ANALYSIS: More misleading information — I —Farhat Taj - Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mr Haider’s most misleading information about the Ali Khels is that the Pakistani state supported their resistance to the Taliban. The fact is that the state abandoned the Ali Khels by design so as to punish them for their anti-Talibanism 

Mr Ejaz Haider responded to my article ‘Misleading information’ (Daily Times, April 2, 2011) via his two-part column ‘Responding to Farhat Taj’ in another daily (April 10, 2011). I had said in my article that, “Mr Ejaz Haider, as a political analyst, is expected to be honest and not to mislead people.” I regret to say that Mr Haider has produced even more misleading information in his response. The range of his misleading information is so wide that I cannot accommodate it all in one column. Therefore, today, I will comment on some of it, leaving the rest for my columns in the coming weeks.

Mr Haider says that the Shia section of the Ali Khel tribe stayed away from the tribe’s armed resistance to the Taliban because the Shia Ali Khels had left the area before clashes with the Taliban had begun and were internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kohat.

It is true that the Shia Ali Khels were IDPs at the time of the armed clashes with the Taliban. But they were not IDPs on the other side of the globe. They were IDPs in next-door Kohat and Hangu. In a matter of a few hours, one can reach from Kohat and Hangu to Orakzai. Shia women, children and the elderly stayed on in Kohat and Hangu as IDPs but able-bodied Shia Ali Khel men did participate in armed clashes with the Taliban. A direct interaction with Shia and Sunni Ali Khel families will reveal to any investigator that Shia Ali Khels were killed as well as injured in the suicide attack on the grand Ali Khel jirga in 2008. Mr Haider says that “not one Shia” died in the attack. Let me mention a prominent Shia Ali Khel who was killed: Mir Askar Shaheed. Mir Askar was a well-known Shia Ali Khel tribal leader and an active member of the grand Ali Khel jirga leading the anti-Taliban lashkar. Due to a lack of space I am not giving more names of the Shia casualties in the suicide attack but some of the Shia casualties may also be confirmed from the Orakzai political administration.

Over generations, the Shia and Sunni Ali Khels have intermarried. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find Ali Khels coming from mixed Shia-Sunni families. I have come across Ali Khels who were even ‘unclear’ about their sectarian affiliation. Such unclear Shia and Sunni Ai Khels also participated in the clashes with the Taliban.

Moreover, the Shias could not have remained unaffected by the aftermath of the suicide attack on the Ali Khel jirga even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that they never took part in tribal clashes with the Taliban. As rightly pointed out by Mr Haider, the suicide attacks killed 100 and injured over 300 Ali Khels. Due to their intermarriages with Sunni Ali Khels, the Shias would still have their sisters and daughters widowed and nieces and nephews orphaned in a tragedy of this scale. The fact is that Shia and Sunni Ali Khels jointly resisted the Taliban and both sides suffered deaths and injuries.

The anti-Taliban resistance was a united Ali Khel tribal move beyond any sectarian differences. The Ali Khels proved with their blood that they have the ability to set aside any sectarian differences and stand up as a united tribe against the extremist Sunni Taliban. All Muslim societies across the world that may be affected by any Shia-Sunni tension could learn a lesson in sectarian harmony from the Ali Khels of FATA. It is regrettable that the Pakistani media as well as the docile Pakhtun nationalists from the ANP and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party have failed to present the Ali Khel tribe to the world as an excellent example of sectarian harmony in a Muslim society.

Furthermore, Mr Haider says that Malik Momin Khan, leader of the Ali Khel anti-Taliban lashkar died in the suicide attack on the jirga. This is factually wrong. Momin Khan survived that deadly attack that killed some of his close relatives. Some weeks after the jirga attack, Momin Khan was target killed by the Taliban along with several of his relatives. Even the grand tragedy at the jirga had not broken his will against the Taliban. A man of strong determination, Momin Khan had already declared to reorganise the Ali Khel lashkar after the jirga attack to carry on tribal resistance. He had to be eliminated to definitively crush the Ali Khel resistance to the Taliban.

Mr Haider’s most misleading information about the Ali Khels is that the Pakistani state supported their resistance to the Taliban. The fact is that the state abandoned the Ali Khels by design so as to punish them for their anti-Talibanism. The state had the full capacity to inflict a crippling blow to the Taliban and the Ali Khels had provided an excellent opportunity to the Pakistan Army to do just that. Mr Haider’s argument that the Pakistan Army could not come to help the Ali Khels because it was overstretched due to military operations elsewhere, is thoroughly hollow. The Ali Khel tribe had encircled the Taliban, killed several of them and destroyed their centres. How could some soldiers of the professionally trained Pakistan Army not achieve what ordinary farmers and drivers from the tribe were about to achieve — elimination of the Taliban — if their jirga had not been bombed and the political administration had not conveyed to them, in the aftermath of the jirga bombing, that they had been “too harsh” on the Taliban and now must face the music?

The argument that the military operation was unpopular is also baseless. How could a military operation against the Taliban be unpopular in an area where the entire tribe is ready to take up weapons against the Taliban? It seems the military operations were unpopular in the GHQ, Rawalpindi and in the pro-GHQ media of Pakistan as well as among the natural allies of the GHQ — the religious-political parties of Pakistan. A targeted military operation against the Taliban has never been unpopular on the mountains and plains of Tirah where the Ali Khels live, and indeed all over FATA from day one of the war on terror.

The other reason, seemingly, put forward by Mr Haider against a Pakistan Army intervention in support of the Ali Khel resistance to the Taliban is that the then Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Ali Jan Orakzai, also a former general of the Pakistan Army, was against military operations in FATA. This pretext is good enough to mislead people on the eastern side of the river Indus and in the wider world. In FATA, no one takes it seriously.

Was Ali Jan Orakzai so powerful that he singlehandedly overruled all the serving generals of the Pakistan Army, if indeed they were in favour of the elimination of the Taliban through targeted operations? Why was Ali Jan even appointed as governor if his views were so opposed to the will of the military-led government of General Musharraf? Did the Musharraf government search all over FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and find no person with pro-military operation views to be appointed as governor? General Ali Jan Orakzai’s appointment as corps commander, Peshawar and later as governor, despite being a pro-Taliban individual, can only be logically seen and reasonably described as an individual best suited for executing state policy in FATA — not one undermining it.

Whatever General Orakzai’s views on military operations, he could never be more pro-Taliban than a Punjabi fellow general, Safdar Hussain, who even signed a ‘peace deal’ with the al Qaeda-led Taliban in South Waziristan. Hardly anyone in FATA believes that Safdar Hussain, just like General Orakzai, was doing so without the full backing of the military high command.

(To be continued)

Note: Mr Haider reported that Malik Waris Khan has died. No, he is alive and well. I spoke to him on the phone after I read about his death in Mr Haider’s article.

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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