by Said Nazir Afridi
Pakistan army, once the most respected institution in the government, abandoned Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan and is now losing the sympathy and love of tribesmen. It is not because of the military operation against the militants but for the indiscriminate use of force in the war on terror. The recent killing of 15 innocent tribesmen at the hands of the security forces in Alamgudar area of Bara is one of the fresh cases in point. According to the relatives of deceased, dozens of Pakistani soldiers barged into four houses near technical collage building in Alamgudar, hardly two hundred yards away from security check posts in the area, aimed guns at the men asking them to keep their hands up. They begged the soldiers for the safety of their lives but they were all shot dead one by one in front of their crying and wailing female members for the crimes yet be known to them. Seeing the brutal killing of the male members of the family caused mayhem in the affected households.
This horrific incident followed an attack by the militants on security check posts a day earlier, in nearby Shalober area, in which seven soldiers were killed and four others were kidnapped. It is recurring theme in Bara and elsewhere in tribal areas that when security forces suffer at the hands of militants, a number of civilians are killed in well populated areas in the name of militants or suspected militants as reported by the so called free and independent media. Similarly dozens of people have been killed by heavy artillery and mortar shelling by security forces following single shots fired by miscreants on a security check post in Bara.
Around 0.5 million people have been displaced while hundreds of homes have been destroyed in the 40 months long military operation against Lashkar-e-Islam in small town of Bara, one of the three sub divisions of Khyber Agency. A day after the Bara killing, three people including women and children were killed by gunship helicopters in Hassokhel in Mir Ali sub division of North Waziristan. Similarly, one month ago, Pakistani jet fighters bombarded two houses in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency, where pro government armed group Ansarul Islam is operating, leaving 14 people mostly women and children killed. Pakistan army has neither apologized for any of these attacks nor initiated inquiry to probe the incidents.
The more shocking fact is that the ISPR often terms the dead as terrorists like we saw in case of Tirah bombardment. Contrary to the Version of ISPR, the pro government militia of Ansarul Islam condemned the incident and lodged their protest with the army. In case of the Alamgudar incident, the army blamed the militants stating that the miscreants attired in the army uniform had brutally killed innocent people. Some aspects need to be mentioned in this respect. Firstly, the tribesmen know their enemies very well, and militants of LI in particular who belonged to their tribe. Secondly, how the militants wandered in the area in army uniform and killed 15 people in broad daylight in two square kilometer Alamgudar area protected by security forces check posts? If we accept that Alamgudar’s killing was perpetuated by the militants what about the shelling of gunship helicopters and warplanes in Mir Ali and Tirah Valley? Were these air strikes carried out by militants? If our security forces are involved in innocent casualties and human rights violation then do we have the right to condemn and criticize the brutality and killing of innocent Kashmiris at the hands of Indian army and civilian casualties in drone attacks? If we say that drone attacks fuel militancy, so does indiscriminate use of force by Pakistan army.
Until military operation in tribal areas the love for Pakistan armed forces was unmatchable and common tribesmen thought the Pak army was the bravest and true defender of the country. They always preferred military rule over civilian governments and joining Pakistan armed forces was the first priority for many tribal youth including myself. The defense day and all national and Solidarity day with Kashmir were celebrated with great zeal and fervor in tribal areas before the ongoing crises in the troubled tribal region vacated by a huge number of its citizens living in IDPs camps and other areas.
I recall my fellow tribesmen living in inaccessible Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency-bordering with eastern Ningrahar province of Afghanistan-had resisted to allow entry to Pakistani officials and armed forces since the inception of Pakistan in 1947 to keep the unique status of the area ruled by its people. But in wake of 9/11 International communities exerted enormous pressure on Pakistani military ruler-General pervez Musharraf-to send and deploy troops at western border to check militants’ movement across the border. When the then corps commander Peshawar Lieutenant General Ali Muhammad Jan Orakzai belonging to the neighboring Orakzai Agency approached the elders of Afridi tribe for deployment of security forces in the hilly Tirah valley, the elders first rejected the request.But after realizing the danger of the situation and national interest, welcomed the deployment of armed forces on their soil for the first time in history. Before the partition the tribesmen had defeated britishers when they tried to occupy the strategically important Tirah Valley.
The peaceful and patriotic tribesmen did not protest the killing of hundreds of their near and dear ones in the war against militancy and buried them silently due to fear of military or militants over the last eight years. The unique way of protest adopted by the Hazara community in Quetta emboldened people of Fata to break their silence against injustices and protest the killing of innocent tribesmen. This is why we have seen hundreds of people protesting the killing of innocent people by security forces in Alamgudar and Mir Ali this week. The protest over the killing of Bara residents was the most successful when thousands of protestors placed coffin outside Governor House for 12 hours forcing the Governor KP to endorse the demands put by angry tribesmen including the formation of judicial commission for probing the case. This protest drew widespread attention across the country through national print and social media and forced the removal of operation commander in Bara colonel Jawad Zia.
For me, the more shocking thing in the protest was the slogans of death to Pak army chanted by the protestors while they were carrying their coffins past the army garrison in Peshawar. It was unexpected for me as I have never heard such slogans against Pak army from tribesmen throughout my life. I grew up listening common slogans of livelong Pak army and live Pakistan in my hometown Bara. What changed their mind to condemn Pak army? In act they are few officers and soldiers that earned a bad name for the once highly respected institution in tribal areas. And they deserved to be punished and removed from the force.
For successful operation against militancy Pak army needs to win the hearts and minds of tribesmen by punishing those individuals inside armed forces being responsible for brutal killing of innocent people and express sympathy with bereaved families forth with and stop calling the dead as terrorists. The counter terrorism policy should be revisit to make it more protective for citizens and aggressive against the militants otherwise the hate and spirit of revenge against the Pakistani state and army would spread in tribal areas that would pose a serious threat to the country security.
Said Nazir Afridi is a working Journalist from FATA. He has written on issues pertaining Religion, Politics and Militancy in FATA.