End of cur­few in Ba­jaur

The Pak Banker - - Front Page - Khadim Hus­sain

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.

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