It is okay if Taliban kill our soldiers? A comment on the slaughter of 15 FC personnel in Waziristan

Pashtuns remain a convenient canon-fodder in Pakistan army's Jihad Enterprise.

Related post: A month since Taliban executed 15 Pakistani soldiers, yet no outrage. Now watch the executions; perhaps…

Editor’s note: In the following article published in Daily Times, Farhat Taj highlights a case of selective morality and hypocrisy recently demonstrated by Pakistan army and its right-wing as well as “liberal” affiliates in Pakistani media by remaining silent on the massacre of at least 15 soldiers kidnapped by the Taliban. According to details, Taliban militants attacked a Frontier Constabulary (FC) fort at Mulazai, Tank on December 22, and took 15 FC men hostage after killing two soldiers. Reportedly, the Taliban had shifted the hostages to North Waziristan where their dead bodies were found three days ago. However, compared to Pakistan army and pro-army media, urban chatterers and politicians’ outrage on the killing of 24 soldiers in a NATO attack in November, the news of the cold blooded kidnapping and subsequent slaying of 15 soldiers was much suppressed in both Urdu and English press and the reaction by army and pro-army political class and liberal activists was almost absent. As Taj notes, it appears that what matters is who killed the soldiers. If the killer is the US, they will condemn with all they have. If the killer is the Taliban, they will forgive and forget. Many such as Imran Khan, Munawar Hasan, General Hamid Gul and Judge Iftikhar Chaudhry will even blame the US for the acts of terror committed and publicly owned by the Taliban.

We invite our readers to the following recent comment left by an FC serviceman on an ET article:

I am performing duty in the same frontier constabulary of which these 15 personnel embraced shahadat [martyrdom]. I appreciate this effort on the part of the author … we are very selective while condemning some acts and castigating their perpetrators. No one in media, nor our so called empathetic leaders expressed anything to sympathise with the bereaved families of these martyrs; let alone rebuking those who, without any compunction, claim responsibility for this barbaric act. And the way those dead bodies were mutilated pronounce the death of any scruples whatever existing on the part of these TTP people. What Martin Luther King remarked during his struggle for civil rights for Blacks in 1960s that ‘in the end it is not the words of enemies but the silence of friends that he would remember’, stands valid in the wake of this gory tale of killing of sons of the soil. This silence on the part of media gurus, political pundits, self styled leaders, and ever vibrant ‘civil society’ speaks volumes of our ‘agenda-pursuing’ lives. we speak only when we are confident that it pays off in popularity, and political mileage..otherwise we profess that ‘Silence is Golden.’

Ironically, the Taliban sent this gift while Pakistan army (Deep State) is using all types of political, diplomatic and strategic pressure to provide legitimacy to its strategic assets, i.e, Taliban, e.g., by opening their diplomatic offices in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. This then validates LUBP’s principled stance that any measures to provide legitimacy to the Taliban and their affiliates will be counter-productive as well as criminal unless the Taliban explicitly agree to abide by international laws and the UN conventions on human rights. (End note)

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Discrimination against FC soldiers
by Farhat Taj

In November, 24 Pakistani army soldiers were killed by the Afghanistan-based US and NATO forces in a border attack at Salala checkpost in FATA. The Pakistani media, banned militant organisations, religious political parties and urban middle class as well as liberal Pakistanis continue to condemn the attack on a daily basis. More than a month since the incident the public demonstrations against it continue to take place in the country. Pakistan has sought an apology from the US for the attack. The incident has worsened Pak-US relations, which were already at one of the lowest points in history.

Compare this grandiose response with the response given to the killing of almost the same number of Frontier Corps (FC) paramilitary soldiers killed by the militants in Tank and Bannu a month after the US killing of the Pakistani army soldiers. The difference could not be starker. The government, the military, the media, militant organisations, right-wing political parties, middle class and liberal Pakistanis stand united in silence over this incident as if it never happened or is not worth paying attention to. Neither the government has asked for an apology from the Taliban nor has it expressed the resolve to bring the killers of the FC soldiers to justice. If the past record of the government is anything to go by, one must forget about justice for the affected FC families. In May 2011, over 70 FC recruits were most brutally killed in twin suicide attacks in Charsadda district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. By 2010, over 700 FC soldiers have been killed in the war on terror. It seems justice for the FC soldiers killed or injured by the Taliban or for their families have never been even an issue. Are the FC soldiers less worthy than the soldiers of the Pakistan Army? Are the sufferings of the families of the FC soldiers any less than the sufferings of the families of the army soldiers? What reasons explain the totally different Pakistani response to the two equally brutal killings?

One explanation can be that the killing of the soldiers, whether FC or the Pakistan Army, really does not matter for those Pakistanis who continue to protest the border incident at Salala checkpost. What matters is who killed the soldiers. If the killer is the US, they will condemn with all they have. If the killer is the Taliban, they will forgive and forget. Many will even blame the US for the acts of terror committed and publicly owned by the Taliban. This is the logical outcome of Pakistan’s role as a hostile ally in the war on terror whereby it fights with the US against the militant groups but at the same time nurtures the militants as proxies against the US. It is obvious that this dubious role is neither capable of pleasing the US nor all of the proxies as some among them might feel cheated and violently react, especially those who are no more wanted by the military establishment that has tried to eliminate them in the US drone attacks or in mysterious targeted killings by Pakistani spies. The bottom line is that publicly anti-Americanism has to be kept going to support the Pakistani Generals in dealing with the US no matter how many Pakistani soldiers or innocent Pakistanis have been killed by the disgruntled proxy elements or by ‘design’ by their state handlers to show to the world that Pakistan is really paying the price for participation in the war on terror. This is because the US and Pakistan are not on the same page in terms of strategic objectives in Afghanistan.

The other reason that explains the silence over the brutal killings of the FC soldiers is their Pashtun identity. Let me say at the outset that many soldiers of the Pakistan Army are Pashtuns who have been giving their lives in the line of their professional duty along with their colleagues from other ethnicities. There has been an ethnic profiling of the Pashtun soldiers and officers of the Pakistan Army in a malicious manner whereby their sympathies have been associated with the Taliban while absolving the non-Pashtun soldiers and officers of any pro-Taliban views, especially the Punjabis in the army. They were portrayed as the only soldiers and officers in the army who have refused to perform their professional responsibilities or have hindered the army high command from taking action against the Taliban due to their Taliban sympathies. Well known Pakistani journalists have been promoting this misleading as well as degrading view about the Pashtuns in the Pakistan Army. As far as I know, the ISPR never came forward to reject this propaganda against the Pashtun soldiers and officers. This leaves one wondering whether the army was endorsing the propaganda against the professional loyalties of its own soldiers and officers from a specific ethnic group. I will come back to this issue on some other occasion. Now I will only focus on the FC soldiers, whose rank and file and non-officer cadre, unlike the Pakistan Army, are exclusively drawn from the Pashtun tribes in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, while its officer cadre is exclusively drawn from the Pakistan Army.

The FC is split into two independent forces: FC Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FC Balochistan. Both FCs are individually led by senior level military officers from the Pakistan Army. The force is under a strict military discipline and its immediate command remains in the hands of the commissioned army officers appointed on deputation from the Pakistan Army. In theory, the FC is meant to be assisting the regular armed forces of Pakistan on need basis. In practice, however, the FC remains part and parcel of the powerful military-intelligence complex of Pakistan that has remained beyond the control of any civilian government of the country. On the one hand the FC is used to brutally suppress any opposition to the military establishment of Pakistan, no matter how genuine the opposition may be, such as the use of FC in suppression of the ongoing nationalist resistance in Balochistan. On the other hand, the FC soldiers are mercilessly exposed to the worst kinds of brutalities from the battle-hardened militants in pursuit of the strategic objectives in Afghanistan, such as the war on terror, while at the same time they are subjected to a malicious propaganda linking their sympathies with the Taliban rather than the Pakistani state.

he Frontier Corps (FC) is the subject of different controversies in the ongoing security crises in Pakistan. In Balochistan, the FC has long been accused of executing the ‘kill and dump’ policy of Baloch nationalists and political activists pursued by the Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies. Within Balochistan, which remains the exclusive domain of the Pakistani military, the FC soldiers are hated as they are seen as an outside force terrorising the Baloch struggling for their rights.

In the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), another area of Pakistan that remains the absolute domain of Pakistan’s army-intelligence complex, the FC soldiers have been the subject of a totally different controversy: their alleged ‘loyalty’ to the Taliban due to ethnic bonds, against the call of their professional as well as citizenship responsibilities to the Pakistani state in the war on terror. The hostile role of the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies in the war on terror whereby they ostensibly fight with the US and NATO, but covertly nurture and strengthen the Taliban to defeat the allied forces in Afghanistan, is well known to the world. In this regard the FC soldiers have been abused in three manners. One, they have been made to facilitate cross-border infiltrations of al Qaeda-led Taliban from FATA into Afghanistan for attacks on the US, NATO and Afghan forces. Two, they have been left defenceless to be tortured to death in the most brutal manner by the ‘strategic assets’, the Taliban, to show to the world that Pakistan is really paying the price of the war on terror. Three, when Pakistan was confronted with evidence by the allied forces that FC soldiers have been giving ‘direct fire cover’ to the Taliban to enter Afghanistan, the military resorted, through its voices in the media, to the lame excuse of the ‘sympathy factor’ of the FC soldiers with the Taliban as a means to sustain its plausible deniability of its ties with the Taliban.

Many Pakistani journalists have been spreading misleading as well malicious propaganda that the FC soldiers have been siding with the Taliban on supposedly shared ethnic grounds. Many foreign authors, in violation of professional standards in their work, peddled the same line without verifying the facts on the ground. Moreover, these writers, while attributing the FC soldiers’ loyalties to the Taliban on ethnic basis, ignored the multitude of the Punjabi Taliban in FATA. Above all, the writers have never been able to produce concrete evidence of the soldiers’ ethnic loyalties to the Taliban.

The FC soldiers’ ethnic loyalty factor is baseless when seen from the way the FC is structured. The FC is under a strict military discipline and its immediate command remains in the hands of commissioned army officers appointed on deputation from the Pakistan Army. Various FC units are named after the administrative units in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, such as Khyber Rifles (Khyber Agency), Mohmand Scouts (Mohmand Agency), Dir Scouts (district Dir), Chitral Scouts (district Chitral), etc. Loyalty of an individual in the Pakhtun tribal society — which is a patchwork of tribes, sub-tribes, clans and sub-clans — goes as far as his/her tribe, sub-tribe and even clan or sub-clan. But the FC soldiers hardly operate in the area of their own tribe, sub-tribe, clan or sub-clan. Dir Scouts, for example, do not necessarily draw its soldiers from the tribes, sub-tribes, clans or sub-clans based in district Dir. The force is headquartered in Dir but draws its rank and file from various Pakhtun tribes across Pakistan. This contradicts the claim of ethnic tribal loyalty of the FC soldiers with the Taliban, even if we ignore the strict military command and control over the FC soldiers for a moment.

The FC remains an effective tool of execution of oppressive or otherwise state policies since the establishment of this force in British times. The FC soldiers never hesitate to impose with or without violent means the state policies on Pakhtun or non-Pakhtun alike. Also, the FC’s role has actually been praised by the UN advisor to District Dir Development Project against poppy cultivation in the area. No FC soldier can dare to assist any non-state actor without clear directions by their commanding officers. Thus, any help provided by the FC soldiers to the Taliban could not have been without direct orders from the Pakistan Army officers commanding the soldiers. There might have been isolated cases of insubordination, which might also happen in the Pakistan Army or for that matter in any uniformed force around the world.

All over FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are graves of FC soldiers who died for the sake of the state fighting against the Taliban. While the Pakistan Army has a relatively better package for families of the officers and soldiers killed in the line of duty, the families of the FC soldiers are in many cases left to lick their wounds. Sometime back I wrote a piece in this newspaper about the plight of the internally displaced family of an FC recruit in Orakzai brutally killed by the Taliban. In response to the piece, the FC authorities provided some financial help to the family. Some days ago a private Pakistani TV channel aired the story of an injured FC soldier, who being unable to work due to the injuries he suffered in clashes with the Taliban, has made his teenage daughter a rickshaw driver to earn for the family’s survival. The TV report informed that despite media coverage, no one has come forward from all over Pakistan, including of course the FC authorities, to help this poor family that is under immense mental and financial pressure caused in the line of duty to the state, not loyalty to the Taliban. Some philanthropists in Pakistan should come forward to help the family, including getting the minor girl back to school that she had to leave to take up the unusual job of a rickshaw driver after her father was injured.

As I write these lines, an extremely sad news is coming that the Taliban have tortured to death 15 FC soldiers they had kidnapped sometime back. There is no uproar in the Pakistani media or political circles about these deaths. But there has never been any moral or political unease over FC deaths in Pakistan. The FC soldiers will continue to be abused as long as the Generals control Pakistan. They will be tortured to death. They will be subjected to malicious propaganda to sustain the state’s plausible deniability. They will be used to terrorise the Baloch. This is a norm in Pakistan. The authors writing on FC soldiers are expected to use their analytical skills to see beyond the facade of death and torture surrounding the FC soldiers and be critical of arguments that depict the FC soldiers as anything more than a means to execute the state’s policies. The FC soldiers are also victims of state terrorism.

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