Tribal elders pressurised to sign peace deals with Taliban

by Kahar Zalmay

pakistan_usa_0209Yet another policy change by the army indicates that the Taliban are now an asset in the new develop of the region

As the time of the withdrawal of the USA and the allied forces is coming closer the Pakistan army has suddenly changed its stance against the Taliban.

The army has developed its new policy from “Crush the terrorists” to “Our enemy’s enemy is our friend” and included the Taliban as its partner for the coming changes in the region. Since 2001 Pakistan has received huge amounts of foreign aid against Al-Qaida and the Taliban and internally a policy was adopted against terrorists which were generally bracketed as ‘Taliban’. The government and the army have divided the Taliban into the Pakistani and Afghanistan Taliban and showed a strong inclination towards declaring the Pakistani Taliban as enemies of the country. They are mainly operating from the tribal areas into the major cities of Pakistan.

In their latest policy statement the army has declared the terrorists as the major threat to the security of Pakistan. This is a policy shift as the main ‘threat’ to the country was previously India.

It is claimed by the Pakistani army that almost 40,000 armed forces personnel have been killed by terrorists, mainly by the Taliban. However, once again, a policy shift has been observed where the military is now forcing the tribal leaders of the FATA to make friends with the Taliban and sign peace deals with them. FATA is a semi-autonomous tribal region in north-western Pakistan, bordering Pakistan’s provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan to the east and south, and Afghanistan’s provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar, Paktia, Khost and Paktika to the west and north. It comprises of seven tribal agencies (districts) and six frontier regions, and is directly governed by Pakistan’s federal government through a special set of laws called the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR).

Malaks are the tribal elders of different tribes and the Khan is the leader of the Malaks. The Malaks in Bajaur Agency are under tremendous pressure from the military to sign peace deals with the Taliban who fled to Kunar province in Afghanistan. Bajaur is one of the seven tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan. To the South of Bajaur is the Mohmand Agency while to the North it is connected with District Dir.

During the war with the Taliban the Pakistan army provided arms, ammunition and training to the tribal leaders and elders to fight against Terrorists. For that initiative the Aman Committees (Peace Committees) were formed and they fought valiantly, sacrificing their lives and property to save the country from attacks from the northern areas.

According to the details available from the scribe of this article in the interviews conducted with the Malaks, they were invited for a Jarga three months ago at the Political Agent’s office in the agency headquarter, Khaar. In that meeting the Malaks were asked to sign a peace deal with Taliban from Bajaur Agency and also to send a delegation to Kunar in order to bring them back.

The Jargas in the tribal areas are the official meetings conducted under the political agent of the FATA and grand Jargas are conducted by the provincial governor of Khyber Pakhtoonkha.

When the Malaks resisted this initiative, another Jarga was called on February 8, 2013 which was addressed by Brigadier Ghulam Haider who is the commander of the military in the agency. In this Jarga, Brigadier Haider pressed the elders to agree to a peace deal with the Taliban.

The ‘demand’ from the military was not merely limited to a peace deal with the Taliban. Each Malak was also asked to host 30 Talibani until the political agent built houses for them.

“We were shocked and could not believe what we were told by the Brigadier. We thought the military came to uproot  the terrorists from our area but now it is asking us to sign a deal with the murderers of our sons, brothers and children”, a shaken and incensed Malak shared with this scribe in Bajaur.

The resilience to this proposal-cum-dictate came from the elders of Salarzai tribe which was the first tribe to launch a tribal Lakhkar (a collective tribal force) under the leadership of its Khan, the Khan of Pashat, Shahabuddin Khan to fight Taliban in 2007-08. This was before the military entered Bajaur. Instead of appreciating the struggle of the Salarzai tribe and its elders, it has now become a casualty of the State policy.

“We are accused of taking money from the USA, Afghanistan, Europe and India for launching our Lakhkar. And when we refused to succumb to the pressure of the military to have peace with Taliban, a 1000-strong Taliban outfit attacked our area from the Baatwar side, a mountainous village on the Pak-Afghan border. Our valiant tribesmen deterred their attack and pushed them back to the Afghan side”, a Malak told me on the condition of anonymity. We were sitting in the shadow of those tall snowy mountains from where Taliban entered some four months back.

“We do not know what the military and the government want from us. We sacrificed so much in this war. There is not a single family that did not lose a member in this fight. But we are befuddled that why after so much sufferings, the military wants us to welcome those murderers. If this was going to be the conclusion of our fight, we would not have wanted the sacrifices of our children, fathers and brothers”, an elderly man belonging to the Salarzai tribe voiced, the sorrow and subjection was clearly printed on his wrinkled face.

“The military should tell us in clear terms what it wants from us? If it wants us to leave this place, so we shall. If it wants us to attack Afghanistan, we will do it. My kids are out of school for five years; they can’t go to school even in Peshawar or roam there unreservedly. They cannot go out of this compound and I myself cannot sit here”, (he was referring to his Hujra where the guests were sitting), another Malak told the scribe in Khaar, the headquarters of Bajaur Agency.

The scribe then asked, “But will you be able to handle Taliban if the military left Bajaur. He replied, “We want the military out as we are sick of its double game and we have arrived at this conclusion that military and Taliban are the same. And as far as the Taliban are concerned, we will slice them into small pieces and throw them to this dog”. He signalled to the dog lying near the kut (the traditional bed) enjoying a sound sleep and not the least concerned with the Malak’s anguish and my curiosity.

“The military is forcing Malaks to agree to a peace deal with the Taliban and for that it exploits different tactics”, divulged a local journalist on the condition of anonymity. “If you are a Malak and you resist negotiations with the Taliban, a stranger would use some IEDs in your area and stay there until the military sniping dogs spot him there. This gives the military an opportunity to confront the Malak and accuse him of harbouring the Taliban himself. He is left with no option but to accept peace deal”. He laughed, probably noticing the expression of surprise on the face of this scribe. “This is FATA my dear, away from human civilization”, he added.

The recent appointment of the governor of KPK, Shaukatullah Khan could be linked to this new strategy of the Pakistan army to bring back their assets from Afghanistan, rest them and get them ready for a new battle in Afghanistan after the US forces withdraw. Shaukatullah Khan was an elected member of the National Assembly from Bajaur Agency.

When the scribe contacted the Military Commander in Bajaur, Brigadier Ghulam Haider, to get his view on the allegations levelled against the military by the Malaks he said, “I might have been misquoted by some Malaks as the purpose of the military in Bajaur is to clear the area of all sorts of militants. We are strictly concentrating on our job and as for negotiations with the Taliban are concerned it’s a political decision that needs to be taken by the political forces in the country”.

The entire tribal area is now in a state of confusion, not knowing whether to side with the Taliban or the army. Regardless of which way to go, there is no doubt in their minds that they will be at the mercy of both the Taliban and the army. This is not the first time in recent history that there has been a policy change regarding the Taliban and it appears that this is more a matter of convenience rather than being in the interest of the security of the country.

If, in fact, the peace deals are signed with the Taliban this will be a licence for them to kill the innocent citizens in the name of their version of Islam.