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A long march towards peace

The government needs to stop ignoring the miseries of people in Fata as trust is gained with positive measures, not oppressive means

A long march towards peace

Naqeeb Mehsud’s killing was a watershed moment in the lives of the people of his city of residence and ancestral abode Waziristan. Questions were raised about extrajudicial killing of citizens in Karachi and Fata. Protests were initiated in Karachi to nab the alleged killer cop and putting an end to the practice of victimising the weak through extrajudicial means.

That was all on the part of Karachi, but people of Waziristan found an opportunity in the same to convey their angst against the state which they feel has committed many wrongs against them. The protests launched in Karachi transformed into a long March by all Pashtuns towards Islamabad. The marchers reached Islamabad and held a 10-day sit-in. The same has been postponed after assurances by the prime minister.

The long march for peace was organised by youth and participated by all the political parties, Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns from all walks of life. In Pashtun traditions, it is called “nanawati” whereby a group visits the place of another group having some enmity with a request to end the conflict. Hence, the same was conducted in a true spirit of nanawati with peaceful and democratic means.

The state has categorised the policy issues into those “to be discussed” and those “not to be discussed”. You can debate over any political or administrative issue. The government will respond and the media would be there to lend you coverage.

The demands of long march include immediate arrest of the alleged cop Rao Anwar, removal of landmines across Fata, presenting the missing persons before courts, removal of watan cards and security check-posts etc. These demands were aired across during speeches by almost all the speakers at the sit-in.

Well, the state has categorised the policy issues into those “to be discussed” and those “not to be discussed”. You can debate over any political or administrative issue. The government will respond and the media would be there to lend you coverage. However, the issues which you are not allowed to discuss mostly impinge upon the security policy or those being managed by the military. You simply are not allowed, you won’t receive any response and the media will not give any coverage despite seriousness of the issues. Such contrast became very much visible during the long march. The media proved itself to be biased and “managed” rather than impartial and independent.

Failure of police and security agencies to arrest Rao Anwar speaks volumes of our criminal justice system’s incompetence and complicity with criminals. No one asked for his extrajudicial killing the way he has been doing with his victims rather to present him before the court of law which testifies to the intentions of the marchers to establish rule of law.

Landmines are responsible for injuring more than hundred persons in South Waziristan alone. While the internally-displaced persons were asked to return to their respective areas, it was presumed that the area is clear — clear of militants as well as landmines. However, the same was not done and such mines are spread across Fata which are yet to be cleared.

Another issue was that of missing persons. Missing persons are those being abducted by security agencies and not presented before courts. Fundamental rights and access to due process of law is the basis of social contract between people and state. Even if they were militants and responsible for destructions, courts are there to bring them to justice on behalf of the citizens. If anomalies are there in the legal process which could not cater to the emerging needs, address them rather than bypassing the due process. The number of missing persons runs into hundreds across Fata, KP, Balochistan and Sindh.

Such callousness on behalf of the state to adopt a convenient measure of abductions, bullying and killings won’t guarantee law-abiding citizenry. It resulted in what it was supposed to become — hatred and mistrust. Blacking out the grievances of these people may lend some temporary relief to the state, but it damages the very basis of social contract having severe impacts in the long term. The long march proved the same.

People in Fata were comfortable with FCR and even that black clause of collective responsibility since “rewaj” and other unwritten traditions provided a mechanism for checks and balances. However, the said law was abused especially the clause of collective responsibility during the military operations. The militants misused Islamic law and the state abused the FCR.

An improvise device’s explosion in an area means unaccountable trial of all the surrounding villages. Immediate curfew would be imposed in the adjacent areas and all men, women and children would be brought out of their homes. No one knows the duration of curfew or the nature of punishment being meted out. It all depends on luck and discretion of the commanding authorities. Media won’t report it and the courts won’t take any notice. This is a common routine, not some exception. People are reluctant to stay at their ancestral places even after frequent requests by the government on account of the constant fear of such incidents besides regular humiliation at military check posts.

Another innovation is that of “watan card” whereby a local can enter his agency. The national identity cards are not sufficient to ensure entry into one’s own hometown. Hence, watan card is more like a visa which one has to avail for visiting his own home.

People in tribal areas are also concerned about the sprawling groups of “good” militants who are supposed to be good towards ‘us’ though bad towards ‘others’. Such good militants are also joined by hundreds of common people called “sources” of respective security agencies. The good militants and “sources” have stakes in the present system and leverage their position/contacts for vested interests. Well, these groups and people have morphed into a mafia and follow the same norms of abusing and looting as done by the “bad” militants. In order to get some benefit, you need access to such people who liaise with the agencies and other stakeholders. However, perhaps many of them have started freelancing bypassing their benefactors, which again was supposed to happen!

Besides all these security issues, there comes the political administrations which were supposed to play a role of course correction and building trust among the citizens and other state institutions. However, instead of positive intervention, they toe the line being dictated by the military and wont risk offending them. The reason for not affecting the system by political administration is its corruption. They are busy in minting quick money through illegal taxes, selling out the development projects and such other means. In this situation, they won’t afford some adverse report by the security agencies which may result in their posting out.

The same case is with the Frontier Corps where most of the officers are prone to corruption. Hence, it has become a symbiotic relationship at the cost of common people. However, as mentioned earlier, the irregularities committed by the civil administration are “allowed” for debate, whereas those committed by the military, FC and intelligence agencies are “not allowed” for debate — in the name of security and for the larger national interest.

And meanwhile, the people would keep mum and suffer. The common people are being pushed to the wall, but the state found it more convenient to keep them silent rather than addressing them. A few buildings and roads won’t win hearts and minds. The government must wake up to the call of marchers. They came straight to the capital for informing the government of what is wrong with our policies. The young leader of the long march said very candidly at the end that: “We hope the government would address the issues. If not, no difference would remain in the Pashtun and Baloch youth” (referring to the Baloch fighting against the state). He did not mean that they would do so, since they explicitly adopted a non-violent approach and vowed to follow that, but other elements can respond violently.

The government needs to come out of its slumber and stop ignoring the miseries of people. It’s reciprocal. Trust is gained with positive measures, not oppressive means. The marchers were better patriots then those pursuing these oppressive policies. These youth need to be reconciled and treated as full citizens under the law.

Fahad Ikram Qazi

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