If the army has cleared the agency of all militants, then what is there to hide in South Waziristan?

Published: June 10, 2016
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When we sees scenes like aerial photographs from South Waziristan which show houses stripped of their roofs, the first thought that strikes one is of collective despair that inhabitants of that god forsaken place must feel in their own country and in their own land. PHOTO: AFP

The Pakistan Army has been fighting valiantly against the scourge of terrorism. There can be no words that can fully express the debt of gratitude that one feels towards our soldiers for having done what they have done to protect the people of Pakistan from the nefarious designs of these “holy warriors.”

That being said, what comes next is an arduous task.

The frontier of Pakistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) will continue to pose a challenge unless and until something is drastically done on a political and national level to integrate them fully into Pakistan. They must not be abandoned, nor should they be collectively punished simply because the Taliban used their homes and towns to launch their attacks on Pakistan and Afghanistan for so long.

Collective punishment is what the people of FATA have known for more than a 100 years. It is built into the very instrument by which first the British lorded over them and now Pakistan’s federal government rules them, that is the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). This is a damnable law and the mentality behind it has sought to treat our own citizens as enemy combatants or collaborators.

This is why when we sees scenes like aerial photographs from South Waziristan which show houses stripped of their roofs, the first thought that strikes one is of collective despair that inhabitants of that god forsaken place must feel in their own country and in their own land. It is as if they have known no independence and no freedom and that they are a subjugated race ruled by a foreign power. How different really is our treatment of FATA from the days of Lord Curzon and other British rulers?

It is as if they have known no independence and no freedom and that they are a subjugated race ruled by a foreign power.
Photo: AFP

How different really is our treatment of FATA from the days of Lord Curzon and other British rulers?
Photo: AFP

The British bombed them in the 20th century and we are still bombing them in the 21st.
Photo: AFP

The British bombed them in the 20th century and we are still bombing them in the 21st. The British deployed collective punishment as a tool and that is precisely what we are doing today. Looking at the pictures from South Waziristan, I do not see any difference, except maybe that we are even more ferocious than the British.

Imagine having your lives laid bare in this manner because of a conflict in which most, if not all, of these people were either innocent bystanders or at most unwilling collaborators. Imagine what must happen to these roofless houses, more reminiscent of ancient ruins than towns in the 21st century, during the monsoon season which is right around the corner.

There is no clarity on what the game plan is.

Is the government going to compensate these people and rebuild their houses or will they be left to fend for themselves? There is talk is of piddling compensation, some Rs400,000 per house. These families would need at least three times as much to rebuild their lives. Is there a plan in the works?

We need to know, and sadly, despite the fact that our Constitution makes right to information about matters of public importance a fundamental right, we are deliberately kept in the dark.

The media blackout in conflict zones is more counterproductive than useful. Right now all we (the citizens) have is the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) press release telling us of the situation in South Waziristan and FATA as a whole. Opening up these regions to independent media will only strengthen the credibility and establish the veracity of the narrative on this war.

And why must we be deprived of independent reporting in this conflict? Is it not through our tax rupees that these operations are funded? We are stakeholders in this conflict and we ought to know what is being done in our name so that there is transparency and independent verification of the facts. After all, the future of this country and our collective security is linked to it. There can be nothing that can be classified as being of greater public importance than honest and verifiable accounts of this war.

What is there to hide in South Waziristan anyway?

The Pakistan Army has reportedly cleared the agency of all militants. Why must we then stoke fires of suspicion? The good people at the ISPR and their think tanks ought to know that they have an image problem both domestically and internationally. Opening up the operations to scrutiny and independent reporting will be a step in the right direction and will only reinforce their efforts.

In this day and age, there is nothing like a complete black out. No amount of embedded journalism can substitute the real thing i.e. fearless and independent reporting by courageous journalists ready to risk their lives even in order to ensure that the public and the polity are kept abreast of the real situation on ground. All any attempt to control information through press releases and embedded journalists does is to allow certain sections to conjecture and come up with wild theories that may have nothing to do with the truth.

Often the wildest of conspiracy theories and the worst assumptions are taken by the populace at large as the truth.

Then there is the larger point. If we want to integrate these people into the mainstream of Pakistani society, our attitudes towards them need to undergo a paradigmatic shift. Indeed the battle against terrorism will be won when we win the hearts and minds of the people most affected by it. It will also need whistle-blowers in the media to stand up.

We must speak out consistently and without fear for the rights of our fellow citizens in the FATA areas. I long to see the day when FATA will be amalgamated into Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the century old subjugation of Pakhtun tribes would end. Till we extend to them all the rights and liberties of Pakistani citizenship, the very idea of Pakistan will remain incomplete. Only when a resident of FATA can finally claim that he too has the same rights and obligations as any other Pakistani, can Pakistan truly claim to be independent and free.

Do you think there should be more transparency in army operations?

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Yasser Latif Hamdani

Yasser Latif Hamdani

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Mr Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He tweets as @theRealYLH (twitter.com/therealylh)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Feroz

    Does it need a genius to figure out in this case that the Truth should remain unknown to the citizen. Journalists can easily defy any ban and make trips in the guise of private visits. They do not make trips or even if they do will not report it because they will land up dead somewhere. Pakistan has never been the promised free country for its citizens, never has been never will be. Better for all that skeletons remain hidden. There is no need for any propaganda machinery if there is nothing to hide.Recommend

  • whatever

    Pakistan army can fight with innocent and helpless unarmed civilians only, in 71 it was poor Bengali and now its FATA civilians. They too tried to fight with an army in result either they surrendered in thousands or their infantry ceased to exist and ran without taking their soldiers dead body.Recommend

  • Umar

    Here’s another some top university graduate who’s just written an article on FATA. I couldn’t find an inkling of understanding of the complexities involved in the issue.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “If the army has cleared the agency of all militants, then what is there to hide in South Waziristan?”

    Pakistani Sovereignty.Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    Pakistan is a security state. What you see, hear, think, say and write is all controlled by the security establishment. Newspapers, Electronic Media, Think tanks, Politicians and other people only talk about what is the current orchestrated version of the story being fed by the deep state. Rarely during an OBL assassination or Mullah Mansour assassination, is the curtain yanked and for a brief moment you see what the security establishment is really up to.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Clearing the militants is only part of the solution……..correcting the causes that brought about an upheaval is more important and this involves an understanding of the people of this region and what they want……..it’s a legislative issue that needs wisdom and leadership……both virtues in very short supply in our leadership.Recommend

  • Saadi

    Yes and you must have forgotten about the drubbing your might sena received at the hands of a conscript Chinese Army in 1962. They beat your faces red and then after spanking the Indian Army, left of the area of their own volition! The only time India has ever fought a country its size it was in 1962 and the results were outright disgraceful. At least Pakistan fights a much larger adversary with heart and if we lose, there is no shame in the game. We were outnumbered and surrounded from all sides in 71.
    So your Army is only good for bullying smaller countries around. And talking of fighting innocents, Pakistan Army does not even come close to the track record of your mighty Indian Army which has been waging a campaign against civilians for 29 years in Kashmir after parking 500,000 troops in Kashmir. So look who is talking about fighting civilians!
    And if you happen to be one of those lost Pakistanis then realize that it was the government of Pakistan, elected by its people, that forced the Army to take action against the TTP in FATA. If you are so concerned about the civilians, where was your sympathy when the same TTP was slaughtering civilians all over Pakistan in shooting and bomb attacks? Recommend

  • Saad Hasan

    It is not about “skeletons”. It is about prosecuting a counter insurgency campaign! When people are caught and cornered, there are no courts for them to be prosecuted in. They are eliminated and this is on purpose. If the media was allowed in, the counter insurgency would come to a complete halt. The media would bring the courts in by raising issues with the tactics of the military and the courts would essentially stop the military from operating with the liberty that it needs to execute the counter insurgency campaign. So lets not look at this situation as black or white. It never is such.Recommend

  • Khalid Noor

    Dear Yasser Latif Hamdani, will you write a blog on North Waziristan too where during Zarbe-Azb people’s property and houses were first looted and then destroyed just to show it as collateral damage. Pakistani nation does not know the truth and the so called patriots will never try to see the truth until this bitter truth come at their door steps.
    Thousands of untold and hidden stories where instead of eliminating terrorists and terrorism, hatred is cultivated.Recommend

  • Humza

    The problem with the writer is that he takes an idea and runs with it without trying to understand the real issues. The people of FATA were made IDPs within their own land by foreign funded and armed terrorists and criminals. They lived under the insecurity since the time of the Soviet invasion next door and they want safety and peace. If you ask a Waziri in Peshawar or Isloo they tell you that they want to do away in FCR and integrate into mainstream Pakistani society and be merged with the settled areas of KPK. They welcome army action to clear the border areas of criminals but there some locals who have been influenced financially or otherwise by the criminals and foreign agencies. The Maliks have their own agenda which is money. The writer should try talking to common people from the area who are in Islamabad or Karachi to get an appreciation of why they support military action but why they can’t openly antagonize the cowards who use the area to create havoc and militancy. The Waziris just want to become part of mainstream society with the opportunities and facilities of other regions in the country. Cleaning up the mess which has festered for so long is a step in the right direction and they understand why the military has to be firm to root out cowards who hide there among them because these are the cowards who also threaten them.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Britishers were Kafirs and Pakistani are Muslims and that is a major difference. Fata people are lucky that they now no more has to die and fight non-Muslims.Recommend

  • Varun Mathur

    “Is it not through our tax rupees that these operations are funded?”

    And I thought these ops are funded by something called coalition support funds. And that poor tax collection is the reason the Pakistani state does not feel obligated or accountable to the public.Recommend

  • Mirza Aasauf Baig

    Poor Indian Detected!!!Recommend

  • Mr Obvious

    The real question should have been why didn’t Pakistan embed journalist during the two year long campaign? The American’s allowed journalist to cover all of their wars – including their Civil War … they even embedded foreign journalist (Muslims) during the Gulf War. The answer is obvious – Pakistan’s rhetoric that their were no “good terrorist” was a blatant lie and any journalist might have reported that the Haqqani were carefully avoided during the campaign … they also might have questioned Pakistan’s military tactics which rely on massive artillery barrages which don’t distinguish civilians from terrorist.Recommend