“Don’t tell us how to deal with the terrorist threat. We know the ground realities. You should be asking us how to deal with it.” Those were the words, in September 2006, with which Pervez Musharraf, the then president, responded to Western criticism of the Waziristan peace accords, signed earlier that month. With them, the president, as he undeniably was at the time, acknowledged that negotiations involving the Haqqani Network were an inherent part of the national counter-terrorism strategy.
As a member of the media entourage that spent two weeks in the US, I watched Musharraf convincingly argue the strategy to a favourably disposed American audience, which adored him as “our guy”. He diverted the debate by pouring scorn on the personal and political credentials of Hamid Karzai, who had just sent an extradition request for members of the so-called Quetta Shura allegedly resident here.
Musharraf was, because of his personal popularity in the West, able to cloud the fact that the government had struck a deal with a foreign militant faction that stank of expediency if not complicity.
Undeniably, the Haqqani Network played a central role in ending the conflict between the security forces—deployed in Fata for the first time since independence—and militants in the Waziristans. But those militants were member of the Network who had seized control of sovereign territory and fought, kidnapped and killed members of the security forces sent to expel them. They did so, fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with a distasteful array of foreign terrorists, who were either members of al-Qaeda, or of groups sharing its anarchist philosophy.
All the accords really did was to turn the Network’s commanders against some of their former allies. Also undeniably, the relationship facilitated the breaking of the territorial grip of Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-i-Taliban in South Waziristan in 2009. However, the neutrality of the Haqqani Network’s regional commander, Maulvi Nazir, was largely a consequence of the historical rivalry between the Wazir tribe, of which he is a member, and the Mehsud tribe.
The other major factor was the sentiments of the local Wazir tribes-people. Unlike Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the Network’s main man in North Waziristan, Nazir is not a local, but a migrant from Kandahar, with hereditary roots in Wana that have accorded him dual nationality (a consequence of the Durand Line dispute). As such, he must play to the gallery, or see popular sentiment swing towards local rival commanders. Entrapped by the cat-and-mouse politics of insurgency and counter-insurgency, the tribes-people of South Waziristan lost everything.
Whatever state social services had been available were lost. Farms and irrigation systems had to be abandoned, depriving them of food security and income. And if they bowed to the whims of one side, one of the others would kill them. It was little wonder that they had no appetite for further depravation and human loss. That sentiment and plenty of “compensation” was the reason Nazir so willing provided security to the Nespak engineers who, earlier this year, completed the construction of the Dargai Dam in South Waziristan.
The other undeniable positive aspect of the relationship with the Haqqani Network was its role, albeit unsuccessful, in facilitating talks last year to end the TTP’s sectarian siege of Parachinar. Again, there is good reason to weigh the pros and cons of their involvement. In return for guaranteeing safety of passage for Shia residents of Kurram, it wanted free access to the Bodki-Kharlachi border area, from where it would easily be able to strike at Kabul.
The Parachinaris had every reason not to invite an “enemy” into their midst, and refused to surrender. That necessitated the recent counter-terrorist operation that, sadly, has still failed to facilitate the movement of those Pakistani citizens to and from the rest of the country.
The tribes-people of North Waziristan are in an even worse plight. With bitter humour, they have taken to describing their plight as being caught between the drones circling overhead and “Taliban” blades on the ground. Like their counterparts in South Waziristan and Kurram, North Waziristanis have become cannon fodder in an environment dominated mostly by foreign combatants. The sense of betrayal felt by the tribes-people of Fata frequently voice is the other undeniable achievement of the relationship with the Haqqani Network.
Again and again, they have told me they are happy to pay this extortionate price for the sake of Pakistan. What they can’t swallow is the dual roles of culprit and victim they have been assigned as a consequence of the relationship with foreign militants, whose occupation and abuse of sovereign territory threatens an escalation of violence and suffering in their backyard.
Courtesy: The News International