An Army sent with insufficient numbers on, wrong information, a mission to root out terrorists from a lawless part of the world and as part of the War on Terror.
Iraq? Nope! Welcome to Waziristan in Pakistanâ€™s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
The tribal areas (I use the word loosely here) are governed by the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a hundred plus years old law introduced during the British Raj. The laws indirectly administer the region through tribal leaders, un-elected tribal councils, tribal levies and a political agent appointed by the federal government.
It is a region which was efficiently, if unjustly, governed by an antiquated legal system and in the 1980â€™s and 1990â€™s used as a base for the war against the U.S.S.R and to exercise influence in Afghanistan.
Fast-forward to the post 9/11 era and the Pakistan Army was sent (circa 2003, under US pressure) to “root out the terrorists and liberate the oppressed people”. Sure enough fighting erupts, the Al-Qaeda lot disperse waging guerrilla warfare and the old system collapses.
Following the most basic rule of physics; nature abhors a vacuum and the locals look for a group that can enforce law in a now truly lawless region. Sure enough the only group organised enough are the religious groups. Enter the Neo-Taliban (my word copyrighted, basically you’re an average Daily Mail reader on steroids).
The Neo-Taliban’s immediate dispensation of the law wins popularity with the locals. Their popularity spreads and for the parable to go full circle you have the old barbaric regime (Saddam et al) being replaced by a new generation of far more dangerous Islamists (modern day Iraq and Somalia).
The situation was getting little national coverage partly because of the media blackout imposed by the government. However, recently a journalist from the tribal areas Hayatullah was tragically killed. His death hit the headlines due to the accusation that his death was planned by Pakistani intelligence because of his criticism of human rights abuses and the extent of American involvement in the region.
Hayatullah, like a few others, did not agree and came up with photographs and facts that suggested the house may have been targeted with missiles from an unmanned US drone. His reports were critical of the political administration and the military operating in the region to hunt down al-Qaeda men and their local supporters. Hayatullah remained missing for six months and 10 days and was finally eliminated. In the interim, no militant or criminal group contacted his family either for ransom nor one claimed responsibility of his kidnapping.
“This is not Taliban-style because they dispose off cases of suspected informers and pro-government agents in a few days,” says Ihsanullah Khan Dawar, younger brother of Hayatullah. Hayatullah’s family holds agencies responsible for his captivity. Fellow journalists draw a comparison between the assassination of US journalist Daniel Pearl and the murder of Hayatullah, although the circumstances may have varied.
Ihsanullah says officials had assured his family that Hayatullah was being questioned and detained in the interest of the country. “‘The day his name is cleared, he will be released’,” Ihsanullah quoted one military officer as telling him. It was a major in the secret services who called up Ihsanullah to inform him about Hayat’s death and where to find his body.
The success of the Neo-Taliban in Waziristan was bound to spread outside the region and it seems to have already begun:
Until recently, most religious violence was limited to North and South Waziristan, the poorest and most isolated of the tribal areas, where Islamic fervor has always been strong. Although a recent truce has calmed South Waziristan, the fundamentalist fervor now seems to be erupting in other parts of the region.
In Swat, a peaceful agricultural valley, Islamic preachers persuaded people to hand over their television sets in May and burned stacks of them in public. In the Khyber Agency, a prosperous commercial area that straddles a major highway into Afghanistan, armed followers of an Islamic preacher burst into shops and lodging houses in early June, demanding at gunpoint that people pledge to follow Islamic law. In the ensuing clashes with another religious militia, several dozen people were killed.
Anyone else getting a sense of Deja vu?
On the weekend a suicide attack on the Pakistani army killed six soldiers.
This is a guest piece. Zak blogs here.
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Filed in: Pakistan,South Asia