The battle in the remote Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency is being described as a turf war. That turf war between banned militants has, in the last two weeks, killed dozens and displaced 2,500 families, according to a February 6 report. Old men, women and children have walked for days in harsh, freezing conditions without food or adequate shelter, while members of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Ansarul Islam, the Lashkar-e-Islam (LI) and the pro-government peace militia of Qamarkhel, battled it out for control of land that very clearly has one owner: the state of Pakistan. Sadly, there were some who, while fleeing for safety, lost their lives in the process — but who shall we hold accountable for their deaths? Where is the state, the writ of law in all this mess?
We know the state wanted to wrest control from the militants when it ordered a military offensive in 2004 in the tribal regions. The Tirah Valley is a specially prized possession given its location, nestled between Afghanistan and the tribal agencies. On January 29, 23 militants of the TTP and the LI were reportedly killed when Pakistani jets bombed their hideouts in the valley. However, the fighting between the militants continued and till the writing of this editorial, has not shown signs of abating, so something is clearly very wrong. The priority is twofold: to declare Tirah Valley ‘war affected’, get the internally displaced persons (IDPs) into shelters in Jalozai (where there is a camp) and other places where families are fleeing since many have gone to Khyber, Peshawar, Orakzai, etc. The government must ensure the families’ registration, their well-being and health and that their displacement is not a long drawn-out affair; which means that the law and order situation in Tirah Valley has to be addressed with a steely will. A failure to do so will only result in the creation of more IDPs, and more unemployed people, more children not going to schools and more disillusioned people that cannot contribute to their families, their community and ultimately their country.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2013.