ANALYSIS: Misleading information — III —Farhat Taj - Saturday, April 30, 2011

Source :\04\30\story_30-4-2011_pg3_4

Since 9/11 and the US attacks on terrorist positions in Afghanistan, the authority of the political agent has been replaced by the Pakistan Army officers in a de facto manner. The officers are neither capable of nor legally authorised to deal with tribal or sectarian disputes

This is the last part of my comments on Mr Ejaz Haider’s article ‘Responding to Farhat Taj — II’ published in an English daily on April 11, 2011.

Mr Haider recommends Patrick Porter’s Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes so that I understand how the Taliban overpowered FATA. The problem is that a great deal of international research and journalistic literature authored on FATA in the context of the war on terror is misleading, at times marred with factual mistakes and tarnished with serious ethical and methodological mistakes. Readers of Daily Times are aware that I have been challenging some of the literature on this forum. My published research papers as well as my forthcoming book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban, question the work of some of the most famous FATA ‘experts’ around the world. The literature is based on information and assumptions that, at the very best, have only insignificant presence in FATA’s ground reality. By producing such blighted knowledge about FATA, the famous FATA experts in the US and Europe have defiled the West’s own tradition of scholarship.

I have not read Porter’s book and so I am in no position to comment on it. But I will never judge the situation in FATA on the criteria set in this or any other book; I will do things the other way round. Mr Haider’s own understanding that, due to internal socio-political changes, the traditional tribal structure led by the tribal leader has been battered leading to the rise of indigenous religious power embodied by the Taliban, is baseless. The tribal leaders have not been outdated through internal changes in society. They have been out-manoeuvred and even killed by the security establishment that engineered, through terrorism and blackmail, the Taliban takeover of tribal society in pursuit of strategic goals.

Kurram is a complicated story, quite different from the rest of FATA. There are also long standing tribal disputes over land, forests and water between Sunni and Shia tribes. Some of the disputes have been pending since colonial times. Some of the disputes are dormant and some have been causing occasional tribal clashes. There are also controversial sectarian disputes. But never before have any tribal clashes in Kurram’s history led to so much violence and mass scale human displacement such as those in the deadly cycle of sectarian clashes since 2007.

Traditionally, there have been two authorities that prevented all previous tribal clashes from causing large-scale violence: the jirga led by tribal leaders and the political agent. Since 9/11 and the US attacks on terrorist positions in Afghanistan, the authority of the political agent has been replaced by the Pakistan Army officers in a de facto manner. The officers are neither capable of nor legally authorised to deal with tribal or sectarian disputes. Most of the non-local tribal leaders, who used to play a constructive role in managing disputes in Kurram, have been target killed, like Khandan Mehsud of South Waziristan. The remaining tribal leaders have limited their activities due to security concerns or they toe the establishment’s line and are hence irrelevant for the well being of the tribal people. Within Kurram, moderate Shia and Sunni tribal leaders are hostage to armed gangs and occasionally get target killed — the latest example is that of Iqbal Hussain, an important moderate Sunni tribal leader from Parachinar as well as historian of Kurram, who was target killed in January 2011.

With the authority of the tribal leaders removed and the state reluctant to impose its writ, the Shia and Sunni militant groups have been given a free hand to commit as many atrocities as they please. No one in Kurram believes that the state does not have the capacity to rein in the militant groups.

Almost all Sunnis from Parachinar have been displaced by the Shia militant groups. Why did the army stationed in the area not provide security to the Sunni residents of the city by confronting the Shia attackers with full might? The fact that some Sunnis were linked with the Taliban is no justification for the army to remain silent spectators over the carnage and displacement of the Sunnis, most of whom were innocent civilians. There are more people linked with the Taliban in Lahore. Would that be a reason for the army to silently allow a violent eviction of an entire section of the population from the city?

Instead of harshly dealing with the Sunnis linked with the Taliban, the local state agents have been publicly giving them VIP treatment. For example, during the sectarian clashes in 2007, a military helicopter airlifted the injured Eid Nazar Mangal, leader of the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba in Kurram to a hospital. No other injured Shia or Sunni was given that facility on the occasion. All the government could do for the assaulted innocent Sunnis was to ‘facilitate’ their forced eviction by providing them transport that dumped them just outside the Shia-dominated area to lick their wounds.

Why did Colonel Tauseef even hold the jirga in which he invited a controversial anti-Shia personality from Kohat? He does not have any legal authority to do so. His move achieved nothing for peace in Kurram but contributed towards a bad tribal perception about his institution. The Sunni tribal leaders now say that Colonel Tauseef’s plan to repatriate the Sunnis was the army’s plan to trap the Parachinar Shias in violence. Without having appropriate security arrangements in place to protect the repatriated Sunnis from aggression by Shia militant gangs, the returned IDPs would be slaughtered by the Shia armed groups. This would provide a pretext to the military to conduct a fake military operation in the name of elimination of the Shia groups, but would actually result in the carnage of innocent Shia families.

The text of the Murree Agreement clearly identifies three parties to the crisis in Kurram — the local Shia, Sunni populations and the government of Pakistan — and, depending on the case, any of the three will be responsible for any violation of the agreement. It is only the government of Pakistan that has failed to fulfill its responsibility under the agreement. Both Shias and Sunnis from Kurram hold the government responsible for non-implementation of the agreement. Rather than implementing the Murree Agreement, the government is holding media circuses, like the jirga in March 2011 as referred to by Mr Ejaz. The jirga was boycotted by an important stakeholder of the Kuram crisis, the Sunni IDPs from Parachinar. There has been more violence in the area against innocent Shias and Sunnis since that jirga.

Due to space constraints, I will not be able to discuss more about Kurram, but I wish to inform that, together with another author, I am writing a report about Kurram, which will elaborate most of the issues touched upon by Mr Ejaz. Therefore, I would request the readers to wait for the report.

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban

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