Security forces of Pakistan declared victory in Bajaur in the first week of March 2010.
For the first time in history Pakistan’s flag was raised on Damadola, the Taliban stronghold in Bajaur. The Pakistani media showed images of people in Bajaur celebrating the success of the security forces. The people of Bajaur, however, inform us that not much has changed on the ground.
The Pakistan army has captured Damadola, Sewai and some other areas of Mamund but have left the Taliban relatively untouched, especially since seven more schools have been bombed since the announcement of the ‘victory’ and diehard Taliban commanders who were reportedly killed by the security forces turned out to be alive.
Residents of Bajaur inform that, following the daily surrender of Taliban members, they are set free again on the Jirga’s ‘guarantees, who feel pressurized by both the Taliban and the military authorities. The state authorities do not suspect these Taliban members following their ‘surrender’.
If caught again in acts of terrorism, the Taliban show the surrender letter given to them by military authorities and are allowed go free. The people of Bajaur complain that now the Taliban have a state-given clean chit and nobody asks them about their past atrocities against innocent tribesmen and women. They ask how can the state give them such a clean chit without accountability!
These new reservations are an addition to the long list of complaints that people of Bajaur have long held against the military and the Taliban. If the military’s daily claims of militants’ deaths are to be believed, more than 3000 militants would have been killed in the various operations in the area. On the ground, nobody can prove the deaths of more than a few militants.
The target killing of both neutral and pro-government tribal leaders continues to happen. Over 100 tribal elders have been target-killed. Over 80 schools have been blown up in the areas which the army claimed to have cleared. Local journalists cannot freely report due to a fear of either the security forces or the Taliban.
The ‘victory’ in Damadola seems to be a media gimmick to mould public opinion outside Fata, especially in the Punjab. The security forces of Pakistan have to really crush the Taliban. This is important to control the seemingly growing feelings of alienation in the area.
Seen from the perspective of the people of Bajaur nothing has changed in terms of elimination of the Taliban, some of those I spoke to said: ‘We hate the Taliban from the core of our heart but our passions for Pakistan are also drying up with each passing day. If the state has nothing to offer to us and if we have to be their slaves forever serving this state with our blood, then why not choose someone else for a master?’