It is interesting to study the way the Pashtun tribes have coped with the situation as militancy engulfed their areas and the Pakistani security forces moved in to fight the militants.
Almost all the Pashtun-populated areas have been affected by militancy in varying degrees with the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and some districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in that order suffering the most. It has been a challenge for the tribes to survive and minimise their losses after getting caught in the crossfire between the militants and the military. Some initially backed the militants and hosted the foreign “guest fighters” as they had become the dominant force due to the weakening of the state’s writ while others raised armed lashkars to challenge the Taliban and evict them from their areas.
In both cases, the tribes suffered incalculable human and material losses.
Arguably, the Mehsud tribe suffered the most because its mountainous territory in South Waziristan was the birthplace of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its leadership since 2007 to 2013 was in the hands of the Mehsuds, starting from Baitullah Mehsud and passing after his death in a US drone strike in 2009 to Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rahman. Almost the whole Mehsud tribe was uprooted from its native villages in October 2009 as a result of the military operation and most of its members even now are living in difficult conditions far away from home.
It is believed one of the reasons for the Khan Said Sajna faction to part ways with the TTP was the realisation that the Mehsud tribe had suffered enough and it was time it dissociated itself from the TTP’s war against the Pakistani state and explored the chances of returning to peace.
A study of the Wazir, Dawar, Mehsud and Burki tribes inhabiting South Waziristan and North Waziristan at times makes a fascinating reading.
Not many would know that the majority of people displaced from North Waziristan as a result of the recent military operation belong to the Dawar (also written as Daur) tribe even though the biggest tribe in this tribal agency is the Utmanzai Wazir.
Many more Dawars were uprooted because they live in large numbers in the Mir Ali and Miranshah sub-divisions that have been the focus of the military action launched in North Waziristan on June 15. Many members of the Utmanzai Wazir tribe inhabiting Mir Ali, Miranshah and the adjoining Boya tehsil were also dislocated, but their numbers are far less than the Dawars.
The Utmanzai Wazir tribe constitutes roughly 60 percent of the total population of North Waziristan while the Dawars form the remaining 40 percent. There are a few small tribes as well including the Saidgi, Kharsin, Gurbaz and Mehsud, the last-named inhabiting Razmak area on the boundary with South Waziristan, which is the traditional home of the Mehsuds.
The Dawar and Utmanzai Wazir tribes have almost the same characteristics — conservative, brave, hospitable and rigid in their religious and cultural beliefs. There are militants in both the tribes, though most Utmanzai Wazir tribesmen have been affiliated with the Taliban militant group led by a fellow tribesman, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, who decided against becoming the deputy head of the TTP when it was founded in December 2007 by Baitullah Mehsud. The militants among the Dawars could be found in a number of militant groups, including the TTP and the one headed by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.
The military hasn’t yet targeted Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s group, which is now largely based in the Dattakhel tehsil of North Waziristan. It had made a peace agreement with the government in September 2006 and is generally referred to as “good Taliban.” The military authorities have been keeping a close watch on the group’s activities and could take it on if its fighters resort to any hostile action. Hafiz Gul Bahadur had unilaterally scrapped the peace agreement with the government when the military action was launched in North Waziristan. It later showed ambivalence before declaring a ceasefire until the 10th day of Eidul Fitr.
Many more Utmanzai Wazirs would be displaced from Dattakhel and elsewhere if the ceasefire between Hafiz Gul Bahadur and the military doesn’t hold and most of them would prefer to cross over to Afghanistan than to the settled districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. According to the UN, already almost 112,000 Pakistani tribespeople from North Waziristan have taken refuge in Afghanistan’s Khost and Paktika provinces in the aftermath of the June 15 military operation.
A senior bureaucrat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who is from the Dawar tribe remarked that his people are naïve while the Wazirs are smart and are always on the right side of the government. He noted that the Ahmadzai Wazirs didn’t leave South Waziristan despite the military operation there several years ago and their cousins, Utmanzai Wazirs, also had no intention of leaving North Waziristan when the army started action against the militants on June 15. He pointed out that the only Utmanzai Wazirs who left their homes in North Waziristan were the ones residing in the Dawar-dominated areas.
In his view, Hafiz Gul Bahadur’s group and the military would avoid fighting each other. In such a situation, there would be no need for the Utmanzai Wazirs to abandon their homes in large numbers. The Dawars, on the other hand, suffered en block dislocation just like the Mehsuds before them in South Waziristan.
It is instructive to recall that the Pakistani Taliban first surfaced in South Waziristan, primarily in the Wana and Shakai areas populated by the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe. The young Nek Mohammad, the first known commander of Pakistani Taliban, belonged to the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe. He fought against the Pakistan army and forced it to conclude a peace agreement with him in Shakai in April 2004. This was the first peace agreement between the two sides. Two months later he was killed in the first US drone strike in Pakistan.
Though the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe suffered the consequences of the rise in militancy in its ranks, its elders together with the Taliban militants belonging to the tribe acted wisely and cut deals with the government by denying sanctuary to foreign fighters, particularly the Uzbeks affiliated to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), in their area. The army had no need then to undertake action in the part of South Waziristan inhabited by the Ahmadzai Wazirs and the tribe too was saved from suffering the misery of displacement.
In comparison, the fate of the Mehsud tribe, inhabiting the other part of South Waziristan, was different and decidedly miserable. Its young men under Baitullah Mehsud’s leadership joined the TTP in droves, fought against the state, and suffered the consequences. The Mehsuds are still largely homeless and there is no timeline when they would be able to return to their abandoned villages.
The bureaucrat from the unfortunate Dawar tribe is right. First the Ahmadzai Wazir tribe from South Waziristan and now the Utmanzai Wazirs from North Waziristan has wisely avoided getting displaced. The Mehsuds from South Waziristan and the Dawars from North Waziristan weren’t that lucky, or were perhaps unwise, because they suffered displacement and nobody is aware as to when their suffering would come to an end.