Wana in the news again

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As reported, the Commander Nazir Group, a Wana-based Taliban faction, is, under the guise of a local peace committee, attempting to ban social and cultural activities in parts of the agency and restrict women’s movement. The measures hearken back to the early days of the Taliban takeover in various parts of Fata – a disturbing reminder that peace in the region remains elusive, however much the local political administration may try to downplay the events. Part of the problem is that the Commander Nazir Group was never fully dismantled in South Waziristan, despite major operations in Wana and the Mehsud-dominated regions of the agency. Militant leaders belonging to the group are reported to have their own areas of jurisdiction to settle personal, family and property disputes and to impose fines and penalties – brazenly bypassing political authorities and effectively establishing parallel administrative systems. Some members of the Commander Nazir Group are believed to even operate their own prisons. While there is only one known check-post that the group is currently operating, it has been seen patrolling other parts of South Waziristan. If their activities are not quickly curtailed, the group may feel emboldened to return with force in Wana and even spread its operations to other areas. The state must respond quickly and firmly to the incipient return of the Taliban. Also necessary is for the recently returned populations to be told that they will be protected – and for vulnerable members of all communities to be assured of their rights. Women in particular face pressures from both sides, with a jirga held in South Waziristan in September announcing curbs on women’s liberties. The rise of the Taliban in Fata and the many military operations that have been conducted to clear the region of them have made clear that the area cannot be allowed to return to a pre-Taliban era. The region must be progressively brought to a par with the rest of Pakistan socially, economically, politically and administratively. No group – not the Taliban nor other regressive elements in Fata – should be allowed to curb the rights of anyone there. Certainly, the challenges are many and the path to normality will be long – but there must be zero tolerance for vigilantism and non-state justice. It may be recalled here that after the loss of 148 innocent lives at Peshawar’s Army Public School (APS) in 2014, the leadership assured us that it was finally clear on the identity of the country’s public enemy no1. A series of military operations with fancy titles got underway in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and these gradually expanded to settled areas well. Only in Operation Zarb-e-Azb, we lost more than 500 military men as around 5,000 were left with injuries. The most recent operation – Raddul Fassad – is still underway in Khyber Agency. The cost of these operations to the national exchequer has been in billions of rupees. But the true cost needs to factor in the hardship caused to the people of affected areas as well as the sufferings of those hit in various terrorist attacks. On countless occasions, the country’s leadership has claimed success for these military operations, saying that thousands of square miles of territory along the Pak-Afghan region have been cleared. Despite all these assurances, we have been told this week that pamphlets are circulating in the administrative headquarters of the South Waziristan Agency (SWA) with a note that stands for the worldview we have battled for all these years. These pamphlets have been endorsed by a committee headed by a person associated with late Taliban leaders Molvi Muhammad Nazir and Nek Muhammad. The note directs residents to avoid cultural and social activities and restricts movement of women outside their homes without male members of their family. Violators have been warned of repercussions. The circulation of these pamphlets gives the impression that as our soldiers were busy clearing territory in remote regions, the leadership remained oblivious to the presence of the foremost public enemy only a few miles from their administrative base. This puts a question mark on claims that no distinctions will be made among militants. Have these individuals not been disarmed because of the ‘pro-government’ image of their predecessors? The SWA administration says that there isn’t much to worry as the pamphlets were distributed by a handful of individuals with ‘criminal mindsets’. It says action will be taken, but under what law? There is widespread agreement among the political leadership of the country – not to mention voices from within the region – that the FCR has to go away and the country’s constitution has to be extended to tribal areas. The FCR is a draconian code introduced by a colonial power to control the region and deny its people their liberty and free will. It does not belong in 2017 or in a country that aspires to uphold republic values enshrined in its constitution. The ongoing deadlock over FATA’s merger with Khyber Pukhtunkhwa needs to end. The political leadership must resolve differences among themselves and proceed with the extension of the constitution and the governing framework delineated in it to tribal areas. Mainstreaming FATA – rather than mainstreaming militants – has to be among the most pressing of our concerns.

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