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PAKISTAN: Negotiating with the wrong people

PAKISTAN: Negotiating with the wrong people

The collusion between the Pakistan military and the Taliban is so strong that the military does not want to hold an operation in North Waziristan

If anything flagrant is to be noticed in North Waziristan, it is the lack of seriousness and the obvious collusion of the state with the terrorists organisations based in that beautiful but lawless land of the Wazir and Dawar tribes of Khyber Pakhtoon Kha province.

What I witnessed during my recent trip to the North Waziristan agency is nothing new for me as I had seen the same approach of the military in my visits to other tribal agencies. And I remember what a woman told me in the Bajaur agency a year ago when I was on a reporting trip on why it was possible for intelligent people living in the urban centres to fail to grasp the situation when ordinary women of far flung areas understood the double games of our intelligence agencies. Now I understand the game as I have witnessed it on several occasions, how the military turns a blind eye to the activities of the terrorists in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Swat. But the self-censorship of the Pakistani media is shameful as it has failed to rise to the occasion and report on other than what it has been directed to reveal by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on FATA and Baluchistan. The corporate media in Pakistan is no more than a public relations venture, not only to please the security establishment by not reporting the truth but rather to play a front role in order to further its propaganda campaigns.

As I mentioned earlier, it is impossible to miss the collusion when you get a chance to visit the restive tribal areas of Pakistan. You would see how the military men manning the check points stop the passenger vehicles, get the poor local passengers off the vans, make them walk for a kilometre while at the same time letting the vehicles of terrorists pass by without even bothering to stop them. These vehicles belong to the Afghan army; Afghan police and NATO forces, snatched by the Taliban who now openly drive them in Miranshah and the Mir Ali areas of Waziristan agency. I had seen such spectacles a few years ago in Mahmond area of Bajaur when Maulvi Faqir Mohammad's commanders would openly travel in their vans with a garish display of weapons, unnoticed by the security forces while common people were searched and abused in different ways.

I visited North Waziristan and interacted with the locals who helped me understand the demographics of the area, the dynamics of the terror campaign and the strengths and weaknesses of the different terrorists groups operating within the agency. To make it easy for the readers to understand, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has members from Aurakzai, Mahmond, Bajaur, Kurram, Khyber Agencies and Swat but the majority are from Mehsud tribe. It is hard to find a Wazir tribesman in the TTP. The Mehsud tribe is based in South Waziristan and for the last five years, almost the entire tribe has been displaced and most of them have migrated to Karachi. The majority of Pashtuns in Karachi are either Mehsud or Swatis. The Mehsud belt in South Waziristan is less strategic and does not share a border with Afghanistan. However, the Wazir tribe areas do and this makes them more important.

North Waziristan is very small as compared to South Waziristan. This agency is predominantly Wazir but the Dawar tribe live there as well. Dawar are mostly concentrated in Miranshah and Mir Ali tehsils. All the terrorist outfits are based in the Dawar area like the TTP, Uzbeks, Turkemen, Punjabi Taliban, Uighurs and Chechens. Arabs reside both in Dawar and Wazir areas because they are revered as true Mujahideen who left the luxuries of life behind and came to fight in the path of God. Locals also quote a saying of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that loving Arabs is part of the faith for Muslims.

When I was in North Waziristan, the Dawar tribe had already received warning letters from the political administration and army that they must expel the TTP and Uzbek militants from its areas to which the Dawar tribesmen expressed their powerlessness and many opted to leave the area themselves and move to the settled district of Bannu.

After talking with the locals in Mir Ali, Miranshah and other suburban towns, I came to know that the real power in North Waziristan is Hafiz Gul Bahadur of the Wazir tribe. Since the Wazir tribe is strategically located on the Pakistan-Afghan border in both agencies of Waziristan, the Haqqani group also operates from the Gul Bahadur domain. The Pakistan military has entered into a truce with Mr. Bahadur since 2009 that gives him and the Haqqanis the liberty to wage their Jihad in Afghanistan against the American and Afghan forces. Locals told me that when the fighting season is in full swing, sometimes on a daily basis the dead bodies of the fighters are brought to Waziristan from Afghanistan but not reported in the media at all.

I believe there are three reasons why the military does not carry out operations in North Waziristan. Firstly, it does not have the will to fight; secondly, off and on aerial bombardment helps both the army and the TTP to remain in the ring and stay relevant, and thirdly, the Wazir tribe is strategically placed on the Afghan border and on one occasion, a prominent Malik of the Wazir tribe, Malik Noor Ali had threatened the authorities that in case of any military operation, the Wazir tribe would prefer to cross into Afghanistan instead of becoming Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Pakistani camps. Since the military tackles militancy as a law and order problem and a mass exodus of Wazir tribe into Afghanistan would make it a conflict that means that international organizations and forces like the United Nations would get involved.

The conclusion is that if the government really wants to talk with the militants, it is not the TTP but the Pakistan army and Hafiz Gul Bahadur it should be holding negotiations with. If today, Hafiz Gul Bahadur decides that the TTP and Uzbeks will be expelled from North Waziristan within a week, we will see a repetition of what we saw in Wanna; the headquarters of South Waziristan when it was forced out on a day's notice as it was in 2012, in retaliation of a suicide attack against him by the TTP. The military can provide support to Hafiz Gul Bahadur, as it did to Maulvi Nazir, to finish it off for good instead of driving them out to another tribal agency and then waiting for another five years to launch another operation.

Instead of wasting time on making toothless committees and surrendering to the demands of the TTP, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should show some leadership and direct the military generals to stop entertaining militant groups and carry out a military operation, not just in North Waziristan but in the Punjab too, where the terrorists get their ideological inspiration as well as support on the front of public relations and propaganda. The terrorists that pull the trigger or push the buttons of a suicide jacket and the godfathers sitting in places like Mureedkay, Punjab province, should be treated equally. The military cannot win this war when it still believes in the compartmentalization of terror groups and treat militancy as a business venture that helps keep it relevant (in the absence of any conflict with India), and gets more funds to expand its empire in the name of operations from the Pakistani taxpayers and international donors.

The top priority of the military chief should be to ensure the security of Pakistani people from both external and internal threats rather than safeguarding the honour of its forces. The military is not an 18-year-old girl whose honour gets hurt so easily. Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar, Hamid Gul, Fazl-ur-Rehman Khalil, Maulana Abdul Aziz, Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi, Malik Ishaq and a dozen others like them who are patronising terrorism in the country are no friends of Pakistan but rather enemies and they should be treated as such.

ENDS

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