Saturday, 8 September 2012

Bajaur: Lost again?

- for another perspective on the fighting read QK contributor Zia-ur Rehmans latest article 'On the borderline'. For more information on the fighting in 2008/2010 read Ismail Khans article here and for the human impact watch the below video 'Flowers of Bajaur' by Samar Minallah -ed note

What’s happening in Bajaur? Don’t ask the ISPR

By AP

Militants have attacked Batwar in the Salarzai area of Bajaur. It has been two weeks Pakistan Military has been doing an operation against reported ‘dozens’ of militants. Within these two weeks, the number of displaced people from the affected places has gone up to an estimated 70,000.

The fighting however continues and it looks like this spate of violence will take over the neighboring districts and Agencies as well. As it appears, Tehrik-e-Taliban- Pakistan (TTP) sleeper cells in northern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have been reactivated.  A suicide attacker attempted to attack the Police in Dir and thankfully was himself the only one to get killed after Police recognized him and fired at him.

Key facts about Bajaur Agency

Area: 1290 sq km
Population: 1.2 million (1998 census)
Till 2010

Houses destroyed: 6000
Loss of property and business: Rs6 billion

Budget allocated for fiscal 2009-10: Rs 970 million

Locals had evacuated in emergency because of the sudden occupation of their villages. They did not get the chance of saving their livestock and bring any material comforts with themselves. They ran off from their ancestral homes to save their lives and have become the latest addition to the internally-displaced people (IDP’s).
The long term economic effects of this fighting on the displaced will be severe. As according to local leaders thousands of domestic animals have been left, crops standing in the fields, what is worse an unknown number of people are trapped inside the battle zone and bodies of civilians are lying in the streets and fields.

Most of these IDP’s are in the city of Khar, the commercial and administrative center of Bajaur. Some have been put up by relatives and friends, others in camps set up by the local Awami National Party (ANP) and the Jamaat Islami (JI). I have not come across any reports of a Pakistan government camp. As for the ANP camp, it is being run without any help from central party leadership based in Peshawar. ANP activists Gul Afzal and Abdul Manan have criticized both the government, MPA’s and MNA’s for not taking due interest. As for the government’s help, the local Political Agent told the media it has sent a (single) truckload of food items to the camps. Now how will a single truckload suffice the thousands of shelterless helpless refugees?

Al-Khidmat (the charity wing of the JI) has sent some help but I have not come across any report of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik e Insaaf (PTI) activities to help the IDP’s. PTI is supposed to have good support among the people of the tribal areas for opposing military operations and drone attacks. But they have been conspicuously absent from relief work for FATA IDP’s in general.

International NGO’s in case of this operation are absent too though it is a fact that they have logistic problems here not to mention Pakistan government has all along discouraged their activities in the tribal areas. We know how the ICRC has had to drastically reduce its staff and relief work due to the hostile environment in the country. So the fresh IDP’s of Bajaur are left at the mercy of a corrupt government and opportunist political parties.  

The IDP’s are getting impatient with the wait for Pakistani forces to clear their area of militants. If these are ‘dozens’ of militants and not ‘hundreds’ then it should not have taken more than a few days. But it has been two weeks and no end is in sight. The militants actually have victoriously released a video in which they viciously beheaded Pakistani soldiers.

The question we must ask is why the Pakistani forces are so inefficient. Even if these militants are highly trained, they should not be able to stand the might of Pakistan Army.

On top of it, Pakistan Army is blocking media access to how the operation is going on. Every other day we hear from the ISPR about how many militants Pakistani forces have killed but not much detail follows. How many militants are left in the area? How much longer will it take? Besides, the Salarzai have an anti-Taliban militia as well. Why are we not getting any reports about their role in the fight? If the Salarzai militia is suffering or getting good results, we must know about it. This is important for the morale of the Mamond militia in Bajaur, the numerous other such militias in the rest of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and of course of the public in general.
ISPR tells us about casualties of militants and sometimes soldiers but we have heard nothing about the casualties of the Salarzai force and civilians.  

Like all military operations of Pakistan in the Pashtun tribal areas, many questions surround this operation as well because once again Pakistan government has pulled a black shroud of secrecy over the war against militants in FATA. After years of military offensives in the tribal land, we cannot call any part of FATA ‘clean’ of the weapon-wielding Taliban. They still attack places in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well. We need better freer reporting of the war because the people of FATA and the rest of the Pashtun population of Pakistan cannot have mysterious battles happening in their homeland and at the same have their right to free information denied as well.  

The writer tweets @AzadPashtun
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