To greener pastures?: Waziristan’s nomads tread on uncertain ground

Many tribesmen give up their lifestyle in wake of changing socio-economic landscape.

Many tribesmen give up their lifestyle in wake of changing socio-economic landscape. DESIGN: AMNA IQBAL


The war in the region has snatched away the nomadic lifestyle, with socio-economic and political instability on the Pak-Afghan border restricting the nomad tribes in Waziristan to one part of the border.

A majority of these nomads, mostly belonging to the Dottani and Sulaiman Khel tribes, have Pakistani domiciles and CNICs and move towards warmer climates in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab during the winter.

But several families have given up the nomadic lifestyle, says Ali Muhammad, author of Ghur Se Dehli Tak, a book which explains the history and cultural practices of the Waziristan nomads. “Out of the total of 11,043 nomadic families, 3,000 have permanently settled down in Toi Khulla, Wana. The number of families giving up the nomadic lifestyle is increasing with the passage of time.”

This trend is emerging for a variety of reasons, including financial constraints, travelling problems, feud with the Gandapur tribe in Kulachi, DI Khan, and the volatile security situation along the Durand Line.

Additionally, Kulachi and Gomal Pass, the two important routes these nomads have been following for centuries, are becoming increasingly difficult to traverse.

Mounting difficulties

With the Gandapur tribe increasing in population, the previously unobstructed land along the Kulachi route has disappeared under constructs including houses and cultivation fields. This makes it difficult for the nomads to cross this area with cattle.

The nomads and the Gandapur tribe are also at war with each other. Around 20 years ago, a Gandapur tribesman killed a nomad after a goat entered his (tribesmen’s) field and sparked a conflict that has claimed the lives of over 50 people to date.

Despite the feud, nomads of the Dottani and Sulaiman Khel tribes have no option but to take the Kulachi route. Not wishing to stay long for fear of violence, they cross over to Gomal Pass in South Waziristan where they set up tents and rest briefly before setting off again.

The Waziristan nomads face no problems in the Gomal Pass area, but are still confronted with several problems. Mainly, the war on terror makes security a concern. The reconstruction of the Gomal Zam Road and the corresponding traffic this has invited has made passing this area with cattle extremely difficult.

“It is difficult for us to go through Gomal Pass because our livestock is afraid of the traffic,” said Masthan Khan of the Sulaiman Khel tribe. “We are also limited in terms of the routes we can take due to the traffic.”

Masthan added the government had set up various security check posts on Gomal Zam road, which cause severe delays. “For this reason, many of us take the Ghur Larai route, which is long, winding and difficult to cross.”

Infrastructural developments, although welcomed by other tribes of Waziristan, makes the nomads uneasy as it obstructs their lifestyle. Many have been forced to alter their travel methods by adopting the use of tractors. But in addition to changing their modes of transportation, the nomads are also gradually changing their customs with some selling their livestock entirely.

“I sold 39 goats and two camels at a low price in Bakkar, Punjab,” said Ashraf Khan, 51, of the Dottani tribe. “Now I have only three camels and 13 goats. I was mentally prepared to sell my entire stock but my wife forbade me from doing so.”

Ashraf maintained he would sell his remaining camels and keep only three goats for milk. He aims to start a small business in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province. Other nomads like Gulab Khan, 41, also from the Dottani tribe, have permanently settled in Toi Khulla, Wana. Gulab said he owned land in Kot Kai, Toi Khulla, and would try and cultivate it for his livelihood. “I also have to care for my children. My daughter needs the polio vaccine and my son has to go to school. We do not have these facilities otherwise.”

Fighting for survival

The Waziristan nomads are warrior people, often carrying weapons. Their reaction to the Taliban and other militants entering their area after 9/11 was strong and clear.

According to 65-year-old Lal Daad Khan, a nomadic tribesman, the nomads convened a Grand Jirga to discuss the issue of militants in their areas. “They decided not to allow their areas to come under the influence of the Taliban,” explained Lal. “There were no restrictions on individuals wishing to ally themselves with the militants, but these people were warned not to carry weapons and display their loyalties to the Taliban in Toi Khulla. Unfortunately, the situation changed as Mullah Nazir’s group extended its influence,” added Lal.

Despite the changing environment, however, author Ali Muhammad claims the Dottani and Sulaiman tribes are still following ancient Pukhtun culture. “They speak pure Pashto and only bury their dead on Pukhtun soil. Their women even give birth while travelling in the absence of doctors or midwives. New trends are permeating their day-to-day lives with many nomads carrying cell phones and receiving mainstream education, but they still retain their unique way of life.”

Muhammad added it was unfortunate that neither the Pakistani nor Afghan governments were making efforts to preserve their traditions.

A jirga convened by the nomads in January 2013 warned the Pakistani government the tribes would permanently migrate to Afghanistan if their problems were not resolved by the government. They demanded a share in the Nikat System along with the Ahmadzai Wazir and Mehsud tribes in order to secure better education, health and other basic facilities.

The Dottani and Sulaimen Khel tribes have also initiated a movement named Tehreek-e-Pehchan (the movement for the recognition of identity), which aims to convince the Government of Pakistan to recognise tribe members as equal citizens.

“We are arrested and humiliated on the pretext that we are Afghans, even though we hold CNICs,” said Malik Nawab Dottani, a member of the Tehreek-e-Pehchan. “We are faithful citizens of Pakistan even though our culture resembles that of Afghanistan. People who do not believe this should study our history.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 13th, 2013.

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