Farhat Taj’s rebuttal to Ejaz Haider’s misleading information on Taliban

More misleading information — I —Farhat Taj

Mr Haider’s most misleading information about the Ali Khels is that the Pakistani state supported their resistance to the Taliban. The fact is that the state abandoned the Ali Khels by design so as to punish them for their anti-Talibanism

Mr Ejaz Haider responded to my article ‘Misleading information’ (Daily Times, April 2, 2011) via his two-part column ‘Responding to Farhat Taj’ in another daily (April 10, 2011). I had said in my article that, “Mr Ejaz Haider, as a political analyst, is expected to be honest and not to mislead people.” I regret to say that Mr Haider has produced even more misleading information in his response. The range of his misleading information is so wide that I cannot accommodate it all in one column. Therefore, today, I will comment on some of it, leaving the rest for my columns in the coming weeks.

Mr Haider says that the Shia section of the Ali Khel tribe stayed away from the tribe’s armed resistance to the Taliban because the Shia Ali Khels had left the area before clashes with the Taliban had begun and were internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kohat.

It is true that the Shia Ali Khels were IDPs at the time of the armed clashes with the Taliban. But they were not IDPs on the other side of the globe. They were IDPs in next-door Kohat and Hangu. In a matter of a few hours, one can reach from Kohat and Hangu to Orakzai. Shia women, children and the elderly stayed on in Kohat and Hangu as IDPs but able-bodied Shia Ali Khel men did participate in armed clashes with the Taliban. A direct interaction with Shia and Sunni Ali Khel families will reveal to any investigator that Shia Ali Khels were killed as well as injured in the suicide attack on the grand Ali Khel jirga in 2008. Mr Haider says that “not one Shia” died in the attack. Let me mention a prominent Shia Ali Khel who was killed: Mir Askar Shaheed. Mir Askar was a well-known Shia Ali Khel tribal leader and an active member of the grand Ali Khel jirga leading the anti-Taliban lashkar. Due to a lack of space I am not giving more names of the Shia casualties in the suicide attack but some of the Shia casualties may also be confirmed from the Orakzai political administration.

Over generations, the Shia and Sunni Ali Khels have intermarried. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find Ali Khels coming from mixed Shia-Sunni families. I have come across Ali Khels who were even ‘unclear’ about their sectarian affiliation. Such unclear Shia and Sunni Ai Khels also participated in the clashes with the Taliban.

Moreover, the Shias could not have remained unaffected by the aftermath of the suicide attack on the Ali Khel jirga even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that they never took part in tribal clashes with the Taliban. As rightly pointed out by Mr Haider, the suicide attacks killed 100 and injured over 300 Ali Khels. Due to their intermarriages with Sunni Ali Khels, the Shias would still have their sisters and daughters widowed and nieces and nephews orphaned in a tragedy of this scale. The fact is that Shia and Sunni Ali Khels jointly resisted the Taliban and both sides suffered deaths and injuries.

The anti-Taliban resistance was a united Ali Khel tribal move beyond any sectarian differences. The Ali Khels proved with their blood that they have the ability to set aside any sectarian differences and stand up as a united tribe against the extremist Sunni Taliban. All Muslim societies across the world that may be affected by any Shia-Sunni tension could learn a lesson in sectarian harmony from the Ali Khels of FATA. It is regrettable that the Pakistani media as well as the docile Pakhtun nationalists from the ANP and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party have failed to present the Ali Khel tribe to the world as an excellent example of sectarian harmony in a Muslim society.

Furthermore, Mr Haider says that Malik Momin Khan, leader of the Ali Khel anti-Taliban lashkar died in the suicide attack on the jirga. This is factually wrong. Momin Khan survived that deadly attack that killed some of his close relatives. Some weeks after the jirga attack, Momin Khan was target killed by the Taliban along with several of his relatives. Even the grand tragedy at the jirga had not broken his will against the Taliban. A man of strong determination, Momin Khan had already declared to reorganise the Ali Khel lashkar after the jirga attack to carry on tribal resistance. He had to be eliminated to definitively crush the Ali Khel resistance to the Taliban.

Mr Haider’s most misleading information about the Ali Khels is that the Pakistani state supported their resistance to the Taliban. The fact is that the state abandoned the Ali Khels by design so as to punish them for their anti-Talibanism. The state had the full capacity to inflict a crippling blow to the Taliban and the Ali Khels had provided an excellent opportunity to the Pakistan Army to do just that. Mr Haider’s argument that the Pakistan Army could not come to help the Ali Khels because it was overstretched due to military operations elsewhere, is thoroughly hollow. The Ali Khel tribe had encircled the Taliban, killed several of them and destroyed their centres. How could some soldiers of the professionally trained Pakistan Army not achieve what ordinary farmers and drivers from the tribe were about to achieve — elimination of the Taliban — if their jirga had not been bombed and the political administration had not conveyed to them, in the aftermath of the jirga bombing, that they had been “too harsh” on the Taliban and now must face the music?

The argument that the military operation was unpopular is also baseless. How could a military operation against the Taliban be unpopular in an area where the entire tribe is ready to take up weapons against the Taliban? It seems the military operations were unpopular in the GHQ, Rawalpindi and in the pro-GHQ media of Pakistan as well as among the natural allies of the GHQ — the religious-political parties of Pakistan. A targeted military operation against the Taliban has never been unpopular on the mountains and plains of Tirah where the Ali Khels live, and indeed all over FATA from day one of the war on terror.

The other reason, seemingly, put forward by Mr Haider against a Pakistan Army intervention in support of the Ali Khel resistance to the Taliban is that the then Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Ali Jan Orakzai, also a former general of the Pakistan Army, was against military operations in FATA. This pretext is good enough to mislead people on the eastern side of the river Indus and in the wider world. In FATA, no one takes it seriously.

Was Ali Jan Orakzai so powerful that he singlehandedly overruled all the serving generals of the Pakistan Army, if indeed they were in favour of the elimination of the Taliban through targeted operations? Why was Ali Jan even appointed as governor if his views were so opposed to the will of the military-led government of General Musharraf? Did the Musharraf government search all over FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and find no person with pro-military operation views to be appointed as governor? General Ali Jan Orakzai’s appointment as corps commander, Peshawar and later as governor, despite being a pro-Taliban individual, can only be logically seen and reasonably described as an individual best suited for executing state policy in FATA — not one undermining it.

Whatever General Orakzai’s views on military operations, he could never be more pro-Taliban than a Punjabi fellow general, Safdar Hussain, who even signed a ‘peace deal’ with the al Qaeda-led Taliban in South Waziristan. Hardly anyone in FATA believes that Safdar Hussain, just like General Orakzai, was doing so without the full backing of the military high command.

(To be continued)

Note: Mr Haider reported that Malik Waris Khan has died. No, he is alive and well. I spoke to him on the phone after I read about his death in Mr Haider’s article.

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban.

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More misleading information — II —Farhat Taj – Saturday, April 23, 2011

The state patronage, previously extended to the tribes and tribal leaders, has been extended to the Taliban to overpower the tribes through state-sponsored violence and blackmailing. Through sheer force, FATA has been converted into a black hole where reality is constructed in a manner that suits the security establishment of Pakistan

In his article, ‘Responding to Farhat Taj — I’ in another daily (April 10, 2011), Mr Ejaz Haider also provided misleading information about the Story Khel and Feroz Khel tribes of Orakzai and today I will comment on this.

Story Khel is a mix-Shia-Sunni tribe. The Sunni Story Khel tribesmen who clashed with the Taliban belong to Chamanjana, a village in Lower Orakzai. Chamanjana is located on the borderline separating the Shia Story Khel area from the Sunni Story Khel villages. The Shia Story Khel did not directly participate in the clashes with the Taliban, but provided a good deal of indirect help to the Sunni Story Khels. Some of the Shias provided some weapons to the Sunni Story Khels to assist their armed resistance to the Taliban. During the fighting all women and children of Chamanjana fled to Aand Khel, the neighboring Shia Story Khel village. A few days later, the Chamanjana lashkar-men, who could not stand up to the Taliban any more, also retreated into Aand Khel. For several weeks the Sunni Story Khel internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Chamanjana were kept as guests by the Shia Story Khels in their houses and villages. Without the Shia help, the Sunni villagers would have suffered more at hands of the Taliban than what they had already encountered.

Following the lashkar’s defeat in Chamanjana, the Pakistan army entered the village to take control of it. Malik Waris Khan, the man who led the Story Khel resistance to the Taliban, has been awarded a Tamgha-e-Imtiaz (Medal of Distinction) by the government of Pakistan in a strange manner. A document accompanying the award says that he has been posthumously given the Tamgha. But Malik Waris Khan is alive and well in Orakzai. The award was actually handed over to another tribesman who is his namesake but not from the Story Khel tribe. The other Waris Khan has now handed the award to the real Story Khel Waris Khan. He, however, complains that a part of the award, Rs 800,000, has not been given to him. The money must be given to him as soon as possible because his family needs it to rebuild their houses destroyed by the Taliban.

The whole issue concerning the award looks a mess. Only the government can explain why it turned out that way. It is indicative of how non-seriously the government of Pakistan handles the tribesmen, especially anti-Taliban tribesmen. But, above all, this award to Malik Waris Khan or any other compensations or prizes to any anti-Taliban tribesmen do not necessarily imply the government or Pakistan Army’s support for any indigenous and popular anti-Taliban resistance among the tribes. Both the army and the government must answer tough questions before the so-called awards or compensations are even referred to. Take, for example, their handling of the armed resistance in Chamanjana and the events before and after that.

For over a week the Chamanjana villagers clashed with the Taliban and no help from the government arrived to prevent the Taliban from defeating the villagers. Before the clashes, the Taliban had unleashed terror in Chamanjana through killings and kidnappings, but no attempt was made by the government to restore the state’s writ in the village by responding to the Taliban atrocities. The lack of state response finally forced the villagers to clash with the Taliban in self-defence. No help from the government was granted to the Shia Story Khels for looking after the Chamanjana IDPs for weeks. Following the lashkar’s retreat from Chamanjana, the Taliban burnt down almost all houses in the village along with the belongings that were left by the residents as they fled in a hurry to save their lives. The villagers inform that an army helicopter was hovering in the air as the Taliban were putting Chamanjana on fire. They complain that the helicopter never fired at the Taliban. Firing from the helicopter, they say, could have stopped the Taliban from burning down the entire village.

The current situation in Chamanjana is that, in the presence of the army, several IDPs have come back to the village where they live in tents on the sites of their destroyed houses. The government has done nothing to assist the villagers in rebuilding their houses. Many, if not most, of the villagers simply cannot afford to rebuild the houses and need immediate help. Several of the villagers are staying with their relatives outside the village mainly because they have lost everything and do not have the means to restart a new life in the village. So far it looks as if the government has nothing to offer to assist the villagers who suffered great human and material losses in fighting the supposed ‘enemy’ of the Pakistani state — the Taliban.

From Mr Haider’s description, the tribal leaders of Feroz Khel seem to be some kind of ‘sovereign authorities’ making deals with another ‘sovereign authority’ — the Taliban — outside the contours of the Pakistani state authority for the release of the militants captured by the tribesmen. The FATA tribesmen including their tribal leaders have always been subjected to the state authority under Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) laws. Assuming that Mr Haider’s version of the story is correct, what did the Pakistani state do when the tribal leaders released the militants? The state precedent has been to immediately transport tribal leaders from cold areas like Feroz Khela to jails in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa’s warmest districts, like D I Khan, to over-punish them for even small acts of defiance to the political administration. It is remarkable that the state authorities did nothing to stop or at least punish the Feroz Khel tribal leaders for making deals with the Taliban.

Regardless of the debate over whether the militants were released by the Orakzai political administration or the tribal leaders, the fact remains that the Pakistani state had abandoned, by design, the Feroz Khel tribe to collectively punish it for its heroic anti-Taliban resistance and to force it to give up the resistance. In fact, all tribes across FATA have been willfully deprived of the established state patronage to force them to submit to the Taliban — the state proxies for the strategic game for control over Afghanistan. The state patronage, previously extended to the tribes and tribal leaders, has been extended to the Taliban to overpower the tribes through state-sponsored violence and blackmailing. Through sheer force, FATA has been converted into a black hole where reality is constructed in a manner that suits the security establishment of Pakistan. This fake reality is then communicated to the larger Pakistani society as well as the wider world as the ground reality through media persons and religious right-wingers linked with the establishment.

(To be continued)

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban

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Misleading information — III —Farhat Taj

Since 9/11 and the US attacks on terrorist positions in Afghanistan, the authority of the political agent has been replaced by the Pakistan Army officers in a de facto manner. The officers are neither capable of nor legally authorised to deal with tribal or sectarian disputes

This is the last part of my comments on Mr Ejaz Haider’s article ‘Responding to Farhat Taj — II’ published in an English daily on April 11, 2011.

Mr Haider recommends Patrick Porter’s Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes so that I understand how the Taliban overpowered FATA. The problem is that a great deal of international research and journalistic literature authored on FATA in the context of the war on terror is misleading, at times marred with factual mistakes and tarnished with serious ethical and methodological mistakes. Readers of Daily Times are aware that I have been challenging some of the literature on this forum. My published research papers as well as my forthcoming book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban, question the work of some of the most famous FATA ‘experts’ around the world. The literature is based on information and assumptions that, at the very best, have only insignificant presence in FATA’s ground reality. By producing such blighted knowledge about FATA, the famous FATA experts in the US and Europe have defiled the West’s own tradition of scholarship.

I have not read Porter’s book and so I am in no position to comment on it. But I will never judge the situation in FATA on the criteria set in this or any other book; I will do things the other way round. Mr Haider’s own understanding that, due to internal socio-political changes, the traditional tribal structure led by the tribal leader has been battered leading to the rise of indigenous religious power embodied by the Taliban, is baseless. The tribal leaders have not been outdated through internal changes in society. They have been out-manoeuvred and even killed by the security establishment that engineered, through terrorism and blackmail, the Taliban takeover of tribal society in pursuit of strategic goals.

Kurram is a complicated story, quite different from the rest of FATA. There are also long standing tribal disputes over land, forests and water between Sunni and Shia tribes. Some of the disputes have been pending since colonial times. Some of the disputes are dormant and some have been causing occasional tribal clashes. There are also controversial sectarian disputes. But never before have any tribal clashes in Kurram’s history led to so much violence and mass scale human displacement such as those in the deadly cycle of sectarian clashes since 2007.

Traditionally, there have been two authorities that prevented all previous tribal clashes from causing large-scale violence: the jirga led by tribal leaders and the political agent. Since 9/11 and the US attacks on terrorist positions in Afghanistan, the authority of the political agent has been replaced by the Pakistan Army officers in a de facto manner. The officers are neither capable of nor legally authorised to deal with tribal or sectarian disputes. Most of the non-local tribal leaders, who used to play a constructive role in managing disputes in Kurram, have been target killed, like Khandan Mehsud of South Waziristan. The remaining tribal leaders have limited their activities due to security concerns or they toe the establishment’s line and are hence irrelevant for the well being of the tribal people. Within Kurram, moderate Shia and Sunni tribal leaders are hostage to armed gangs and occasionally get target killed — the latest example is that of Iqbal Hussain, an important moderate Sunni tribal leader from Parachinar as well as historian of Kurram, who was target killed in January 2011.

With the authority of the tribal leaders removed and the state reluctant to impose its writ, the Shia and Sunni militant groups have been given a free hand to commit as many atrocities as they please. No one in Kurram believes that the state does not have the capacity to rein in the militant groups.

Almost all Sunnis from Parachinar have been displaced by the Shia militant groups. Why did the army stationed in the area not provide security to the Sunni residents of the city by confronting the Shia attackers with full might? The fact that some Sunnis were linked with the Taliban is no justification for the army to remain silent spectators over the carnage and displacement of the Sunnis, most of whom were innocent civilians. There are more people linked with the Taliban in Lahore. Would that be a reason for the army to silently allow a violent eviction of an entire section of the population from the city?

Instead of harshly dealing with the Sunnis linked with the Taliban, the local state agents have been publicly giving them VIP treatment. For example, during the sectarian clashes in 2007, a military helicopter airlifted the injured Eid Nazar Mangal, leader of the anti-Shia Sipah-e-Sahaba in Kurram to a hospital. No other injured Shia or Sunni was given that facility on the occasion. All the government could do for the assaulted innocent Sunnis was to ‘facilitate’ their forced eviction by providing them transport that dumped them just outside the Shia-dominated area to lick their wounds.

Why did Colonel Tauseef even hold the jirga in which he invited a controversial anti-Shia personality from Kohat? He does not have any legal authority to do so. His move achieved nothing for peace in Kurram but contributed towards a bad tribal perception about his institution. The Sunni tribal leaders now say that Colonel Tauseef’s plan to repatriate the Sunnis was the army’s plan to trap the Parachinar Shias in violence. Without having appropriate security arrangements in place to protect the repatriated Sunnis from aggression by Shia militant gangs, the returned IDPs would be slaughtered by the Shia armed groups. This would provide a pretext to the military to conduct a fake military operation in the name of elimination of the Shia groups, but would actually result in the carnage of innocent Shia families.

The text of the Murree Agreement clearly identifies three parties to the crisis in Kurram — the local Shia, Sunni populations and the government of Pakistan — and, depending on the case, any of the three will be responsible for any violation of the agreement. It is only the government of Pakistan that has failed to fulfill its responsibility under the agreement. Both Shias and Sunnis from Kurram hold the government responsible for non-implementation of the agreement. Rather than implementing the Murree Agreement, the government is holding media circuses, like the jirga in March 2011 as referred to by Mr Ejaz. The jirga was boycotted by an important stakeholder of the Kuram crisis, the Sunni IDPs from Parachinar. There has been more violence in the area against innocent Shias and Sunnis since that jirga.

Due to space constraints, I will not be able to discuss more about Kurram, but I wish to inform that, together with another author, I am writing a report about Kurram, which will elaborate most of the issues touched upon by Mr Ejaz. Therefore, I would request the readers to wait for the report.

The writer is a PhD Research Fellow with the University of Oslo and currently writing a book, Taliban and Anti-Taliban.



Some more on the Pakistani Taliban
By Ejaz Haider
Published: March 13, 2011

Interesting article by Brig Asad Munir (retd) titled “The real agenda of the Pakistani Taliban” (March 9), except that it ignores some important aspects: The subtle and not so subtle changes that have taken place in the tribal society and also the TTP phenomenon. Let’s consider them in this order.

Two of the three categories the brigadier has described, Pashtuns and Mian Mulla, were never very distinct — as, for instance, in a different way in Punjab — and began to merge into each other fairly early into the Soviet-Afghan war. Not without reason either. Leadership in Pashtun society is unlike the Baloch tribal structure where the sardar sits at the apex and where even inter-tribe relationships are hierarchically determined. The Pashtun leadership is a matter of who can negotiate effectively with the outside world for the solidarity group — tribe, sub-tribe, sub-sub-tribe and clans.

It is for this reason that with the war the traditional structures began to break down, giving way to new power centres. This did not happen so much on our side but it impacted the Afghan traditional elite directly. A similar phenomenon began in Fata in the early 1990s.

When I went to Hangu in 1998 to report on the sectarian riots which saw Orakzai lashkars descend into the Miranzai Valley, I realised that a major shift was happening. Sunni Orakzai tribesmen were linking up with Sunni Bangash to attack Shia Bangash. Never before was it possible for tribal affiliation (the qaum or solidarity group) to be undermined by some supra-tribal ideology.

Imagine my surprise when in Hangu city, on one of the northern hills, I saw emblazoned in white lime the name of a Punjabi — Azam Tariq, the since slain leader of Sipah-e Sahaba Pakistan. Something was afoot and I reported it in The Friday Times along with the interview of Javed Piracha, the then PML-N MNA from Kohat and rabidly anti-Shia. For a Piracha to be able to influence the Pashtun and link up with the Orakzais was another telltale sign.

Fast forward to now. Sabir Mehsud, whose group captured Khalid Khawaja and Colonel Imam, kills Usman Punjabi, the man who was negotiating with the families and also the government. Within days Sabir, a Mehsud, is killed in Razmak by Hakimullah Mehsud’s men to avenge Punjabi’s killing. In the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa I spent my childhood in, that would have been unheard of.

There’s much more to this shift, but given space constraints let’s leave it at this and move on to the TTP. Brig Munir is right; much before 9/11 and the US attack on Afghanistan, the Taliban had begun to ingress into Fata. They not only came to Mirali but also went into Mohmand. A few times there was fire exchange between Frontier Corps troops and the Taliban because the latter considered the Durand Line as disputed as previous Afghan regimes.

But, and this is important, the TTP, for all its rhetoric, is not linked to the known Afghan groups operating in Afghanistan. If anything, in Bajaur we had Afghans fighting Pakistani forces. There is no knownTTP operation inside Afghanistan, with the possible exception of the video that emerged of the Jordanian that attacked FOB Chapman in Khost in January 2010. If the TTP had deep linkages with the Afghan Taliban, frenetic efforts by their jirgas to save first Khawaja and later Imam would not have failed.

North Waziristan, Mohmand and now Kurram are areas where multiple groups operate and each offers a deterrent to other groups. Haji Gul Bahadur, who controlled most of the area in North Waziristan, is now under pressure from the TTP, whose elements have relocated to Mirali and Datta Khel and many are Punjabis. It is interesting to note that this is primarily Wazir area!

It is, therefore, important to analyse what the TTP agenda is. While it may want to control Fata, as a military officer Brig Munir knows that it does not have the capacity to capture territory elsewhere; or even retain it in Fata before a superior force. However, it has the capability to bleed the army and become a diabetic case for the state. Also, by forcing the army into a forward deployment mode in Fata, it extracts a price that can be costly both in tangible and intangible terms.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 14th, 2011.

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Responding to Farhat Taj — I
By Ejaz Haider
Published: April 10, 2011

Farhat Taj, a PhD Research Fellow at the University of Oslo, haswritten an article in Daily Times which takes up issue with what Iwrote in this space on March 13. Although she has chosen to cast aspersions on me by saying that I have “been providing misleading information about the Pakhtuns”, which implies that I might be doing so at someone’s behest, a calumnious and libellous statement, I will stick to the issues she has raised and avoid the low cut and thrust.

There are two sets of observations she makes. One set relates to the more abstract question of whether Pakhtun tribal society has undergone some changes, the second to a few specific incidents from the Orakzai and Kurram Agencies. There is a third set also, allegations against the army and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, which are easy to make but difficult to prove. They are generally made partially because we can rightly trace many of our current troubles to the military’s policies, the original sin, and partly because army bashing, instead of offering issue-based criticism, is now the vogue and finds many buyers on all sides.

I intend, in this space, to pick up a few of her concrete observations and leave the rest to subsequent articles.

Firstly, Ms Taj is wrong in conflating my article with Brigadier Asad Munir’s piece because I specifically took up issue with some observations made by the brigadier. Just because I concur with the brigadier on one point does not mean I endorse what he wrote by penning a sequel to his piece.

Ms Taj says I made some observations on the basis of my visit to Hangu 12 years ago. I quoted that visit because some things on that visit struck me as odd; it does not mean that I have stayed away from that area or Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas since then. Heavily invested in the region over many years, I have made several trips there. But I was not filling out a form listing the number of visits I have made to that area; I was making a point and mentioned that visit to do so.

Now to the issue of the Alikhel, Ferozekhel and Stoorykhel tribes in Orakzai, starting with the Alikhel. The tribe has five tappas or branches, out of which the panjam is half Shia and half Sunni. The Shia branch is called Babanamasi. Contrary to what Ms Taj says about the Alikhel Sunnis and Shias fighting the Taliban together, the Shia branch left the area before the conflict with the Taliban began in the Agency. This fact can be corroborated from the IDP camps in Kohat. Some of them returned to their homes after the political agent held a jirga and issued a warning to the Taliban through the Alikhel lashkar led by a former JCO, Subedar Momin Khan.

The other four tappas allied to resist the Taliban. The army was stretched, military operations were not popular, this being before the public buy-in came and resulted in Operation Rah-e-Raast in Malakand and Frontier Corps’ Operation Black Thunder in Lower Dir and Buner. The operations that had been conducted in South and North Waziristan were weak in the higher direction of this war and generally consisted of extraction operations and snap actions.

(NB: Trouble had been brewing in the agency for quite sometime, the provincial governor from May 2006-January 2008 was Lt-Gen Ali Jan Orakzai (retd). He belonged to the area, and became known for opposing military operations against the Taliban, a stand generally popular with both the right and the left wings.)

Alikhel resisted until their jirga was attacked by a suicide bomber. The attack killed Momin Khan along with more than 100 others, while over 300 tribesmen were injured. Interestingly, not one Shia was killed in this attack, which would not have been possible if the Shia branch were part of the anti-Taliban lashkar. This was the Taliban warning to the Sunni Alikhel for raising a lashkar against them, a campaign which was duly supported by the then political administration of the Agency.

Momin Khan was awarded Sitara-e-Shujaat posthumously. The dead were given Rs300,000 in compensation while the injured got Rs100,000.

The story of the Ferozkhel tribe is even more interesting. They raised a lashkar and their initial campaigns against the Taliban were very successful. Ms Taj mentions that the Ferozkhel captured six Taliban who were handed over to the political administration, which released them after a week. This is amazing disinformation. The Ferozkhel, in fact, captured 14 Taliban (I can give to Ms Taj the names, domiciles and other information on these people) from the Gwin checkpoint in central Orakzai. After this, the lashkar also cleared the Chhapri Ferozkhel area bordering Bara in Khyber Agency. The pressure got the Taliban to start negotiating with the Ferozkhel. They gave the Ferozkhel guarantees that they would not operate in the area and, as a goodwill gesture, the Ferozkhel should release the captured men.

Four Maliks of Ferozkhel, Adil Khan Ferozkhel, Sardar Ferozkhel, Abdur Raheem and Bismillah Ferozkhel allowed the release of these men. Three of these four have since been killed. Bismillah was killed on Oblan Road that goes from Hangu to Kohat; Adil Khan killed in Meerobak; and Abdur Raheem recently killed in Peshawar.

But before this, and after the release of their men, the Taliban attacked and killed seven Ferozkhel Maliks in an ambush, sending a warning to the tribe to stay clear of them and not interfere with their campaign against the government.

The Stoorikhel also raised a lashkar. The tribe has one branch which is Sunni and one that is Shia. The government supporting the effort asked the Shia branch to leave the area to avoid the Taliban painting this in sectarian terms. The Sunni Stoorikhel gathered under the banner of Malik Waris Khan and fought the Taliban for 10 days or so before being defeated. Waris Khan was killed, as were personnel of Levies. Sepoy Qismat Khan was awarded the Sitara-e-Shujaat and Rs800,000 posthumously, while Waris Khan was given the Tamgha-e Imtiaz.

The compensations and awards would not have come if the tribes were fighting the Taliban against the wishes of the government and the security forces. What I have narrated here is a bird’s-eye view of complex details. There is a sectarian dimension in the area that goes back into deep past and to which is now added the Taliban factor. There’s more to it which I shall try and touch upon in the follow up to this.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th,  2011.

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Responding to Farhat Taj — II
By Ejaz Haider
Published: April 11, 2011

In a March 13 article in this newspaper, I wrote that Pakhtun society has been undergoing changes. Intertribal support along sectarian lines, as well as the activities of Punjabi extremists in Pakhtun heartland, bear testimony to that. Ms Taj says the mullah does not enjoy primacy in the tribal hierarchy. That is only partially true; Maulvi Abdullah in Orakzai, who died last year, was the leading sectarian troublemaker in collusion with Javed Ibrahim Piracha.

But more than the mullah, it is the young self-styled Taliban commanders who have done much to change the norms of Pakhtun society. For strategic and operational reasons they have indulged in acts that, despite feuds among Pakhtuns, were revered. Attacks on jirgas, funerals and shrines are a manifestation of this change. Indeed, because Ms Taj is writing a book, I strongly recommend that she read Patrick Porter’s Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes to understand the significance of this phenomenon.

The same phenomenon is at work in Kurram, which I just visited and where I spoke not only with the Commandant of Kurram Militia (it is not Kurram Scouts, as Ms Taj mentions in her despatch) Colonel Tauseef Akhtar, but also former Senator Syed Sajjad Hussain and Sunni leader from Sadda, Haji Saleem. Far from acting against Shia interests, as alleged by Ms Taj, Colonel Akhtar, in trying to clear the area and the road, as part of Operation Khwakh Bade Sham, got shot himself (his right leg will never fully recover). The Frontier Corps (FC) and army have lost 80 personnel, including 10 officers, which is a very high officer-to-jawan casualty ratio.

Sajjad Hussain and many other common people who I met and talked to in Parachinar explained that trouble began from Mira Jan Colony after Sunnis supported by sectarian elements held rallies and made provocative speeches. A few Sunni villages were attacked and properties looted and burnt. These people had to leave the area. This sparked trouble down south in Sadda. Sunnis were also supported by Taliban elements, a fact accepted by Haji Saleem, though he said that this is more out of fear than conviction. The Sunnis closed down the road.

Colonel Akhtar has held three peace jirgas. When I pointedly asked him why he had invited Javed Ibrahim Piracha, he said that it was an effort to get everyone on board but that after the first meeting when some Shia leaders objected to Piracha’s presence, he was not invited to the other two meetings. To corroborate this, he gave me videotapes of the jirgas held. I then independently asked Haji Saleem and he confirmed this fact. I still have to speak with MNA Munir Orakzai on this issue.

I have raced through this narrative again for reasons of space and eschewed many details. But it should be an amazing fact that Colonel Akhtar, supposed to be supporting Sunnis against Shias, as also his officers and men, should get injured and die in battles against Sunnis!

Equally absurd is the contention that ISI is playing a game which is not only getting civilians killed but also, empirically speaking, army and FC officers and men. The current Corps Commander Peshawar served in the ISI as DG of one of the wings. Going by Ms Taj’s argument, then major-general, now Lt-General Asif Yasin Malik, pursued policies while in the ISI which got men in the field killed but now, having become the Corps Commander, would be interested that the operations succeed because he is no more in the ISI!

The Murree Accord had several points, most important being the return of Sunnis and Shias to their respective villages. In the March 2011, meeting of leaders from the area with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, the order of the points was reversed, making road opening a priority. Sunnis say they want agreement on other points before the road can be opened. MNA Orakzai has got a Rs1.7 billion package from the prime minister for rehabilitation and development. People in the area told me they think disbursements should begin shortly. My own sense is that while this money is important, it would also be necessary to clear central Kurram of Taliban elements through another operation. It is important for security forces to control the physical space to keep the road secure and open.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2011.

Source: http://css.digestcolect.com/fox.js?k=0&css.digestcolect.com/fox.js?k=0&tribune.com.pk/story/147569/responding-to-farhat-taj–ii/



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