& Maida Aslam
Thursday, June 4, 2015
The local Taliban in Wana, South Waziristan declared self-proclaimed victory and called themselves as war heroes, when the Uzbeks were expelled by the native Wazirs of the agency in Qaumi war against them 2008. Since then the Taliban have been regulating the affairs of the area under the self-proclaimed Amn (peace). This rule of Taliban has changed not only the meaning and interpretation of peace but the course of all aspects of life in Waziristan. Owing to the uniqueness of the case of FATA, all stakeholders, concerned groups and subjects and objects of violence have set different indicators of peace and its absence in the territory.
The locals of the South Waziristan perceive the presence of armed groups as the absence of peace. Their lives have been governed under a constant threat of painful death for almost a decade now and therefore, their mass-psyche has been shaped thus. At this stage when between the alternations of peace and conflict, a long constant phase of conflict has prevailed; the indicator of peace for these people would be the absence of armed groups in the area. What is more important is the level of threat perception among the masses which is a fairly psychological aspect of the scenario. Lower the level of threat perception, greater the peace. So, the locals of Waziristan perceive threat in the presence of armed groups which creates panic among them.
For the local committees and local elders, peace can be achieved if ‘no confrontations’ are carried out. In Wana subdivision of South Waziristan, two indigenous committees operate: the Khojal Kel Salweshti (council of 40s) and the Thojiye Khel Salweshti. These are of the view that there should be complete unity – Teengah – among the masses so as to allow no intrusion from the outside in there spheres of influence if peace is to be maintained in the society. Teengah is the persuasion of pro-active [in most cases] decisions of Jarga as far as the implementation is concerned. The local committees are taking actions in this regard to look after their affairs.
The lines of action of these Salweshtis express their motives and clarify the concept of ‘no confrontation’. Khojal Khel Salweshti has made it very explicit in its Teengah – a social contract having binding forces – that no member of their tribe will include Taliban in any of their matters such as conflict resolution etc. Any member who violates the Teengah will be held liable to punishment which pertains to demolition of their houses. Thojiye Khel Salweshti, similarly, upholds a different Teengah: use of heavy weapon by any member of the tribe will entitle the member to the same punishment as mentioned earlier. The spirit of both these social contracts is similar: without targeting the other party [Taliban] as audience, the committees internalize their affairs and select a course of action that demands the members of the tribe to check their actions. Furthermore, if a heavy weapon is used against a member of the Thojiye Khel tribe by Taliban or any other individual, the matter will be addressed by the Salweshti but clear punishments are chalked down for the members of the tribe who attempt violation. Similarly, Taliban might be allowed to walk freely in the territory of Khojal Khel tribe but they will be socially excluded and disallowed to interfere in affairs of the tribe.
The political administration in Wana is not only indifferent regarding the formation of these committees rather it does not believe in them as far as peace building is concerned. According to the Assistant Political Agent there exists no check and balance or coordination between the government and the foresaid committees because the latter are only looking into trivial matters of the locality. “Their role in peace building amounts to nothing concrete,” said the APA.
There exists a ceasefire between the political administration, army, and the non-state actors owing to which, ‘Negative Peace’ prevails in the region. Therefore, Malaks in the region, being mediators between the political administration and the masses, divert a little from the above mentioned stances and believe in the doctrine of ‘Compromise’ in a more diplomatic way.
Furthermore, certain non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are also present in the area but no conspicuous work is being done on the field. In order to be able to carry out small projects effectively, they have struck up monetary understanding with the militants.
Another side of the picture is displayed at the end of the Political Administration, according to which, peace exists in the region and nothing is out of place. Since the administration is mainly concerned with the Protected Territory (PT) where no incidents of violence occur, and where common citizens cannot enter without strict scrutiny measures. The political administration fails to take into account, the Tribal Territory (TT) where Taliban presence is not negligible. According to the APA, “Local Taliban cooperate with the Political Administration through the ‘120 members’ committee’ in order to maintain this peace”. Besides, ‘negative peace’ that exists between the state and the various armed groups present in the area, leaves no room for activities of violence in the Protected Territory. Therefore the sphere of the foresaid negative peace is confined to Protected Territory while the violent activism of Taliban in the Tribal Territory is being very conveniently ignored by the political administration. For instance, Taliban shot local young boys dead while they were celebrating their victory in a cricket match in Kari Kot area of Wana. However, similar sports tournaments were executed in the Protected Territory without the slightest display of violence, which is not a fair indicator of peace in the region where actual life exists beyond the Protected Territory.
Likewise, the intensions of forming the ‘120 members’ committee’ [which comprises of local tribal registered Malaks] was to adopt a political approach towards countering militancy in the area. But the administrative setup and the prevalent rule – FCR – in the area changed the course of utility of the foresaid committee, which further strengthened the position of Taliban. Following this, on one hand the APA’s statement is negated in spirit and on the other, the generally held perception that tribesmen are a violent race, is further strengthened. Lacking any right to express themselves freely, the locals cannot possibly get rid of the accusation. Consequently, the presence of military forces, militant groups, and all subjects of violence in FATA, in order to curb the menace of terrorism, at least in papers, is justified for the administration to achieve its ends.
Is it peace that reigns over the lands of FATA or is it only an illusion created to camouflage vile activities in the backdrop, is a question we need to ask ourselves. Considering the current scenario when a military operation is still at work in the region and when in black and white, the lands have been proclaimed as peaceful, is a prediction of actual peace possible on any level? The very naïve indicator of peace – the absence of armed groups – comes as being the weightiest of all. Minus these armed groups, there is no violence in the lands of Waziristan. Another important indicator for peace would be threat perception, implying that as long as the masses live a fearless, normal life without a constant threat of losing lives and property, FATA is peaceful. Instead of focusing efforts on lesser, baser indicators of peace as is being done to date, we need to adopt a more holistic approach towards peace building in FATA, considering the more principal indicators at grassroots level.
Mehran Ali Khan Wazir: The writer is a research fellow at Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Politics and International Relation at International Islamic University Islamabad and works as a Program Manager & Research Analyst at FATA Research Centre.
Maida Aslam: The co-writer is Research Associate at FATA Research Centre.