An effort to elucidate history

Author: Muhammad Asim Siddique

History is considered a complex topic that demands rigorous research and critical evaluation of facts as it enables us to understand contemporary problems more effectively. Unfortunately, no serious history has ever been written in Pakistan. If it’s written, it glorifies the rulers and those at the helm of power. Moreover, this deliberate distortion of historical facts has confused the students of history and made them believe that history is nothing but a pack of lies. There is a famous dialogue in George Barnard Shaw’s play The Devil’s Disciple. When Major Swindon says, “I can’t believe it! What will history say? General Burgoyne replies, “History, sir, will tell lies as usual.” But one can’t agree with General Burgoyne while reading Brigadier Sajid Muzaffar’s book Waziristan: Datta Khel, Unravelling the History of a Frontier Outpost 1897-2018.

The book titled, Waziristan: Datta Khel, Unravelling the History of a Frontier Outpost is one of the rare pieces of writing that gives valuable insight into the captivating history of the land and people of North Waziristan, particularly of Datta Khel. The book explores the 150 years old history of Datta Khel, a town located along Tochi River in the Western part of North Waziristan Agency and 22 kilometres from Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Brigadier Sajid’s narrative in the book is more inclusive and discusses everything related to Datta Khal; its history, culture, topography, and lifestyle of the common people, with a special focus on its military aspect. The book is also important to read as it is direct from the horse’s mouth. Brigadier Sajid was posted as commander of the Datta Khel Brigade in June of 2017. He also served as a soldier in the same region for quite a long time. That’s why he is considered an acumen person in the field of counter-terrorism. According to the historical evidence given by the author, Datta Khel witnessed its first military intrusion during 1897 in the form of Tochi Field Force. Lately, Pakistan military’s struggles for peace during Operation Zarb-e-Azb opened a new door of hope for the region.

Brigadier Sajid Muzaffar Chaudhary explains the historical evolution and multifaceted history of the area, which is easily understandable for the reader. This novel attribute of the book differentiates it from other existing literature on the region and makes it exclusive for the readers, who are interested in understanding the rough mountainous and porous borders of Pakistan.

The book is divided into six chapters and sheds light on the 150-odd years of Data Khel. With the help of authentic records and original writings by historians, Brigadier Sajid has successfully talked about its brief historical background with the help of authentic records and original writings about Data Khel. While reading the book, one passes through many historical stages. It starts from the pre-Islamic period and takes us to the modern-day Datta Khel. The most important and sensitive topic in the book is the contextualization of the conflict between tribal leaders of Datta Khel and the military, especially when this conflict started and how the military played a key role in ensuring peace in the insurgent region.

The first chapter offers a deep analysis of the historical significance of Datta Khel in terms of its cultural aspects, ethnography, geostrategic position, climate and tribal configuration. The next two chapters primarily cover 100 years of historical evolution for the region under the title of, From Antiquity till World War and Transition into the Twentieth Century, Post-WWI to 1947. It covers the first-ever interface of British colonialists with Waziristan. The promulgation of the FCR and demarcation of Durand Line are also discussed in it. The major events are also part of these 100 years which include deployment of Tochi Scouts in 1922, the 1930 Census and the rise of the famously known personality, Faqir of Ipi. Nehru’s visit of North Waziristan is also covered at the end of chapter three.

As Brigadier Sajid writes, “On November 18th, 1919, Tochi Valley was reoccupied without resistance by two brigades… On arrival at Datta Khel, the column was met by local Wazirs who bought in supplies and apologized for past misdeeds.” Interestingly, the author has also discussed in detail the lesser-known fact of Nehru’s visit to North Waziristan at the end of the third chapter.

Chapters four and five deal with the time period after Pakistan’s independence up until the military operation in 2016. The chapters “Talibanization & Military Operations” and “An Introduction from Independence to Talibanization” provide a comprehensive understanding of the region from over a hundred years of chaos to perpetual peace. Apart from discussing the military’s role in the peace process, the author has also given credit to the politicians for their efforts in maintaining peace in North Waziristan. For example, Brigadier Sajid talks about Z.A Bhutto’s “Forward Thrust Policy” which was introduced to counter the Afghan Government’s meddling with tribes in the fourth chapter.

Moreover, in the fifth chapter, there is a discussion about the latest operations by the Pakistan Army, like how Operations Zarb-e-Azb and Operation High Tide-53 Brigade maintained the writ of the state and successfully cleansed the land of the threat posed by terrorism. In the sixth and last chapter entitled “Rebuilding-A New Face”, the author discusses the measures taken by the security forces to counter terrorism and anti-state elements. He talks about the military’s plan of creating a population database and the issuance of identity cards, the return of TDPs, de-weaponisation, early loss assessments and compensation, the revival of social activities, education and economic activities with the help of local administration.

In the last chapter, Pakistan Army’s struggles to uplift socioeconomic conditions of the area, especially Datta Khel through non-kinetic efforts are highlighted. As stated in the book, Pakistan’s Army policy on counterinsurgency operations was clear and revolved around Clear, Hold, Build and Transfer concept.

To sum up, the book is a must-read for all those who are interested in knowing the history of Datta Khel. Moreover, this book should be taught in our universities and military academies as it is a story of bravery and honours the sincere efforts of our soldiers who laid their lives in the line of duty.

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