the NWFP I have met in recent weeks and months as part of my ongoing research have said that they don’t see much difference between Baituallah Mehsud and Fazllulah on the one hand and the senior and retired leadership of the establishment.
To go back to Ms Mizari’s article, she criticises the US drone attacks, calling them a violation of our national dignity and sovereignty. However, the matter is far more complex and not as black-and-white an issue as she is making it out to be. Many people are of the view that many of the drone attacks have hit precise targets and have succeeded in eliminating foreign militants such as Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks and Afghans – as well as local Taliban. There have also been some civilian deaths but most people seem more concerned with the militants who die. In any case, if more terrorists are killed than civilians, then most people seem satisfied with the attacks.
It may be very difficult for some people (read: our armchair analysts) to belief this, but the fact of the matter is that most people of FATA are fed up with the occupation of their homeland by the Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists and they are actually happy to see them killed – even if that happens to be by US drones!
In any case, many of the residents of the region do not exactly see the drone attacks as a violation of our national sovereignty. And their reasoning is quite straightforward; they say that long before the drones came, much of FATA had been ceded by the state to the militants. And they say that when this was happening – engineered or otherwise – why wasn’t much fuss made about the loss of national sovereignty by anybody then? In this context, the people see, for instance, drone attacks by the US on South Waziristan as a matter not between Washington and Islamabad but between Washington and Baitullah Mehsud. For Pakistan to have a say in it, the territory must be retaken by it. Thus, the question of violation of the national dignity and sovereignty of Pakistan does not even come up, as long as the area is under the occupation of the Taliban. (The News)
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. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org