End of curfew in Bajaur
LAST month, Brigadier Haider Ali, the sector commander (north) of the Pakistan Army, announced the lifting of curfew in Bajaur Agency some four years after it had been imposed. He justified the move, saying that curfew had been lifted after restoring peace and establishing the government’s authority in the region.
He further elaborated that new check posts “have been established and local people have formed quami peace lashkars (committees). Security personnel and volunteers have been deployed … to keep vigil on the movement of miscreants”.
To assess this move, it is important to give some context. Bajaur Agency is in the north of Fata. It borders the settled Lower Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the northeast, Malakand Agency to the east, Mohmand Agency to the south, and Afghanistan’s Kunar province to the west and northwest.
The agency witnessed one of the earliest drone strikes in which 69 people, mostly children, were killed. Government officials and locals claimed that the building that was targeted housed an Al Qaeda training camp while others said it was a madressah and the dead were innocent students.
The TTP was led by Maulvi Faqir Mohammad in Bajaur Agency who also remained the deputy ameer of the organisation under Baitullah Mehsud.
Out of the seven tehsils — Khar, Charmang, Nawagai, Mamund, Salarzai, Utmankhel and Darang — four were infested by the Taliban and other militant groups when the military operation began in 2008. These were Nawagai, Salarzai, Mamund and Khar.
Maulvi Faqir Mohammad was not only running a parallel justice system there but also sending reinforcements to the Taliban in Swat who had virtually established a parallel state there in 2008 and 2009. The same period in Bajaur Agency is known for bomb blasts, the blowing up of schools and targeted killings.
The locals of Salarzai had reacted to the rule of the Taliban in Bajaur by establishing a lashkar. Under the leadership of a former MNA Shahbuddin Khan and Malik Abdussalam, they had posed a tough challenge to the Taliban’s tactics of control.
It is to be noted that the Salarzai lashkar was attacked time and again and incurred severe loss of life and property. It also remained independent, not government-backed, and employed its tribal defence mechanism against the jihadists.
Large-scale displacement took place when the Pakistan Army started using heavy weapons in 2008. Much of the displacement took place from Nawagai, Khar and Mamund. Most of the displaced were put up in Jalozai camp near Peshawar where they frequently complained of shortage of food and other items. A few thousand still languish there.
According to the locals, loss of life and property dominated both the era of Taliban control and that of the military operation in Bajaur. The leadership of the TTP and other groups managed to escape after the military operation to areas adjoining Mohmand Agency where they established their base camp.
From here they remained active against the security forces. When a military operation began in Mohmand Agency, the TTP leadership managed to escape unscathed to Kunar province of Afghanistan.
Although the lifting of the curfew sends out positive signals, one cannot afford to be complacent. A few issues need to be focused on regarding the military operation and the ‘establishment’ of peace in the tribal region.
First, there is the issue of ‘transfer’ to the civilian administration. The previous experiment of forming military-backed lashkars (peace committees) to check the movement of militants has yielded few results if any.
In several areas like Swat, Khyber Agency, South Waziristan, Darra Adamkhel and the outskirts of Peshawar, forming government-backed lashkars resulted in weakening state institutions on the one hand and criminalising peace-keeping on the other.
Because of weak civilian administration in the area, it is proposed that the best way of peace-building and peace-keeping in the aftermath of a military operation is to hold local body elections. To promote this exercise, plans for local government need to be urgently prepared both in settled districts and the tribal region. This process of local governance offers immense opportunities of participation to the local inhabitants who develop stakes in governance, peace-building and peace-keeping.Second, residential infrastructure, schools and businesses have been largely destroyed due to Taliban attacks and the military operation in Bajaur, especially in Nawagai, Mamund and Khar. Urgent attention needs to be given to the rehabilitation process. Again the establishment of local government would be the best way to go about this. Community-based organisations, political parties and civilian administration must be included in the process of rehabilitation as per principle.
The military would do well to concentrate on threats from the west and northwest of Bajaur where the TTP and other militant organisations are busy developing strategies to keep Bajaur and Upper Dir destabilised.
This should be part of a broader strategy to check militant organisations, a strategy that should be in sync with that of the Afghan government and Nato.
It must be remembered that the larger strategy for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism has to be linked with regional states, otherwise the vicious circle of resurrection of militancy will continue in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, India, China and Uzbekistan. In the light of historical experience, the survival of democratic polity, sustainability of economy, and positive growth of socio-cultural institutions in Pakistan and Afghanistan will depend on finding common interests, inclusive and participatory governance and a genuine process of reconciliation.