Pashtun tribesmen have directed their anger at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa authorities. This stems from what they see as the latter’s inaction over the recent killing of a university student by a pro-government militant, in Dera Ismail Khan. The angry tribesmen now stand threatened with the full force of the law. Admittedly, they stormed the latter’s offices, setting on fire two compounds as well as several vehicles. This naturally raises important questions about what is worth more: the lives of young Pashtun men or government property?
That many tribesmen rushed to the area from across the South Waziristan border in the immediate aftermath of Idrees Wazir being gunned down should not go unnoticed by the local government or, indeed, the Centre. For it — like the long march on Islamabad to decry the extra-judicial killing of yet another young Pashtun man in a fake police encounter — sends a long overdue message. And it is one that says the lives of those from this community are not expendable.
Yet sadly, this is how the state apparatus has treated the Pashtuns. Ever since South and North Waziristan found themselves on the very frontline of the GWOT. Indeed, the first ever US drone strike back in 2004 hit South Waziristan; taking out one Nek Muhammad who had been described as a pro-Afghan Taliban tribesman. South Waziristan was also home to the late Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud. Thus the Pashtuns of FATA have been under both militant and military fire. The latter includes allegations of controversial landmines having been planted in South Waziristan by the security forces. Indeed, the clearing of these is one of the demands of the #LongPashtunMarch sit-in.
If only it were that easy, though. Meaning that it is difficult to discern whether the militants or the state were responsible for these landmines. To local residents, however, it matters not who planted them — the point is that it is up to the Army to secure their removal. Especially as the latter has waged nine operations in South Waziristan since 2002. And then there is Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad that covers the entire country. But more than anything, locals resent the fact that they returned to the area only after the military had declared it safe. Even worse, they say, when a soldier is injured in a landmine blast locals are punished. One particular investigation has disclosed that during the height of confrontation with the Taliban back in 2010, mines may have been planted across certain areas as a so-called emergency defensive measure.
It is time that the state apparatus treated the tribal populace as part of the citizenry; according them their full rights, not to mention dignity. If it doesn’t, it risks losing whatever moral high-ground it currently holds over India and its forces’ gross human rights abuses in -held Kashmir. *
Published in Daily Times, February 9th 2018.