FATA: Myths and Realities
MYTH: FATA is the HUB of militancy & terrorism.
REALITY: FATA is the worst "VICTIM of Militancy”. Thousands of Civilians dead & injured; Hundreds of Schools destroyed; Thousands of homes raised to ground; 40% population displaced from homes.
MYTH: FATA tribesmen are a violent (sort of man-eater) people who kill for the sake of killing.
REALITY: Though the hard terrain & tough life may have made the tribesmen a bit hot-headed yet most want to lead peaceful lives. Yes, there are criminal elements but then that species is found in every corner of the world; from Tibet to Sao Paulo.
MYTH: Tribesmen are utterly different from normal human beings.
REALITY: Tribesmen are like all human beings (differences are practically negligible when taken in proper context). They need schools for their kids like all others. They need hospitals for treatment of their diseased. They need industries, agriculture and business activities to earn a living. They need play-grounds for exertion. They need roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects. They need electricity, water supply, sanitation, waste disposal and other services & social uplift projects. They need telephones, mobile phones, internet for keeping abreast with latest developments in the world.
MYTH: FATA tribesmen are a wild people who can never be tamed and they don’t want to abide by laws.
REALITY: Tribesmen are not wild at all. In fact when seen in context, they may be more law abiding than people elsewhere. They wholeheartedly follow the unwritten laws called tribal customs. Even in the absence of formal police and judicial authority, the crime rate (except for deaths in tribal feuds) at any point of time in FATA has been less than other settled areas of the country. Robberies, thefts, rape etc are rare to the point of extinction. Nobody, strong or weak can escape the unwritten tribal laws and everybody has to abide by them. This is not to assert that the tribal customs are good. Point to make is that tribesmen have the capacity and will to abide by & accept laws. There is only one precondition; the laws must not be ‘imposed’ on them forcefully. Any law that is implemented on the tribesmen through a slow system of evolution is respected by them and adhered to. So taming these tribesmen only needs some skill and affection. A Pashto saying explains this perfectly as;
Ù¾Û Ù ÛÙÛ Ø¨Û Ù¾Ø®ØªÙÙ Ø¯ÙØ²Ø® ØªÛ ÛÙ ÙØ§Ú’ Ø´Û Ø®Ù Ù¾Û Ø²ÙØ± Ø¨Û Ø¦Û’ Ø¬ÙØª ØªÛ ÛÙ Ø¨Ù ÙÛ Ø²Û’Û”
(Translation: You can take a Pashtun to ‘Hell’ by way of LOVE but you can’t take him even to ‘Heaven’ by way of FORCE).
This exactly was the mistake made by British in 19th century; repeated by USSR in 1979; yet again by USA and Pakistan since 2001. You can’t win against the tribesmen through use of force. Thats the lesson written all over history.
Warrior Tribesmen but Peaceful Pakistanis
FATA tribesmen have a long history of resistance against oppression and invaders which tells us how the people of the tribal areas have always reacted to aggression and how they have always resisted use of force.
However, the same fiery tribesmen who kept the British on the toes throughout their rule were tamed by a peace+humbleness gesture of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. At the Bannu Jirga with Jinnah in 1948, tribal elders from all FATA tribes voluntarily announced accession to Pakistan. Tribesmen did so inspite of opposition of Jamiat-e-Ulema and the propaganda of "Azad Pakhtunistan" and "Loy Afghanistan" by the erstwhile Congress-allies.
Jinnah trusted the tribesmen’s loyalty; announced withdrawal of armed forces from FATA and designated the tribesmen as defenders of the 1000 km long border with Afghanistan.
The tribesmen and their homeland FATA (from Waziristan to Bajaur) remained peaceful from 1947 till 1979. Although the law used to rule FATA i.e. FCR was a draconian one and although the bureaucracy in charge of FATA was the most corrupt in the whole Pakistan, the tribesmen seldom caused any trouble.
The American-Sponsored ‘Jehad’
Then came the year 1979. Afghanistan was invaded by Soviet forces and millions of Afghans migrated to Pakistan, most settling in the tribal areas. An international campaign led by United States was launched to root out Soviet forces from Afghanistan. Funded by CIA (yes the good-old CIA) and Arab Sheikhs; the Afghan, Arab and other fighters were trained and dispatched to Afghanistan to fight the RED BEAR. Tribesmen from Waziristan to Bajaur were told that this ‘Jehad’ against the bad infidel invaders (Russians) is Farz and that the Arab/Afghan fighters are Mujahideen and the tribesmen’s Guests.
Tribesmen believed what they were told by the good infidels (Americans) and their Pakistani front-men. The tribesmen took part in the war against Soviets and finally dispatched the bad infidels across Amu.
History comes Full-Circle with 9/11
From 1989 to 2001, the world forgot Afghanistan, Pakistan, FATA and the mess the world had jointly created. Then one fine morning (or may be evening) the tribesmen were told that their guests were actually international terrorists responsible for 9/11 and that they needed to be handed over to the good infidels (who ironically were now invaders of Afghanistan).
The tribesmen were confused (rather shocked) as to how the invasion of Afghanistan by bad infidels was bad and that the same act by good infidels is good.
No serious effort was made to convince the tribesmen about the changed ground realities of the world and of the post-9/11 New World Order.
Confused, the tribesmen refused to hand over the ‘guests’ to Americans for dollars. However, they assured the authorities that tribesmen would ensure that the guests don’t cause any trouble & remain peaceful. Pakistani authorities had other compulsions though; a supply of long-awaited dollars was on its way from western capitals, via IMF, Paris Club, London Club, World Bank etc. Nobody intended to kill the egg-laying chicken & be deprived of the eggs (actually dollars) in future. Therefore, military operations were started in the area to keep the flame burning.
FATA on fire
It was South Waziristan’s Wazir-dominated area of Wana / Shakai where the first military operations (post-9/11) were carried out by the military. It was again South Waziristan where the killer birds known as drones commenced their killing spree. In 2004, Commander Nek Muhammad Wazir (who was in peace deal with Pakistan Army) was killed in the first known drone strike. This single act of breach of trust gave such a boost to militancy that the conflict, largely restricted to Wazir areas of South Waziristan, soon spread to the Mehsud areas and then to neighbouring North Waziristan.
Then came 30 October 2006; when a drone strike in Cheenagai (Damadola) area of Bajaur Agency killed 83 kids at a religious school.
Though Pakistani military tried to claim responsibility for the attack, it was revealed soon that the strike was actually by a US drone.
Till this moment the militant attacks had been limited to resistance against army operations in FATA only. Army or police elsewhere were not brazenly attacked on a large scale. However, Cheenagai drone strike led to the biggest revenge attack against Pakistan Army in Dargai on 8 Nov 2011 when a tribal suicide bomber killed 40+ soldiers during their routine drill.
Militants started spreading their activities in FATA. Each military operation and drone strike served as a booster for the militants and by 2007 the whole FATA, from Waziristan to Bajaur, and Malakand Division were raging with militancy.
In 2007, after the Lal Masjid misadventure, the scattered militant groups sat together leading to foundation of the umbrella group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Thus started a chain reaction of killings and counter-killings; some justified, most collateral.
Drones / military operations killed thousands in FATA (not discriminating between militants and common tribesmen)In reaction, suicide bombers killed thousands in Pakistani cities (not discriminating between security forces and civilians).
Both sides engaged in a vicious cycle of violence, with non-combatants being the ones losing the most.
Back to Stone Age
Drones, fighter jets, helicopter gunships, heavy artillery, tanks (and bulldozers too) did what they normally do; DESTROY life.
Entire villages were raised to ground, their inhabitants were made homeless; shops, schools, orchards, mosques were destroyed and FATA was literally sent to the Stone-Age.
Collateral Damage and Revenge
The indiscriminate use of force, both by Pakistani military and the Americans had exactly the effect that could be imagined by any sane mind, given the tribesmen’s centuries old history of resistance to any oppression. Every collateral death gave rise to a dozen militants and the chain reaction started. Foreign agencies also started capitalizing on the popular tribal resentment against Pakistan’s state. Fuel was added to the fire by the notion that it is Americans who fund every bullet and artillery shell fired in FATA by the military (via Coalition Support Fund reimbursements).
Indoctrinated suicide bombers blinded by their revenge instinct started hitting every icon and symbol of Pakistan’s authority, from pro-Pakistan tribal elders to police, FC, Army, Airforce and Navy.
Stereotyped tribesmen; biggest victims of the War
While everyone in Pakistan sees the deaths in suicide bombings through the media’s eye, the original sufferers i.e. the tribesmen remain away from the limelight. Their sufferings are taken for granted and their pains considered a fruit of their own sins. But is that all? Can an entire region of 4.5 million people be stereotyped like that?
Though there are no confirmed statistics about the tribesmen killed, disabled, injured or displaced due to drone strikes and military operations; even mild local estimates put the toll in the thousands. Similarly thousands of houses, shops, orchards, schools etc have been destroyed over the past decade or so. There are areas where kids have not gone to school for years now. There are no hospitals, no electricity, no telephones etc etc.
Such a great number of extra-judicial killings / casualties and such a vast destruction in any other part of the world would have rocked the international media scene, however, poor tribesmen seldom get a sympathetic view in the Pakistani or international media. The dominant narrative in media is the one that portrays us, tribesmen, as blood-thirsty wild man-eaters who don’t want a peaceful living, who do not need schools for their kids, who do not need hospitals for their diseased, who do not need jobs for a living and who kill for the sake of killing (which BTW is not true at all).
There are three major reasons for this wrong narrative on FATA.
- A section of media (albeit a powerful one) is strongly biased in favour of the American narrative about the War Of Terror.
- All news of killings of militants and the supposed effectiveness of drone campaign come from anonymous sources in the American or Pakistani establishment / intelligence. Such news are at best as much neutral as was German propaganda in WW-II.
- Nobody has access to the affected areas and the independent media has never been allowed to see or reflect the real facts about the drone campaign and sufferings of the tribesmen in the true sense.
Neither the UN, nor the Pakistan Govt nor the western-funded NGOs nor the so-called human rights activists (Asma Jehangir fame) nor the pseudo-liberal Twitter Gurus ever tried to sympathize with the tribesmen, to hear their woes, to offer them a helping hand, a healing touch of sorts. Nothing, never. (BTW whenever we, tribesmen, hear the pseudo-liberals cry over excesses committed on Baloch people by the "Deep State", we wonder if we are not humans too? Why nobody ever sees our sufferings? Is human rights a selective phenomenon? A Pashtun tribesmen being killed illegally by drones is okay but a Baloch being killed is human rights abuse?).
Imran Khan: the lone voice
PTI Chairman Imran Khan is probably the only mainstream political leader who doesn’t only condemn this senseless war but also proposes talks for a peaceful solution to the war. We are proud that its our leader Imran Khan who is doing what the govt, the civil society, the custodians of law and justice or the pseudo-liberals should have been doing. And guess what? Let alone doing something themselves, the liberals (a.k.a drone apologists) even have the guts to challenge and bash Imran Khan over his views and his Waziristan Peace March against drones.
BTW is Imran Khan a "Taliban Khan" as the liberal fascists love to call him or is he a "Jewish Lobby agent" as the religious extremists fondly call him?Well he is none. In fact Imran Khan is what an overwhelming majority of the 180 million Pakistanis are i.e. a peace-loving moderate Muslim who hates all shades of the War of Terror, be it militants or drones.
So the 10 year long War of Terror brought Pakistan some bitter fruits depicted by following approximate statistics:
- Nearly 40,000 Pakistanis killed and as many injured (including almost 6000-7000 Security Forces personnel)
- Loss of nearly 70 Billion dollars to the already fragile economy
- Nation split between hardliners; religious extremists and liberal fascists (both bent at destroying futures of 180 million moderate Pakistanis)
Keeping these facts in mind, the next logical question is "What next"? BTW This is one question that none of the warmongers (religious or liberal extremes) seem to be bothered about.
Wars are ultimately decided on talks tables and if talks fail once, more talks must follow. This is the only solution to war.
Pakistan‘s Dilemma and Next Generation Tribesmen
Is status-quo acceptable in this situation? Can Pakistan afford to lose another 40,000 citizens (may be more) and another 100 billion dollars over the next 10 years? If not, and surely not, then we have to act NOW.
This issue needs to be debated and talks need to be commenced as soon as possible. However any debate must be aimed at ending the sufferings of Pakistanis especially the tribesmen (and not solely for American interests).
Caution: Next generation of the tribesmen is growing up with no education, no health, no social status, no peace and perhaps with no love for Pakistan. The only feeling they are growing up with is REVENGE.
Where will Pakistan lead to, with the next generation of suicide bombers? This is an open-ended question for Pakistanis.
p.s: Twitter / ET liberals and armchair FATA affairs experts beating war-drums and demanding assault on North Waziristan should tell us the achievements of so-called successful operations in Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Swat, Orakzai, South Waziristan (and North Waziristan itself)?
Is Pakistan any safer after all these operations? If yes, lets go for North Waziristan too. But if no, and indeed no, then for God sake GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.