Pakistan News Service

Tuesday Aug 9, 2022, Muharram 11, 1444 Hijri

Welcome to the Badlands

30 June, 2008

By Anwaar Hussain

What must never, repeat never, be done is to negotiate a treaty with these elements from a weaker position. A Pathan despises weakness as much in himself as in any one else. Such treaties are not worth the paper these are written on.

The badlands were not always badlands.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, or FATA as these are more commonly known, are an amazing place with a fascinating history. This unique region of pine-scented vales, tall mountains, deep gorges, harsh topography and even harsher demography has traveled a tortuous path throughout its known history.

Starting from 500 BC to date, the region which includes Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier of Pakistan has seen perhaps more invasions in the course of history than any other country in Asia, or indeed in the world. However, during most of this period when the plains surrounding this region had been dominated by great powers of the times, these hill tracts and the tribes that inhabited these remained fiercely independent.

The people of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and FATA as well as the adjacent eastern regions of Afghanistan are overwhelmingly Pathan, or Pashtun as they are alternatively called, with a total population of around 40 million. About 18 million of these are living on the Pakistani side. Within the NWFP province, geographically, FATA runs north to south, forming a 1,200-kilometer wedge between Afghanistan and the settled areas of the NWFP. The Durand Line supposedly divided Pathan tribes between British India and Afghanistan in 1893. Supposedly because the line has never been effectively able to divide these tribes and since then this delineation has been viewed with great contempt and bitterness by Pathans on both sides of the line.

The total population of the FATA was estimated in 2000 to be about 3,341,070 people, or roughly 2% of Pakistan’s and 20% of NWFP’s population. A whopping 97% of this population resides in villages resembling Stone Age hutments with, unbelievably, some inhabitants in the far corners of this rugged region even now living in caves. It is the most rural administrative unit in Pakistan. The 7 tribal areas lie in a north-to-south arrangement. The geographical placement of the 7 tribal areas in the same order is: Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan.

As to the number of Pathan tribes, there are approximately 60 but the figure rises to above 400 if all the sub-clans are included. The largest and most influential tribes are the Afridi, Achakzai, Bangash, Durrani, Khattak, Mehsud, Mohammadzai, Mohmand, Orakzai, Shinwari, Yusufzai and Waziri. Pukhtunwali, the Pathan tribal code dating back to pre-Islamic era, demands hospitality, generosity when someone asks for pardon or shelter and an unconditional commitment to avenge any slights.

Pathans take immense pride in their independence and the fact that they have never been conquered in their 3000 years’ history (except, briefly by Genghis Khan and Tamerlane). At various times these tribesmen spearheaded the penetration and conquest of the surrounding areas. In India especially, they appeared first as soldiers of fortune and later as powerful kings, even as sultans and emperors. Historically, they have conducted their warfare with a battle pitch that has always been a curious brew of honor, culture and code of conduct blended with a generally rebellious posture towards any central authority. Since the advent of Islam however, religion has remained the sole rallying cry for all invasions, expeditions, rebellions, excursions, resistances, and campaigns.

Honor and gallantry are considered the hallmarks of this convention. This deeply-rooted ethnic pride, combined with the fact that these areas have been comprehensively neglected by successive central administrations in Pakistan, has ensured that the “idea of Pakistan” proves to be a secondary factor in shaping the identity and character of this region; this despite the fact that these tribal agencies opted for Pakistan rather than India at the time of Independence from the British. The governments in Pakistan reciprocated by turning a blind eye towards these areas altogether.

Over the years, therefore, when roads, hospitals, schools, colleges, airports, railways, planned cities with proper sanitation and sewerage facilities developed in the rest of Pakistan, these areas remained stuck in a medieval time warp. Resultantly, the only skill these people learnt was that of gun slinging. They are for hire to a wealthy landowner, a smuggler, a warlord, a larger group, an organization or even a nation if the price is right and Islam is suitably mentioned somewhere along the dotted lines.

Right under the noses of the provincial and central governments, a flourishing trade in smuggled goods steadily spiraled up in the FATA belt. In due course, other extra-legal businesses inevitably developed. It was all too common to see shops selling guns (including automatic weapons), ammunition, explosives and hand-grenades. As a matter of fact dozens of weapons manufacturing factories sprang up in Darra Adam Khel, just next to Peshawar the provincial capital, that were making from pen pistols to rocket launchers all types of firearms. The Jihad against the Soviets in the nearby Afghanistan and the resultant chaos in the region ensured a continued demand for their products over the decades. In the same markets one could also buy resinous lumps of marijuana or opium and deadly polythene packets of heroin powder. By and by, the business of stealing motor vehicles from Karachi, Lahore and other cities only to be repainted and sold back into those same cities also grew. Kidnapping people for ransom from the settled areas too started doing a thriving business.

Successive governments continued to look on with a benign neglect. Thanks to this total disregard by practically every Pakistani administration over the decades, FATA gradually became a criminals’ haven. It grew into a breeding ground for every kind of organized crime. In time, with Islam thrown in for good measures, it would also provide fodder for organizations like the Al Qaeda and Taliban.

Never being able to sit still for long, and with their Afghan counterparts having fun for the past three decades with first the Soviets and now the American led coalition, extremist elements out of these lawless tribes today threaten Peshawar, the provincial metropolis. In the pay of various warlords, today they encircle the biggest city of the province. Needless to say of course, that the anesthetic of a convoluted version of Islam has been administered in suitably large doses to dull the pain of killing innocent human beings, innate to normal mortals, or even of blowing up their own selves. Although, as of writing these lines, a half hearted, lukewarm and rather belated effort by the NWFP’s provincial administration has kicked off to counter the threat in Khyber only, the fact is that Peshawar now stands surrounded.

According to details in Dr. Farrukh Saleem’s article ‘Goodbye Peshawar?’in The News, some 20,000 sq. kms of real estate is now controlled by these extremists. Haji Mangal Bagh Afridi controls Darra Khyber, of the famous Khyber Pass, which is west of Peshawar. Dara Adam Khel, immediately next to Peshawar towards south, is controlled by Baitullah Mehsud’s loyalists. Charsadda and Shabqadar, both less than 30 kilometres north of Peshawar, are controlled by Commander Umar Khalid, leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Mohmand agency.

According to yet another report of the same daily, other areas ringing Peshawar i.e. Sheikhan, Sarband, Regi and Nasir Bagh were under Mangal Bagh’s absolute control while Mathra, Michni, Daudzai and Khazana were under Umar Khalid’s control. Overall, South Waziristan now belongs to Baitullah Mehsud. Hafiz Gul Bahadur is the Taliban supreme commander in North Waziristan. Maulvi Faqir Mohammad controls Bajaur. Mangal Bagh and Haji Namdar reign over Khyber. Commander Umar Khalid is the head man in Mohmand. Parallel courts have been set up in these areas and people are taking their disputes to these makeshift courts instead. Executions, stoning to death and limb chopping are being ordered after just hours of deliberation by the so called clerics. Welcome to the badlands.

For a solution one has understand the milieu that the Pathan generations have developed in for thousands of years. They would then understand that a Pathan loves and admires three things immensely i.e. the Mullah, muscle and money but not necessarily in that order; and not in a setting with a chance of his honor being slighted. And that while money and muscle deplete and replete in his life years, the unschooled Mullah is a pervasive presence always lurking in the background. Plus, and this is to be noticed, he wants justice, and a quick one at that. This has been the single most appealing dispensation of the Taliban movement on both sides of the border; swift, ruthless and visible justice provided post haste.

The solution, therefore, should concentrate on the same factors. For the short term, the state must show these extremists its full muscle, with fangs bared, in an awesome display of firepower, all the while making sure to continue taking out the murderers and the beheaders among the miscreants relentlessly and mercilessly. They showed no mercy to their victims, none must be extended to them. No fancy intelligence is required to track the real culprits. Every local knows their genealogy backwards. Even their pictures and videos are openly available where they proudly photographed themselves in the acts of their heinous deeds. The foot soldiers however, the innocent gun fodder carried away more by the romance of the things than any thing else, may be granted a one-time pardon provided they surrender their arms. These are young fools with full lives still left to live. Chances are, they can yet unlearn what has been drilled into their young impressionable minds and get on with their lives.

For the long term, the first thing that needs to be initiated is the gradual assimilation of these areas into the rest of Pakistan. That means provision of full accoutrements of a proper state at the top of which should be a judicial system that can provide speedy resolution of their disputes. Ironically though, this is easier said than done. The rest of the country too is still fighting for a corruption free dispensation of justice.

To completely eradicate the unlettered Mullah from a Pathan’s life is a near impossibility. Not only because the Mullah still abounds in the rest of Pakistan but also because a Pathan loves his religion with a fervor unmatched in the other ethnicities of Pakistan. However, the Mullah’s impact could be lessened by providing schools and colleges not only to educate the common peoples of the area but also, ultimately, the Mullah himself.

What must never, repeat never, be done is to negotiate a treaty with these elements from a weaker position. A Pathan despises weakness as much in himself as in any one else. Such treaties are not worth the paper these are written on.

One thing is sure; if Peshawar falls, the rest of the province will not be far behind. Needless to say, that the remaining Pakistan too would be that much closer to the ultimate calamity. The situation has become so grave indeed that due to the shenanigans of these radicals in the NWFP, and that of their ideological brethrens’ in the rest of Pakistan, according to The Failed State Index 2008 report of Foreign Policy and Fund for Peace, Pakistan has won the dubious distinction of graduating to number 9 position among the top ten states at most risk of failure. Afghanistan is at number seven. The rest are all African states.

Take heed, ye all!


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