North Waziristan Agency: From October 9 to 14, the people of Dosali Tehsil in North Waziristan had their lives and livelihoods disrupted when the security forces imposed a five-day curfew after unknown assailants attacked a security patrol in the area, killing 3 soldiers and injuring 7.
“It was the worst kind of curfew that lasted for five days during which 52 people were arrested in a search operation conducted in the area,” a local from North Waziristan told News Lens.
Elders from the area say they were all drawn out of their houses and forced to stay outside in the open by River Khaisora, a small river flowing through the Pak-afghan border and falling into Indus. “We were not allowed to go inside our homes and were kept under the open sky for five days.”
According to a local official of the political administration in North Waziristan, the curfew was imposed to conduct a search and arrest operation after armed men attached a patrolling team of security forces near Assad Khel, a small village on Razmak Road located on the bank of River Khaisora.
During the search operation, said the locals, a civilian named Bubrai, 40, was shot dead for violation of curfew and 52 people were also arrested under the Frontier Crimes Regulation – clause the collective responsibility where an entire tribe is held responsible for the act of a single person.
After the attack on the security personnel, the Razmak-Miranshah Road was blocked for all types of traffic and more than 20 villages of three Tehsils in the Razmak Subdivision remained under tight curfew for three days.
The curfew and military operation came at a time when the government has completed Zarb-e- Azab, the biggest military operation of its kind against militants in the borderlands of North Waziristan – once dubbed as a hub of militancy.
The operation saw more than a million people displaced from the tribal district, many of whom have yet to return. During the operation, the entire tribal area of North Waziristan was de-weaponised. Weapons belonging to the people were confiscated by the security forces.
However, despite the operation and the government’s claim that the region has been cleared of militants, security still eludes the region and its people.
Mir Kalam Wazir, a local elder of Assad Khel village and president of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP) said it was not for the first time that the people faced curfew and search and arrest operations.
“Earlier in Razmak and Koh Pari, a village in the proximity of Razmak, also faced the same situation and people of the area remained under tight curfew for more than a week under the same charges of territorial responsibility,” said Wazir adding that they don’t know whether the state was responsible for the protection of the people or it was the other way around.
During the same time, Village Hassokhel in Mirali tehsil saw imposition of curfew and a search operation when according to official sources, missiles possibly meant to hit the Mirali Battle Camp were recovered from under the famous Hassokhel Bridge.
“How can we safeguard our area when we have no weapons with us,” said Noor Islam, a local of Hassokhel village adding that people of Waziristan were more vulnerable than ever in the history of North Waziristan.
He said, “Instead of punishing us for the acts of militants under FCR, the government should provide us security now as we are left without any protection of our own.”
During the long curfew and road blockades raised to check traffic of people and vehicles, the locals of Asad Khel and nearby villages like Mosaki and Khaisora remained cut-off from the rest of the world and suffered shortages of food and drinking water.
“Nobody was allowed to move from the area where they were ordered to sit in the open,” said Mirkalam Wazir, a local. “Children and women, old and young were all kept out of their houses for days. During the five days of curfew, people were allowed to go to their house for an hour to their homes to collect their personal effects.”
According to the local people, each tribe was responsible for the security of its area and collective responsibility under FCR but that was when people had their own weapons and the tribal system was enforced. Now that the government and the army was in control and the place has been cleared of militants at the cost of displacement to the local population, with every house and village searched and properties destroyed, what is keeping the government from enforce its writ and provide security to the locals.
“I don’t know how the culprits come in and create a law and order situation while there are dozens of check posts at all entry points to NWA,” said Wazir.
Noor Islam Dawar, owner of a bakery at the newly constructed market near Mirali, says that if all this [security incidents] were to continue, what was the point of the operation [Zarb-e-Azb]?
When contacted, a top level administrative official of North Waziristan, he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media that the issue of deweaponisation was yet to be resolved.
“People tell lies saying they have surrendered all their weapons to the government,” he said. “They have lots of weapons and whenever the forces have conducted a search operation, they have recovered arms.”
He said without bringing a change in the tribal mindset of the region, it was very difficult to make people give up weapons.
He said the government alone was not responsible for bringing peace to the area. “The people are equally responsible for ensuring peace by cooperating with the government.”
Until we have support from the local community, he said, we cannot defeat the militant mindset which has taken roots among a generation of locals.
He claimed that there were people in the area who still had a soft corner for those who created a law and order situation.
“People in the villages even know who is expecting a baby. How could they not know about miscreants hiding in villages and with whom?” he said. “If the locals would provide us information anonymously, we can act timely before the miscreants attack the people and the state.”
But Mir Kalam Wazir claims they do not even “a single pistol” in their entire village. “I challenge everyone to come and search our houses. We have surrendered all our weapons. Now it is the government’s responsibility to protect us not us to protect them.”
Azhar Khan, a local notable from NWA, said that establishing peace was a responsibility of both the people and the government.
“It is the people’s responsibility to inform the government if they observe unusual activities and the government should strive to protect the lives and properties of the people,” Khan said.
He also pointed to the “volunteer Taliban” who surrendered after Zarb-e- Azb and were kept for about six months in custody to de-radicalize them through teaching and training.
“My question is: Is there any check over the 2500 Taliban who have been given a clean chit to move around?” Khan said adding how they could be expected to remain peaceful if they were terrorists a year ago.
When this question was posed to the administrative official, he said he himself was not in favor of freeing former militants.
“I have opposed this policy but at the same time I cannot go against the state,” he said. “They must be punished according to the law of the land.”
Due to growing uncertainty and uneasiness among the dwellers of North Waziristan, some people have suggested holding a Grand Jirga of all tribes and sub tribes of the agency to negotiate with the government a new policy to help peace return to NWA.
“I say it because under the present circumstances where the tribes have been left helpless and on their own, their tribal values and culture undermined, the century old FCR is still being used against them every time something goes wrong,” said a local elder who wished not to be named.