Under fire: Death chases the flock of mortals

The storm that had somewhat subdued is back to haunt elders, maliks of tribal heartlands

Iftikhar Firdous September 05, 2015
The cenotaph at FATA Secretariat bears names of slain tribal elders. PHOTO: EXPRESS


In the fortified compound of FATA Secretariat, there stands a lonely cenotaph with, “Elders/Maliks of Federally Administered Tribal Areas Martyred in Militancy” inscribed on it. It bears as many as 111 names.

Although the font used for the writing has remained consistent additional slabs of marble have been added to accommodate more names in the never-ending list. Those who were once powerful tribesmen are now mere alphabets on the monument; the three new lines are distinctively visible indicating that the number has swelled in the recent past.

There is no room for more names, more grief. Soon another slab will have to be plastered. What length will the memorial grow until the bloodshed stops for good? This is a question many tribal elders are asking today.

At least five maliks have been killed in Bajaur Agency alone in a fortnight, while one is on the hospital bed fighting for his life.

“All five were killed in bombs attacks using the same old improvised explosive devices,” a Fata administration senior official tells The Express Tribune. “There were no warnings,” he adds producing a helpless smirk, “at least we were not informed.”

In the years following 9/11, militants groups led by both Taliban and others tried tooth and nail to topple the governance system in all seven of Fata’s agencies. “Because there is always a third element that thrives on anarchy,” says a tribal elder, requesting anonymity. “While the Taliban were forcing a parallel system through, the only option left for the older order was to fight back.” The elder adds hence the tribes decided to form laskhars in light of local customs.

While the Frontier Crimes Regulation wants tribes to take full responsibility for their territories, those who opted out of the laskhar plan were displaced so that the security forces can do the needful. However, the Salarzais and the Uthmankhels can proudly claim that they never abandoned their respective tehsils and maintained territorial integrity. But that integrity has come with a cost. Tribal elders fell one after another. How many? The numbers change from person to person. A rough estimate from just the Salarzais stands at over 60.

Delawar Khan Wazir is a senior journalist from South Waziristan Agency. He refuses to concur with official numbers and has maintained a record of his own since 2001. Delawar says 1,114 elders have so far been killed by the Taliban, al Qaeda and their affiliates in the seven agencies and six frontier regions of the tribal heartlands.

Although they gave lives to the cause of their people, those who died recently have yet to be recognised as maliks by the political administration. “They were members of the village defence committees and not elders,” a Khar political administration official tells The Express Tribune with full conviction. He adds that almost all lashkars have been de-notified officially.

When shown the possibility that the attacks might be acts of vendetta by the militants who had to flee the areas due to military offensives, he refuses to comment. The tribal leadership meanwhile claims that it had asked the government for monetary compensation which the latter firmly refused.

Two of the attacks have taken place in the Uthmankhel, two in Chamarkand and one in Mamoond. The attacks have been claimed by three distinct groups, the Islamic State’s Khurasan chapter, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan breakaway faction Jamaatul Ahrar and the TTP.

While majority of the remaining elders are tight-lipped over the spate of attacks, some have called it quits and fled the areas temporarily. “I fail to understand what is going on,” says a tribal elder who recently shifted to Punjab. “It seems the past has returned to haunt us again.”

Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2015.


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