The genocide of tribal elders in erstwhile FATA

Abdullah Momand

After 9/11, when the Taliban regime on Afghanistan soil was overthrown and war broke out, Pakistan’s tribal districts, including Afghanistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were engulfed in war and the flames of terrorism were felt everywhere.

Following the formation of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in 2008, when military operations began in the former FATA, the tribal elders stood by the army against terrorism which resulted in the martyrdom of more than 2,000 tribal elders, in   suicide attacks, IED attacks and targeted killings.

During 2017, the government and the military leadership began arming people in the tribal districts, and peace committees were formed throughout the tribal districts and FRs regions headed by local elders, responsible not only for maintaining law and order in their area but as well to ensuring eradicating terrorism from their areas in collaboration with the security forces. The arming of the civilian tribal people drew criticism not only from within the country but also internationally, calling the move a violation of national and international laws. It should be noted that some tribal elders formed peace committees of their own free will while some people were harassed and threatened after their refusal, after which they agreed to form peace committees.

After the peace committees were formed, first the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and then the splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar opened a new front against them, and according to the FATA Research Center (FRC)  more than 1,400 tribal elders  were killed by 2016 and now the  figure is  more than 2,000. Analyzing the security arena   in the tribal districts, it would not be an exaggeration to say that more sacrifices were rendered by the elders of the tribal districts than the security forces who put up strong resistance against the militants in the form of peace committees and not only become  the target of Taliban but their Children and relatives also had to lost their lives of the Taliban in different cities of the country.

For the past two months, tribal elders have once again been targeted by militants in the tribal districts, while four tribal elders were targeted in a vehicle in North Waziristan last week. Following the attack last month  more tribal elders were targeted in the Bajaur tribal district. . According to FATA Research Center documents, in 2020, 44 tribal elders were killed in North Waziristan alone.

Munawar Khan Mehsud, who is attached as executive director of FATA Research Center Islamabad, told that after the death of Maulvi Fazlullah when the command of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) came back to Mehsud Commander Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud  to unite the different factions of the Taliban under the umbrella of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and they succeeded in this endeavor because for a few months now different factions have been merging into the Tehreek-e-Taliban which is reorganizing and strengthening the movement.

He added that on the one hand, the TTP is becoming stronger and more organized, and on the other hand, the Afghanistan Peace Accord is one of the main reasons because if this agreement resulted success, then Afghanistan will not be a future paradise of TTP because the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban will award guarantee that their  soil  will not be used against any country  and in that case it will be difficult for the Pakistani Taliban to stay in Afghanistan and these are the main reasons they are struggling to return.

He added that while tribal elders were acting as a bridge between the people and the government, they could still create problems for militant organizations like in the past. Mehsud added that targeting tribal elders in erstwhile FATA portrays that insurgents are spreading chaos and fear in them as well trying to  prevent them from playing any role in maintaining law and order. He believes the attacks will continue in  future as well and the insurgents will eliminate any one who should create resistance in return of their movement into merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“Following the large scale massive military offensive  Zarb-e-Azb in South Waziristan the safe paradise of insurgents and other military offensives in tribal districts peace was restored but now seeming that the law and order situation is becoming hostile in these areas specifically North and South Waziristan.  

 It should be noted here that when terrorism in the tribal districts had not yet ended, the policy of the government and the military took a new turn and the tribal elders were disarmed and thrown to the wolves and security was also withdrawn, making it easier for militant groups to target them, and they were  killed in different citizes of the country including Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi.

After being disarmed by the government, they protested to the government that militant organizations still exist and their lives are in danger, but the government did not pay heed to their concerns and the militants killed them around the country.  Tribal elders not only fought militant organizations but also guarded security forces’ campuses and checkpoints at night in some areas of the tribal districts.

Syed Fakhr Kakakhel, a Peshawar-based investigative journalist and security expert, told that targeted killings are always taken lightly, which is contrary to reality because there are always political, military or other motives behind targeted killings. In order to achieve this, their enemies are targeted alone so that fear can be spread on one side and their intentions can be achieved on the other side. He added that if you look at history, Israel targeted Egyptian Colonel Hafiz Mustafa because he suspected that Hafiz Mustafa could use Palestinian refugees by using them against Israel, and from here targeting enemies individually concept strengthen in the world. 

Rifatullah Orakzai, a senior journalist in Peshawar, believes that after Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the government and military leadership announced that peace has been restored in the area and the victory was celebrated, but soon the actual reality surfaced that insurgents had capability of attacks and the security situation in the area is not normal what predicted earlier. Aurakzai added that insurgents are targeting different installations across the area seeming that they are returning to the area.

He further said that they are constantly going to those areas and targeting tribal elders in the entire tribal belt and especially in North and South Waziristan adding that insurgents are targeting those tribal elders who are influential and have influence in the area. “Despite from repeated attacks in the merged districts the civil and military leadership have adopted a dead silence on the issue.

Rifatullah Orakzai believes that after the integration  of FATA with KP,  security responsibility  were handed over to the police and they can’t retaliate  because the police lacked a proper  force, lack of  modern weapons and other equipments, which led to the situation getting out of control again. ۔ He added that those who have the resources in the tribal districts are forced to relocate and they feel that the law and order situation here is deteriorating again.

Abdullah Momand is Islamabad based Journalist. —

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