Wednesday, 4 April 2018

April 2013 Mass migration in Tirah

Mass migration in Tirah
April 2013 published by The NEWS on Sunday
After falling to TTP, around four thousand people have moved down from the valley and still more are coming
By Javed Aziz Khan

They were killed, houses set on fire, villages occupied and made homeless to look for shelter as internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kohat, Hangu and Peshawar. The people of Tirah Valley would have never thought to be wandering for shelter after leaving their homes in one of the most beautiful valleys at the mercy of militants.

Tens of thousands of Afridi tribesmen have come down from Tirah to the settled areas of Peshawar, Kohat and Hangu as well as the tribal Kurram and Orakzai agencies after militants have taken control over most parts of the remotest valley of the Khyber Agency.

The clashes in the valley were going on for the last many months as militants wanted to take control of the area and make it their stronghold to control operations in Peshawar Valley. The local tribesmen supported by an armed group, Ansarul Islam (AI), were offering stiff resistance since a fresh attack in January. However, the AI and tribal volunteers had to surrender after inflicting heavy losses in terms of lives and properties. They had to leave Maidan, the main town of Tirah Valley, which has now fallen to the militants associated with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and supported by Lashkar-e-Islam (LI).

Leaving Tirah was never an easy decision for the Afridi tribesmen. Some of them had never gone out of the valley in their entire lives but they had no other option, only to pack up and go down the mountains. Climbing down the rough mountains for up to seven hours or taking a ride on ponies was the only option for those leaving their homes. They had to walk, take pony ride and then board a coach, truck, tractor trolley or whatever they got in their way to Orakzai and Kurram Agency.

Till a few years back, Tirah was known only as the summer hill station for the tribal Khyber and Orakzai Agencies. People of Khyber, Orakzai and Kurram Agencies used to spend their vacations in the area, mostly with their relatives since it was not a developed tourist spot. The access to the area was not that easy as one had to walk up the mountains for several hours due to the road condition.

Located close to the Durand Line, Tirah remained virtually independent since the colonial times. It was in 2003 when, for the first time, Pakistani forces entered the Tirah valley after militants started spilling over to different tribal areas, first from Afghanistan and later from the North and South Waziristan.

The huge mountains along with the difficulty of its passes and the fierceness of its inhabitants protected it from all the invaders whenever they tried to take control of the valley, comprising the major towns of Maidan, Rajgal, Waran, Bara and Mastura.

The five chief valleys are Maidan, Rajgul, Waran, Bara and Mastura. Maidan, the summer home of the Afridis, lies close under the snow-bound ridges of Koh-e-Sufaid. The hot summer used to take the tribesmen of Khyber and Orakzai Agency to this remote hill station which has now been vacated by even its own inhabitants.

The authorities are receiving the IDPs coming down from Tirah at Kalaya town of Orakzai Agency from day one. They are being provided with transportation and other facilities from Kalaya to take them to New Durrani Camp or Jalozai camp near Peshawar, Adnan Khan, the spokesman for the provincial disaster management authority (PDMA) told The News on Sunday.

The PDMA authorities have unofficially estimated that around 4000 people have come down from Tirah already while more are feared to come down to the settled and tribal areas due to the situation in the valley.

Around 274 families have so far been registered at the Jalozai camp located in Nowshera district, close to Peshawar. They are being provided assistance by the PDMA after registration. The assistance includes cooked food for first week and once they are settled, they are provided with ration and other facilities, said Adnan Khan.

There are reports that PDMA and the Civil Secretariat for Fata are looking for a suitable site somewhere in Peshawar where these IDPs can be registered and later taken to Jalozai. However, the district administration of Peshawar is hesitant in allowing registration in its area because of the law and order situation in the provincial capital. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has also halted its assistance to the Tirah IDPs till security arrangements are made.

The UN body suspended its operations temporarily after a bomb attack at the Jalozai Camp last month when a large number of people were waiting for their turn to get ration from a food distribution center. At least 17 people, including a female worker of a local NGO and a government official, were killed and several were wounded in the blast. The situation further added to the miseries of the IDPs.

Apart from UNHCR, a number of foreign and local NGOs are working to help the Tirah Valley people, who were initially not being considered even as IDPs for technical reasons by most of the world bodies. The Al-Khidmat Foundation was one of the first local NGOs to have rushed to help the coming IDPs. They have set up camps at various places to enlist the Tirah IDPs and have appealed for assistance so the helpless and homeless tribesmen can be facilitated.

We are registering those who are coming down at different points. There are still a large number of people who are coming down the valley,said Shah Faisal, the tribal chief of Al-Khidmat Foundation. Shah Faisal said those coming down the valley are narrating horrifying ordeals while many disclosed that over 200 bodies of those killed in the fighting with militants remained unburied for several days.

A number of IDPs from Tirah Valley on April 2 protested at Jalozai camp for not being provided basic facilities. These IDPs gathered outside the camp of the PDMA and protested that they are being forced to share tents with those displaced from Bara. The situation has not only bothered the new IDPs but the old residents of the camp are also unhappy with the decision of the authorities.

A large number of families and individuals are temporarily residing with their relatives, some have hired rented homes while others are still looking for shelter in or off the camp in Bara, Peshawar, Kohat and Hangu. Media reported that LI men have distributed pamphlets in Bara area of Khyber Agency, warning the locals not to shelter those coming down from Tirah or face the music. Many of these pamphlets were found pasted on the main squares, mosques and important building in Bara.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

QK Archives: Kafir Kot

Dera’s mysterious fort
Ghulam Ali
Published march 2004 Statesman

Kafir Kot or “infidels’ fort” in the Khasore hills outside the village of Bilot Sharif on the road to Chashma in Dera Ismail Khan has been ignored by the archeologists. Deserted and rocky, it would have been an unremarkable place but for the group of seven extraordinary buildings, all Hindu temples, that crown its top. From the number of the temples, it is obvious that this fort was a college for the Vedic learning. There is absolutely no mention of this fascinating place in any historical work, ancient or contemporary. It is strange that a place of such opulence should have escaped the notice of men like Mehmood of Ghazna or Timur the Lame. John Wood, the 19th century explorer, who journeyed up the Indus to discover the sources of the Oxus River, paused to explore another Kafir Kot, called Kafir Kot Tilot. It lies almost 30 kilometres north of Bilot Sharif. This fort also finds mention in the works of Alexander Burnes and Charles Mason, but it is amazing that all of them failed to catch the glimpse of this great fort.
The temples of Bilot and Tilot mark the line of an ancient route, the Rajapatha, or the royal highway. Collectively known as the Hindu Shahiya temples, they are believed to have been built by the kings who ruled Kashmir, the northern part of Punjab and the NWFP just before the Ghaznavid explosions. The period following the end of the Maurian Empire in the late 3rd century BC right down to the 6th century AD was one of endless flux and upheaval, but after the white Huns were defeated by a Rajput army in 528 AD, there followed nearly 500 years of peace. There were no incursions into the subcontinent from the north-west until the last years of the 10th century when Mehmood made his first foray. In that period of peace, kings set to construct these fortified temples. It is remarkable that of the entire set of the Hindu Shahiya temples, only Nandna is clearly mentioned by the celebrated 11th century historian, Abu Rehan al-Beruni.
In the absence of historical reference, lore invents a Raja Bil, who founded this mysterious fort, while his brother, Til, founded Tilot long before the advent of Islam in this part of the land. A third brother, Akil, is said to have been the founder of Akilot, now marked by the mound of Akra just outside district Bannu. It is said that at the time of the Muslim invasion of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim in 712 AD, the rajas of these places, particularly Raja Bil, sent his forces for the reinforcement of Raja Dahir’s army. In an age when the Rajput princes were given impressive names such as Latyitaditya, Yashodharman or Durlabhavardhan, even a poor potter’s son would not have carried the name as meaningless as Til or Bil. Consequently, I don’t believe there were rajas called by such ridiculous names. These appear to be the inventions of the local historians attempting to explain the names of Bilot or Tilot. That does nothing to reduce the significance of the ruins of Kafir Kot. Even if there has been no inquiry as to the background of the area, Bilot is an impressive milestone from our misty past between the 6th and 10th century AD.
Before the Tughlaq rule, Bilot was the bastion of the Hindu mythology. Then, during the Tughlaq rule on the subcontinent, Shah Esa’s ancestors migrated from Uch Sharif (Bahawalpur) and settled down here for the propagation of Islam. Due to the hectic efforts and devotion of Shah Esa and his lineage, most of the populace was converted to Islam.
It is said that more than one lakh saints of various creeds, both Hindus and Muslims, graced the area and are buried here. Kaval Ram Sati and Shah Esa, the leading lights of mysticism, spiritualism and Sufism, are visited by a very large number of people at different seasons. Bhisakhi, a Hindu festival falling in the month of April, is attended by the Hindus from both sides of the divide. They stay here for 5 to 10 days to commemorate the memory of Kaval Ram. They offer charities at the samadhi of the legend for the benediction of their souls and spiritual uplift. According to the Hindu devotees, he was a Bakhti reformer just like Kaval Ram whose samadhi exists in Delhi, but the descendants of Shah Esa argue that he was a moneem (revenue collector) of their grandfather. They further emphasise that he was also included in the list of the malangs (one who dedicates his life to his pir) of Shah Esa. When he died, the Hindus wanted to burn him as per the Hindu rites, but the Muslims claimed that he was a Muslim. Anyhow, the dispute reached Hazrat Shah Esa and he decided that his dead body be taken to the place where his thala exists today. When Hazrat Shah Esa reached there as to decide the matter, everyone wondered to see that he was no more in his bed and so the matter got resolved.
The Hindu mystics do not agree with the hypothesis. They claim that he was never converted to Islam. As his name and samadhi suggest, it can be said that he remained true to his faith. His presence in the area is stated to be during the eras of the Lodhis and the Mughals. These were the days of the Bakhti reformers and therefore he and the Muslims had been having cordial relations. That is why his samadhi is still visited by a large number of the Muslims as well.
The story of the “Dwelling of Spirits”, attached with Bilot Sharif, is another feature. The pirs, popularly known as makhdooms, have categorised the spirits as Muslims and non-Muslims. When any psyche patient approaches them for relief, the pir, after listening to his problem, proclaims that he or she is under the spell of spirits. It is up to the pir sahib whether the spirit is a believer or unbeliever. If the spirit is a believer, its spell is neutralised at the grave or a place near the grave of a Muslim saint, called Shah Esa, or Ajmal Darya, and if otherwise, the samadhi of Kaval Ram comes to his rescue. What a fantastic magic! The affectee is charged Rs80 per spirit and again it is the pir who has to decide the number of the spirits afflicting a single soul. Sometime a dozen spirits are said to dominate a person.
This practice goes on throughout the year, but the month of March is the special occasion. What a wonder as to how people still believe in these fairies and spirits and their neutralisation at Bilot Sharif?
As most of the invaders came through these areas to conquer Hindustan, therefore this little principality had to face the wrath of almost all the attackers and gradually disappeared from the scene of history. As per the “Conferment Deed” awarded by the Mughals to Hazrat Shah Esa, the makhdooms of Bilot Sharif were entrusted the administration of the area in the name of the Mughal emperors to fill the power vacuum created due to the fall of the Hindu principality.

QK Archives: On doing Pakhtunwali

On doing Pukhtunwali
Written by Dr Aneela Z Babar

Monday, 29 May 2006

Magnus Marsden is not alone in critiquing how the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) has long been represented as, Home to a distinctive kind of violence, not so much communal as well as tribal with revenge, the feud and tests of prowess and masculinity supposedly central to Pukhtun life (Magnus Marsden: Living Islam: Muslim Religious Experience in Pakistans North West Frontier Province, Cambridge University Press, 2005). As Benedict Anderson (Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, Verso, London, 1984) reflects, Communities are distinguished not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined. In an earlier column, I had touched on re-imagining the Pathan community in modern day Pakistan by exploring the Khudai Khidmatgars of NWFP in pre-partition Pakistan. The movement had during the Indian nationalist movement grappled with the Orientalist imagination of the Pathans as the martial, hyper-masculine race. They did this by going beyond a simple engagement with the Gandhian principle of non-violence and managing to execute an ideal of positive masculinity through formulating and adopting an indigenous code of what constituted ghairat (honour) and strateetop (being a complete man), from a framework of Pukhtunwali/doing Pukhto (the code of conduct for being Pathan), and Islam that was familiar to their region. Others have called for an alternative memory of partition in NWFP by studying how the adoption of non-violence by this movement did not see the scale of communal violence in NWFP that the rest of South Asia did at the time of partition. Incidents where riots were instigated, the Khudai Khidmatgar personally intervened and ensured protection to Hindus and Sikhs living in the region.

The Khudai Khidmatgars, though inspired by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, involved a conscientious analysis by even the average subaltern of this non-violent army of how he negotiated an alternative interpretation of political Islam. Women were encouraged to be involved in the Khudai Khidmatgar movement and the resultant political activism brought about an easing of purdah and segregation rules, and inclusion of concerns like womens access to education and inheritance rights.

As Mukulika Banerjees painstaking research on the Khidmatgar movement shows (The Pathan Unarmed: Opposition and Memory in the North West Frontier, Oxford University Press and the School of American Research Press), this was not an instance of an ignorant peasant movement blindly following a charismatic leader. All sections of Pukhtun society involved in the Khidmatgar movement had a careful understanding of what the movement meant for them. For some, the movements civil disobedience, for example through its refusal to pay dues, struck effectively at the authority, income and prestige of the tax collectors and the Khan community who were seen as agents and intermediaries of the British. For others, it was some semblance of fending for Islamic values by opposing British wrongdoing and promoting social cohesion. As Banerjee notes, for the Pukhtun intelligentsia the movement was seen a revival of Pukhtun culture and living, which Marsden explores elsewhere for the Chitrali Muslims as living a mindful life. Ghaffar Khan by coming up with the cooperative sugar depots tried to challenge the economic stranglehold that NWFP was placed in, and also initiated business opportunities for Pathans. True to his principles of austerity, he tried to discourage extravagance amongst Pathans and their reliance on moneylenders, which he was of the opinion living a wasteful life encourages.

It is important to study and follow the history of the movement as symbolic interactionism derived from how Khidmatgars did Pukhtunwali. At times, history should be acknowledged as a cultural studies project by understanding the Khidmatgars observation of the situation, what they took into account, and follow common peoples interpretation of their actions and what led to their selection and execution of their behaviour.

With the simple oath, In the name of God who is Present and Evident, I am a Khudai Khidmatgar. I will serve the nation without any self-interest. I will not take revenge (badla) and my actions will not be a burden for anyone. My actions will be non-violent. I will make every sacrifice required of me to stay on this path. I will serve people without regard to their religion or faith. I shall use nation-made goods. I shall not be tempted by any office, the average villager who is ignorant and follows blindly� as British intelligence reports described them, followed a life that seems alien to todays perception of the community.

BanerjeeS beautiful narration of the community distributing the charkha (spinning wheel), of men questioning gendered representations of work (that spinning thread is only a womans job), challenging what they saw as British misinformation regarding class in Pukhtun society (that weavers are low caste and weaving was frowned upon in polite Pukhtun society) and the episode when a Khidmatgar in response to taunts that carrying a spinning wheel was carrying something un-Islamic and feminine, with the retort that this is his top (cannon) with which he will blast the British, are moving. With communal weavers workshops, women no longer keep purdah in front of the weavers and there was a relaxation of any restraints on mobility.

But what is exceptionally poignant are the images of the thousands of Khidmatgars at their charkha, conscious that being at the spinning wheel would remind them of the lessons that Ghaffar Khan had taught them at training camps of being self-contained and restraining pride. Grinding wheat for flour, rape-seed oil for cooking, cleaning the house, sweeping the hujra of the khan as khidmat (service), volunteering to dig graves and latrines were all, as Banerjee has analysed, the psychological preparation for non-violence, instilling patience, stoicism and forbearance in the Pathan. That the Khidmatgars stuck to their principles of non-violence and negotiated their political goals in the face of the physical violence unleashed by the British is exemplary.

This is in direct contrast to the present NWFP leadership, which stands accused of propagating a very monotheist definition of what doing Pukhto or being Muslim signifies. The provincial and national governments Afghan policy of the 80s has left behind a violent gun culture, promoted seclusion of women and a very narrow public space for religious and ethnic minorities. Though NWFPs low social development indicators can be explained as trends that existed before the development of the Afghan-inspired gun culture, to this some like Khattak (1994) reply that the comparative improvement in other Pakistani provinces indicates that there have been retrogressive state policies that have kept social change at bay in NWFP. In post-partition Pakistan, the Khudai Khidmatgar movement has faced the brunt of political violence and economic repression by successive regimes, with family members of those involved in the movement, and their later generations, still continuing to suffer. Therefore we have lost out on the opportunity of exploring an alternative paradigm for NWFP of a movement that had sponsored and supported a dialogue to address difficult problems of inter-communal and societal harmony, and that tolerance towards diversity of belief was not alien to the NWFP province.

This included street demonstrations by the Khidmatgars protesting the acts of disruption sponsored by the Political Agent-administered tribal areas and Muslim League, appointing groups to patrol the areas hosting non-Muslim populations and supporting these communities in the wake of provocation by any rioters. There are also oral testimonies of various instances where Khidmatgars and their extended families protected the lives and properties of non-Muslim minorities. The post-Partition Pakistan state�s efforts to valorize a belligerent, rather than a more rational and pacifist attitude towards others in the community did not give any space to the Khidmatgar and their episodes of valour in the official history of partition. Therefore, a particular episode of South Asian history will remain invisible with these stories remaining unspoken, hidden and de-legitimised.

The writer is a freelance columnist with a background in academia