Thursday, June 21, 2012
“Violence breeds violence and only way to avoid violence is non-violence”
Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan (Bacha Khan)
The event of 9/11 altered trends and priorities across the Globe. It brought crisis to the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). This crisis in FATA dramatically manifested itself in almost all fields of tribal social and political life, including indigenous music and poetry etc, social and judicial institutions, interactions between the tribes and the State, and the self-image of the tribal people themselves. This rapid upheaval, in the context of a culture which has remained relatively unchanged throughout centuries of wars and conquests, implies a massive, ongoing, and traumatic shift in the social and political values of tribal society.
For instance the poetry that prevailed in tribal society emphasized indigenous cultural values such as Mrasta (cooperation), unity (yo walai) and courage while saving others lives, sacrifices (qurbani) etc. but after the global campaign was kicked off against terrorism, the whole literary landscape changed. Poetry became violent and personal. Before, it was projecting the values of unity, valor, tolerance and cooperation but now the poets in tribal areas are praising newly emerged groups or individuals.
Take, for example, some verses from Waziristani poets, and notice how the heroes have changed, the values reprioritized:
Sabo de chagy ghre bayeer dai de zalfy tor roka che mla pe wataramma
(In these verses a man demands moral support of his wife to join the Qaumi Lashkar (tribal civil militia which is organized to earn honor for the tribe)
We see the poet here extolling two traditional virtues of culture: namely, the Bayeer (i.e, the Qaumi Lashkar), and the unconditional support by tribal women of their husbands in all situations and circumstances.
Da sahar ba’ad pa toro gharonu ke rawan de da dh Baitullah Mahsud karwan de
(The poet says that Karawan of Baitullah Mahsud is going to affect everyone like breeze in the morning is inevitable)
Baitullah Mahsud was overall head of Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) based in South Waziristan and has representatives and deputies in different tribal agencies in Pakistan. The implication of these verses is that nobody can avoid or ignore the Lashkar or the Karawan of Baitullah Mahsud, just as nobody can avoid the breeze in the morning. Most of the poetry in Waziristan has become militant-centric.
Strategists around the world are of the view that military activities and weapons displays have a tendency to promote the militarization of culture in the area, which leads to the emergence of a violent society; my memory is still green, for witnessing un-tasteful incident of heavy bomb blast in South Waziristan. We were thinking that a school was exploded as three schools were exploded before, but soon we got that the loser team in cricket tournament exploded the pitch in the cricket ground. It seems that this propensity towards casual public violence arose in the aftermath of the rise of Taliban militancy and the Army response.
There are thousands more of such examples indicating the emerging violent attitude in the area; such as, if someone wants to halt or disrupt another’s business, he will simply blow up a portion of that person’s infrastructure in the night.
The traditional form of the relations between tribal society and the government has also been altered dramatically. Before, there were two parties in negotiations; the political administration and the tribal elders or people in general. After their arrival, the Taliban inserted themselves as critical parts of the decision-making process at all levels, assisted by the government’s apparent policy of appeasement; for instance on the 17th of May, a Jarga of the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe was held with the political administration and the Frontier Corps (FC) in Wana, South Waziristan Agency. The FC Commandant Ali Atif recognized the Amn Committee of local Taliban in Waziristan under Mullah Nazir and gave permission to the Committee to conduct patrols in the area.. The abdication of the critical role of policing and security to a militant group is a powerful indication that the State is unable or unwilling to exclude such groups from the governing structure of the tribal regions.
The Amn Committee is now working in South Waziristan, where it implements the rules made by the Taliban. The members of Amn Committee collect so-called Chanda (donations) from the people. They resolve issues among people through their own sort of Jarga. From every angle the Amn Committee is a parallel government in Wana, and it is the only government that deals with the affairs of the tribesmen in the far flung tehsils of South Waziristan. It is sadly ironic that security forces, which, with much fanfare were to eliminate militants challenging the writ of government, instead ended up adding to their power and prestige by essentially ceding territory and revenue to them.
One can see that even the basic principles of Pashtunwali such as Rishtia Wayal (truth), Mrasta (cooperation), Melmastia (hospitality), Badal Akhistal (revenge), Nanawate (appeal for forgiveness), etc. have been reprioritized due to the ongoing conflict in FATA. This, of course, conflicts with the prevailing global discourse in which Islamist militancy, if not arising directly from the traditional institutions of tribal culture, is sustained and propagated by them. Rather, the tribal culture is itself a casualty
It is not only Pashtunwali which has been affected by the ongoing crisis created by militants and the military in FATA,; there have been extensive sociological and psychological effects as well. Pride, courage, and independence, traditionally highly valued in tribal society, seem to be on the decline. Thus the question arises: how can millennia-old social values such as these be destroyed within these comparatively few short years? The tribal society of FATA is extremely patriotic and religious. They sacrificed for their country, Pakistan, on many occasions, such as the Kashmir wars, etc. They were straight forward in their motives to save the country, because the enemy was the non-Muslim state of India. But the now the people of FATA are confused. They do not know who is to be supported, the protectors of Islamic Republic of Pakistan (the Army) or the ostensible protectors of the Islamic cause (the Taliban). They are considered by both to be solely responsible for an attack on either. The people of FATA are stuck between the barrels of two opposed guns.
At the very beginning of American invasion in Afghanistan a woman, belonging to Zilikhel tribe of South Waziristan said that Taliban should ask for refuge from Wazir, as we freed Kashmir from the invasion of India. This was the belief of FATA people about themselves, but now they believe in everything except for themselves. They experienced the massacre of many of their influential people such as tribal elders and journalists in the target killing.
In the same context, where the ongoing crisis affected tribal people as a whole, it was also exceptionally devastating to the youth. Amir Nawaz is an elder of his own tribe in Waziristan. All his five sons are some of the best football and cricket players in the area. When Amir Nawaz was asked that why he let his sons be involved in sport, he replied that sport is better than other activities such as drugs, because such activities lead to violence and disturbances in the area, while sport leads to tolerance which further leads to peace and prosperity in the area.
The Taliban, of course, agree completely with the views of Amir Nawaz—and as a result, they implemented a ban on sport in the areas. When an annual cricket tournament was banned in Azamwarsak area of South Waziristan, a young man asked one of Taliban members in the area that what the reason behind that ban was. He replied that there were two reasons; one, the newly -recruited young Taliban members refuse to carry out Taliban operations in the area during the period of tournament and second, due to such sport events and activities, their recruitment attempts were suffering.
When we talk about the changing attitudes of the people of FATA towards various things we cannot ignore the Khasadar and Frontier Corps (FC) forces operating in FATA since British rule. The Khasadar force is a civilian militia under the political administration while the FC force is constituted of local Pashtuns under the overall command of the Army i.e., the members of these forces belong to the particular area in which they operate. Their local customs and traditions were dearer to them than the political administration’s rules, but the recent conflict changed their priorities as well:
One of my friends, working as a lecturer in Political Science in Bajaur Post Graduate College Khar, was moving travelling home along with his other colleagues when he was stopped by Khasadar and FC in different check posts. When he asked for different treatment, as he was a government official, the deployed members of both the FC and Khasadars told him that those in uniform (belt wala) are the only government officials. Another senior lecturer of Bajaur Post Graduate College Khar was also treated the similarly because he was not wearing a security forces uniform.
Once, a tribal elder said, “we are empty handed now and the only valuable things with us are the memories of our glorious past”. He said that things were changed now; “We got roads and other infrastructure but at the cost of peace.” One cannot but agree with him; the people of FATA got attention of the world at the cost of horrific violence and the slow demise of their unique cultural identity. The people of FATA lost their values. Still, tribal people are hopeful that their culture, having survived for thousands of years, will recover from this mere decade-long hiccup. But for this purpose they need to educate their youth about their identity. There is another way to regain this identity: tribal people themselves must present and propagate the true nature of their culture across the globe, as people at the helm of affairs have failed to present FATA in its true light, resulting in confusion and prejudice by the international community.