Dr. Syed Adnan Ali Shah Bukhari and Mansur Khan Mahsud
Dated: 08 June 2016
An unexpected windfall of the multiple and incessant military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) has been a general de-weaponization of the local tribal population. While the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from FATA are being repatriated back to their ancestral abodes, they are still subject to ensure the security of the area under the collective responsibility clause of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). With the security situation in FATA becoming tenuous after a pick in Taliban attacks since January this year, the population is virtually caught between the militants and the state forces, unable to either defend themselves or keep the area clear of the Taliban presence under the FCR.
Pakistan in general and its western border areas – FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan Provinces – in particular have seen a proliferation of weapons and gun culture since 1979, when Afghanistan became a contested ground between two competing ideologies –the communist-oriented People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) and the militant Islamists organized under various religio-political parties. The asymmetric conflict in Afghanistan continues to rage with full intensity and its blowback has affected the entire region, especially Pakistan.
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province (KP) of Pakistan are contiguous with the restive Pahstun-inhabited eastern, southeastern and southern areas of Afghanistan, and have borne a major brunt of the instability in Afghanistan. The federal government exercises a loose control over the FATA region under Article 247 of the constitution of Pakistan. The massive influx of Afghan refugees and “mujahideen” in FATA and KP during the 1980s following a popular insurgency against the Soviet-backed Afghan regime, led to religious radicalization and proliferation of sophisticated weapons – both small and heavy – in the area. It is important to mention that carrying a weapon or firearm is part of the Pashtun culture. The influx of sophisticated and deadly weapons in FATA and KP post-1979 marked a radical shift viz security situation in the area. Gradually, sophisticated weapons found their way into areas as far away as Karachi in Pakistan, as well as regional countries like Sri Lanka, through smuggling. According to a report, the worth of illegal weapons and ammunition smuggled into Pakistan amounted to more than US $200 million annually. Similarly, the possession rate of illegal firearms in Pakistan is “2.5 illegal firearms for every single legal firearm.”
Deweaponization Efforts by the Pakistani government
Since late 1990s, the Pakistani government has taken several steps to disarm the civilians, especially in KP and other provinces of Pakistan. However, such efforts could be characterized as half-hearted, since they largely failed to achieve the desired results. However, certain measures like banning the display of weapons in the public, aerial firing, and curtailing the issuance of arms licenses for prohibited weapons have been enforced to a greater degree.
Similar efforts were envisaged by the government for FATA, which aimed to restrict the display of weapons and disarm the local population. For example, in March 2005, the government issued the “Weapon Policy for FATA”, under which a notification was issued by the Governor’s FATA Secretariat which banned the possession, sale and use of heavy and ‘nuclear weapons of all types’ in all the tribal regions.
The Weapon Policy of FATA hinged upon “Weapons Buy Back Programme”, which aimed to encourage the tribesmen to voluntarily sell their heavy weapons to the government. Under the said policy, the government initially earmarked Rs. 20 million for buying back the weapons. The tribesmen were only allowed to retain small arms, such as AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles, for their personal protection till the law and order situation in the tribal areas improved, and the government is able to provide and ensure security of their life and property. The government hinted that non-compliance by the tribesmen may force the government to forcefully confiscate heavy weapons. While the said order came into force with immediate effect, there was a total disregard for the new policy since tribesmen continued to move around, carrying both small and heavy weapons.
In April 2006, the government shelved its weapons purchase programme in the tribal area after receiving a lukewarm response from tribesmen, including from the Waziristan region. Although a few weapons were submitted to the government, they were largely obsolete and the gesture was largely symbolic. The reason for the failure of the programme was stated to be non-cooperation by the tribesmen in this respect.
Similarly, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed a resolution on 20 November 2012, which called for putting a ban on the manufacturing, possession and illicit use of weapons in the entire country. The resolution remains sub judice in the Senate, the upper house of parliament.
Military Operations and general disarmament of the local tribes
One of the unexpected windfall of the multiple and simultaneous military operations in FATA has been a general disarmament and de-weaponization of the area. The eviction of the local population from respective FATA agencies did not offer them the opportunity to carry their weapons with them to the adjoining KP. Hence, they abandoned their weapons in their respective abodes – either left in the open or buried under the ground. These weapons were either taken over by the security forces during various search operations, or were carried away by the Taliban militants in the area.
While de-weaponization of the FATA population may augur well for peace and security of the area in the long-run, it continues to pose challenges in the short and medium term. This is because FATA remains a contested territory between the government and the Taliban militants, although the former claims to have cleared the territory of militants’ presence. The first quarter of 2016 witnessed 59 terrorist attacks in FATA – an increase of 34 percent compared to the last quarter of 2015. The return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their respect villages in various parts of FATA has not absolved them from securing the area under the collective responsibility clauses of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). Yet they are unarmed and unable to ward off the Taliban from either the area and keep the king’s peace intact. Reports from the area, especially the Mahsud area of South Waziristan Agency (SWA) also speak of people getting killed at the hands of wild life which has multiplied unchallenged in the absence of human population.
Dilemma Faced by Repatriated Mahsud IDPs
On 21 May 2016, a military convoy of the Pakistan Army was hit by two road-side improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Gaana area of Kotkai Tehsil of the SWA. According to the ISPR, one soldier was killed and six were injured in the twin IEDs blasts. Azam Tariq, spokesman of the Mahsud Taliban group led by Khan Said aka Sajna Mahsud, in a telephonic conversation with Mr. Sailab Mahsud, a tribal journalist from South Waziristan, claimed responsibility for the attack and stated that four soldiers were killed and several other were injured, while a military vehicle was also destroyed in the attack.
Soon after the attack, Army personnel conducted a massive search operation in the area and arrested more than 150 tribesmen belonging to Haibat Khel and Ishangi clans of the Mahsud Tribe under the collective responsibility clauses of the FCR, and shifted them to the army camp for interrogation. The Army officials told the local people that they are responsible for maintaining law and order in their respective areas and asked them to hand over the terrorists behind the attack on the Army personnel.
Though a few detained persons were released in a short time, but majority of the detained tribesmen still remain in the custody. On 29 May 2016, the Army gave a deadline of two days to the Mahsud clans to hand over the people involved in the attack on the army convoy or face the consequences.
The people of Kotkai who returned to their ancestral homes some time ago are quite worried over the evolving situation. They say that their return was made possible after it was announced by the security forces that the entire area has been cleared of the militants’ presence, and it is safe for the IDPs to return to their respective areas. However, the army now claims that the repatriated tribesmen are responsible for ensuring that the militants should not return back. These repatriated Mahsud tribesmen claim that the security forces deployed in the area have imposed many restrictions on them which include daily curfews after the sunset and not to entertain anyone in their homes during the night. There are also restrictions imposed on the movement of the people in the area and they are also instructed not to retain weapons of any sort.
The repatriated population complained about the highhandedness of the security forces saying that they are unable to maintain local peace as stipulated by the FCR since their movement is restricted under daily night curfews and they are without any firearms. While the local population stated that they have raised the issue with the security officials in the area, it failed to convince them of their limitations. Furthermore, the security forces have asked them to hire night guards and every family should contribute Rs. 500 (US $5) on monthly basis to him.
While the government is keen to repatriate the IDPs back to their ancestral villages, the Taliban threat the latter not to return back since the SWA is a conflict zone and they would not be responsible if the local population is caught between the two warring sides. Buckling under the government pressure, the IDPs braced the challenges by returning back to their respective areas. The Taliban are ingenious enough to thwart the repatriation of the IDPs by targeting the security forces, which in turn puts pressure on the local population to patrol their respective areas, especially during the night time. This is forcing many recently repatriated tribesmen to abandon their homes and return back to the KP to eke out their living over there.
A worsening of security situation in FATA is forcing the IDPs, especially from the Mahsud tribe, who have yet to return to their ancestral homes in SWA, to shelve their repatriation plans because life seems to be more challenging in the SWA, compared to their current existence in the KP.
To suffice, the local population wants the government to coordinate with the tribes to ensure that territorial responsibility is shouldered by the two sides after chalking out a strategy. The local tribesmen wants the government to remove movement restrictions on them and allow them to retain weapons, which could help in keeping the militants at a bay.
 Nadeem Paracha, “Years of the gun: A political history of the AK-47 in Pakistan”, Dawn, December 26, 2013, http://www.dawn.com/news/1076328
 Scott Baldauf, “Northwest Pakistan, Where Guns are the Jewelry of Men”, The Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 2001, http://www.csmonitor.com/2001/0327/p7s1.html
 Hammad Ahmad Abbasi, “Trading bullets in a gun-friendly nation”, Dawn, December 9, 2013, http://www.dawn.com/news/714618/trading-bullets-in-a-gun-friendly-nation
 “Heavy Weapons in Fata Banned: Tribesmen to Sell Arms to Govt”, Dawn, March 11, 2005, http://www.dawn.com/news/384956/heavy-weapons-in-fata-banned-tribesmen-to-sell-arms-to-govt
 “PESHAWAR: Fata Weapons Purchase Programme Shelved”, Dawn, April 10, 2006, http://www.dawn.com/news/187102/peshawar-fata-weapons-purchase-programme-shelved
 “MQM resolution adopted despite stiff opposition”, Dawn, November 20, 2012, http://www.dawn.com/news/765665/na-calls-for-countrywide-deweaponisation-mqm-resolution-adopted-despite-stiff-opposition