How we lost Darra Adamkhel – By Nasser Yousaf

DARRA Adamkhel, the tribal area in the frontier region under the administrative control of the federal government, is a 30-minute drive from the Peshawar cantonment on the Indus highway. Sandwiched between two cantonments and hidden beneath high and gloomy hills, Darra is the gateway to one-third of the Frontier and onward to the rest of the country, besides of course to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

However, what better illustrates the insignificant size of this tribal valley is the fact that a 20-minute drive is all it takes to travel from one end of the valley to another. Besides the proximity to the Peshawar cantonment, Darra is adjacent to the Kohat cantonment. Thus apart from serving as a haven for snipers and small-time criminals Darra Adamkhel had never posed any serious threat to the security apparatus of the country. Unfortunately, due to decades of administrative and bureaucratic ineptitude this small tribal enclave has now turned into a battleground.

It defies belief that Darra was lost only five years after the opening of the 1.8 km state-of-the-art tunnel bypassing the treacherous Kotal Pass. The long-awaited tunnel was a welcome shortcut, ending the arduous journeys of the not-too-distant past. However, the easy passage further plunged Darra into obscurantism.

The rise of obscurantism is no fault of the Darra natives. They are hard-working craftsmen, a fact borne out by the age-old weapons factories in the area. While the factories have been criticised, they only imitate and manufacture to perfection the Martini-Enfields, Klashnikovs, etc. produced in other parts of the world. If anything these people should be applauded for fending for themselves in the dreary landscape of Darra.

The people of Darra have had no one to help or guide them except a visionless political agent, who rises from the administrative ranks of the Pakistani state. A reasonably capable officer would have harnessed the gun-making abilities of the tribesmen to the advantage of the people of Darra as well as the state of Pakistan. This is what Faiz Mohammad discovered when he learned he would be able to legally export the arms manufactured in his factory. But the young Mohammad’s excitement proved short-lived as outside forces invaded his valley. The young man’s guest house still bears the marks of the early attacks.

Perhaps what let the frenzied brigades take charge of the situation in Darra was the killing of an infamous car thief, Ameer Said alias Charg (rooster). One afternoon a burst of fire from the Kalashnikov of a militant stopped the crowing of the rooster. This could have pleased the victims of the car thief and for a while it did as people praised the Taliban’s brand of justice while pouring scorn on the law-enforcement officers. However, the euphoria soon gave way to scepticism when the locals found themselves surrounded by men constantly trying to sniff out foes.

The messiahs filling the vacuum left by the law enforcers then took to reforming the system in their own fashion. The fear spread by the cleansing brigade was such that Darra soon began to miss its car thief who could once have been found languidly resting on his charpai. Female education, barbers and video shops bore the brunt of the reformation drive.

Before the arrival of the militants and despite the ubiquity of the arms business one would only hear isolated bursts of gunfire echoing in the hills. But soon the valley began to shake from the impact of improvised explosive devices. Then something happened which startled those familiar with the tribal way of life in the Frontier. Entire families abandoned the place and those left behind, the so-called formidable tribesmen, restricted themselves to their high-walled compounds.

Darra Adamkhel had long been presented to the outside world as the Wild West of Pakistan. Western tourists, notably journalists, would make it a point to be taken to Darra. Local guides would reprimand tourists who might have missed including it on their itinerary. However, Darra’s visitors would be disappointed soon enough, finding nothing to write home about. The most common sight in Darra was of people going about the routine of daily life.

Darra should not have been viewed thus. It had its brazen little world of crime but it had neither witnessed nor heard of wholesale butchery taking place in its confines. Its rough terrain belies the fact of a hospitable area and people. Khushal Khan Khattak, who was a regular visitor to the area, noted this subtle truth 400 years ago in his poetry. But the effervescent great Pashtun poet suffered a great deal at the hands of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, a known obscurantist. Given his libertine ways Khushal would not have been spared by Aurangzeb’s present-day heirs either to whom Darra has been handed over.

Darra’s resurrection is intrinsically linked with the defeat of the Taliban, tribalism and the dim political officer. That alone can soothe the restless soul of Khattak and bring the subjects of his poetry back to their homes. (Dawn)