Guest post by Pakistani journalist Gohar Mehsud
Drone strikes from the US and assaults on civilians from the military
Due to the endless fight amongst foreign, local militants, Pakistan Army and U.S. predator drones, every aspect of life in Pakistan tribal areas especially South & North Waziristan has become a hell on earth.
The US Predator Drone attacks coupled with the long-standing presence of foreign militants in Northern and Southern Waziristan, the remote and lawless tribal areas of Pakistan have imprisoned local tribes and their leaders between outsiders, using the tribal lands to wage a battle. South and North Waziristan have boundary lines with the Afghanistan Provinces of Paktika, Khost and Paktia. The use of US drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan against militants started in 2004, when the Pakistani Taliban first ever commander Nek Muhammad was killed on the 18th June 2004. Initially Pakistani Government took responsibility for Nek Muhammad’s death but afterwards in 2006, American broadcast television network PBS Front Line reported that he was killed in a US drone attack not by the Pakistan Army.
During a recent visit to North Waziristan, I observed the locals in big trouble, almost all day and night you will hear the sound of drones in the air, sometimes you will be able to see them clearly. Similarly, you can feel and observe the Taliban openly there as well, having guns and a dreaded outlook. On the roads you will find many check posts of Pakistan army searching and investigating people in the long-standing lines.
Militancy rife in the region
A small business man in Miranshah, headquarter of North Waziristan told me during this visit that now a day here is an uncertain situation, “you can face anything in the form of drone attack or in the shape of militant abduction or punishment”. He further said that, “Our businesses, schools and hospitals had been destroyed due to the war torn situation in the area… military operation or shelling happen at any time.” He added that recently in the National Assembly session, Minister for States and Frontier Regions (Safron), Lt General (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch informed the National Assembly that more then 1,029 educational institutions are non-functional in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. He was of the view that all this destruction happened because of the militancy in the area.
A BBC report revealed last year that, “during the last five years in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) 485 schools and colleges had been destroyed, which affects a half million school going children and students.”
Constant fighting and militancy in the tribal areas of Pakistan convert the region into a widespread smuggling of drugs and pharmaceuticals since there is no ability for law enforcement to operate. According to the doctors in North Waziristan, it is difficult to control the illegal drugs or pharmaceutical materials. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one doctor noted, anecdotally, that recently there has been a marked increase in people seeking medical attention for psychological trauma visiting him and his pharmacy since the fighting and drone bombings had increased.
On the other hand in both South and North Waziristan, there is no polio vaccination on the ground since Hafiz Gul Bahader in the North and Commander Nazir group in South Waziristan banned polio vaccination in 2011. This declaration regarding no polio vaccination in the area was in response to US drone strikes and will continue until drone attacks stop in the region.
A tribal elder who was scared by the militants and Pakistani Agencies and did not want to expose his name says that the local tribes men are facing big problems and challenges. While terming the current situations as an unannounced third world war, he said that “we the tribal are losing our traditions, values and culture while the whole world is fighting their own interest here”. He explained that “ once the militant capture your home then they would not be ready on any condition to leave this house.”
The elder went on to say, “we are bound in our own areas; sometimes we feel fear because of the drone attack and the same time by the Pakistan army and agencies that they might declare us ‘turncoat’. Also, you cannot neglect the militants as any time they can do anything with you, because there is no single power, everyone is trying to be big beneficiary.”
TTP Punjabi Taliban Commander, Asmattulah Muaweya, who was recently criticized by the then Chief of TTP Hakeemullah Mehsud regarding a peace talk statement, told me in his exclusive interview that peace talks are important for Pakistan and the Taliban as well. He said Pakistan government must be serious and should tell America clearly that they must stop their drone strikes in the tribal areas.
Tribespeople protest drones and children at risk from drone attacks
In 2009 the Pakistan army lunched a military operation in South Waziristan called operation Rahe Nijat (Path to Salvation) against Pakistan base Militants Tehrik – Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Arabs. According to information that was provided to the National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) by a local NGO Feda, military operations in South Waziristan caused 69,000 Mehsud tribe families to flee from their native houses.
A local journalist from South Waziristan Agency who requested not to mention his name said that “approximately around two hundred of the Mehsud elders has been secretly killed, as they were raising voice for the people”. He said this was not only happening in South Waziristan but it happens in the entire tribal region of Pakistan. A social worker, who works on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) stated that after a long military offensive against the militants in South Waziristan, now the government officials were pushing the Mehsud tribesmen to go back into the areas. However the tribals persist that they would not go till that time when all the military are not coming out from the area or the complete elimination of militants.
The writer is Islamabad base freelance tribal journalist. He can be reached at, email@example.com
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad. She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.