I believe it's wrong to stereotype the tribal insurgency as a religious movement, as is being portrayed by the Western and even local media. Mullahs or clerics enjoy a respectable place in Pakhtun society. In retrospect, the Mohmand tribesmen fought most of their wars against the British and Sikh rulers under the leadership of their mullahs. In Waziristan, the fabled 'Faqir of Ipi' — who lived a hermit's life — led rebellions against the British colonial power. And in Malakand, Dir and Swat areas of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the mass uprisings in the 19th century were led by charismatic religious figures like Ada Mullah, Manki Mullah, Palam Mullah and Mastan Mullah, who owed allegiance to the saintly Akhund of Swat. The Akhund of Swat (Abdul Ghafoor) himself led two battles against the Sikh army.
It's also a misconception that the insurgency is feeding on illiteracy. The Mehsuds and the Waziris — the two tribes at the centre of the insurgency — have the highest literacy rate among all tribes in Fata, and they have produced several senior civil and military bureaucrats. However, both tribes have a formidable reputation for being fierce warriors. This is amply clear from the fact that most notorious commanders in the ongoing insurgency, such as Nek Muhammad Wazir, Abdullah Mehsud and Baitullah Mehsud belonged to these two tribes. And Hakimullah Mehsud, the current top commander of the Taliban, is also a Mehsud tribesman.
Taliban extremists and al Qaeda have undoubtedly exploited the tribal culture to find safe havens in the region because mailmastiya demands hospitality for guests. And also because they are fighting the US-led Nato forces in neighbouring Afghanistan where political scenario, impacts all the Pakhtuns straddling the Durand Line.
Though the Pakhtun are a martial race, who will never lay down arms willingly in battle, jirga and ‘rogha’ make them prone to compromise. They settle their feuds through the institution of jirga. And it had worked in the case of the ongoing insurgency when jirgas successfully brokered truces between the government and tribal guerrillas in 2004, 2005 and 2006 in Waziristan, in 2007 in Bajaur, and most recently between the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government and the Taliban in Malakand in 2009.
Contrary to the government claims, the policy of use of force alone has so far failed to quell the tribal insurgency. And the entire country is reeling from its deadly repercussions. It's high time the government, keeping cultural connotations of the insurgency in mind, focused on using "soft force" and effective utilisation of the institution of jirga to restore peace in the country in general and in the tribal regions in particular.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2010.
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