Since the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, the situation in Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province is getting worse day by day. As in the past, a series of target killing and terrorism incidents started again. The current rise of the Taliban is not limited to Waziristan – in ex-FATA – but rapidly diffusing to adjacent areas of the province like Bannu, Bajaur, Swat, Buner and Mohmand. But this time, the Pashtun people are not naïve to the changing situation in their lands. They are protesting against the resettlement of TTP in their lands and condemning this move of the state. However, unfortunately, the mainstream media and leading political parties are silent on this issue and completely ignoring the protests and rallies happening against this resettlement. These are the same media and political parties that used to criticise terrorism hourly on the TV screens, just before the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Freely roaming terrorists late at night in districts of Dir, Buner, Swat, Mohmand have once again become common. Residents of these areas, aware of this movement, reported the matter to the authorities. So far, no significant actions have been taken in this regard. Tribal leaders and elders from the area had already warned the law enforcement and administration to address the matter, or they would opt for street protests to record their discontent.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) MPA Malik Liaquat Ali, who was protesting against the administration’s indifference and failure to stop terrorism, met with an attack which resulted in the killing of his family members and bodyguard. Sadly, the provincial government of Pakhtunkhwa being led by PTI did not say a single word against the terrorists. But, this time, the people there are organising mass demonstrations against this fresh wave of Talibanisation and terrorism. The role of youth in this regard is remarkable. Their simple demand is the elimination of terrorism and a long-term peace and stability in the area. On the other side, these protests are completely blacked out by the mainstream media.
Recently, two mass protests were recorded against the terrorists; none of the protests was broadcast or covered by the news media. People severely criticised the security agencies’ performance. They argued that a common citizen is stopped at each check-post for hours and is subjected to search, while terrorists, along with their assault weapons, are free to travel from area to area. This sparks suspicion about security forces. Many of the locals has reported seeing terrorists travelling in state forces’ vehicles, which is a big question mark on state policies and the efforts to eliminate armed militancy from the region.
A few weeks ago, an unpleasant incident took place between the Taliban and the police in Matta area of Swat, which is the native area of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mehmood Khan. The Taliban took prisoner a Deputy Superintendent of Police, a major from the army, and a few others as hostages. The alleged video of this incident was released by the Taliban, showing injured DSP and the army officer in their custody. In this alarming situation, the role of local law enforcement agencies i.e. police appeared to be very helpless as the mentioned hostages were not released by law enforcement action, but with the efforts of a local jirga. This incident, and the alleged footage and audio messages, caused fear and anxiety among the public. The common people are forced to think: when the government cannot protect its own officials, what protection will it provide to the common people? Meanwhile, the complete silence of the provincial government sends the message that all this is happening with the will of the provincial government. The people of Swat vowed to do every possible thing to block the way for Talibanisation in their region. They have no option but to take streets and express their disapproval against this armed unrest and a generally destabilised situation.
There has recently even been talk of the reintroduction of Talibanisation to Buner. The sudden wall-chalking with the slogans of Taliban and Da’esh (ISKP) and the complete silence of the local government and the district administration on this whole situation is mysterious. As in Swat, the masses in Buner, too, demonstrated in large numbers, sending the message that they want peace in the area. “We do not want to see Taliban and terrorists here, we want education and peace for our children,” the protestors chanted.
Such moves may have been intended to secure some sort of breathing space for negotiations, but they left people wondering if the state itself wants to rehabilitate Taliban
Nevertheless, a positive take-away from this whole situation is that unlike the past, when people were tricked in the name of religion and Shariah, this time they are straightforward and not in favour of any “Islamic system” introduced by the Taliban.
In North Waziristan, a protest for life, property, honour and peace has been going on for 40 days, in which all the tribes of North Waziristan are participating. The protest is also against Talibanisation, terrorism and target killing. The people there protested even on the country’s independence day. On that day, all the people had put up black flags on the houses, markets and protest camps. These people have a simple demand: a halt to terrorism on their land. They are of the view that it is the responsibility of the state and the security agencies to protect every citizen, but they have completely failed to fulfill this responsibility – or, in a possibility that is yet more sinister, they may be deliberately launching a new project of religious fundamentalist militancy.
There is a demand from the tribes there that they will hold talks with local military leadership and the representatives of the mainstream political parties will be present as witnesses. Still, the security forces and bureaucracy are evasive.
In South Waziristan’s Mehsud tribe districts, the Taliban, coming from different areas, are swiftly regrouping and, like in the past, they once again established their check-posts. They could be seen holding arms and patrolling various areas of Mehsud constituency. This situation has left residents in deep fear. Threatened by the Taliban, they are scared to speak against them, as in the past when dissent against terrorists would result in death. Surprisingly, this whole regrouping and reorganisation of Taliban is happening when the security forces are still present in the area. This, after all, is an area where locals are not allowed to keep weapons for their safety, but Taliban could be seen flaunting assault weapons openly, in broad daylight.
Some people are already describing it as the familiar nexus of state security and the Taliban.
The situation in In Bannu, Jani Khel and Bakkakhel is not very different from that in other Pashtun areas. As was the case in the past, the Taliban have started to approach every businessman, trader and contractor to demand extortion money. People have been protesting in these areas for months, but no government official approached them to ensure meeting their demands of peace. “We don’t want war, we want peace. The state security agencies are responsible for our security. We don’t want rations from them, but protection.” Locals from Khyber district, Tirah Valley and Bara Bazar repeated their demands as political alliances and thousands of people from different walks of life came out to record their protest. As usual, mainstream media did not show these protests, which increased the disenchantment of the people. They were wondering why it is that Pashtuns end up with stepmotherly treatment from the state, even when it comes to their fundamental security.
In Momand district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the residents are protesting for the same cause, including state atrocities towards them. They have held multiple protests and sit-ins – some of which are still going on – to little avail.
Bajaur district is also in the grip of terrorism. Over the past four years, terrorist activities have again increased. Taliban started to approach the influential and wealthy people – traders, builders and businessmen – of the area, forcing them to evacuate and to shift their businesses outside the ‘danger-zone.’
For their part, the military and various security agencies emphasise that they eliminated the terrorism from the region, and that the current wave of terrorism is caused by the terrorists who entered from the other side of Durand Line – i.e. from Afghanistan. The new breed of Pashtun, being more educated and aware of the geo-political situation of the region, are not quick to accept such claims. They argue, instead, that the Pak-Afghan border is all fenced: which raises questions on how such large numbers of terrorists cross the fence without being noticed by the security personnel guarding the fence.
It is important to mention here that similar to Swat and other tribal districts, another security operation to curb terrorism was conducted in Bajaur Agency, which resulted in mass damage of public property like schools, business centre, markets and houses. But after all this loss and damage, the terrorists are back again, which raises questions about the immense sacrifices that locals made to bring peace to their homeland.
It should be noted that the military has been negotiating with the TTP for several months and government officials from the region have been sent to Afghanistan to hold meetings with the Taliban there. But despite ongoing peace negotiations and an announced ceasefire, the attacks on innocent civilians and security personnel are still continued. Activities like ambush attacks on law enforcement agencies, bomb blasts, target killings and extortion demands have again become a routine practice.
The Taliban started to gain strength in the region right after US and NATO forces left Afghanistan, where the Afghan Taliban overthrew the internationally-recognised government of Ashraf Ghani and established their own Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Right after that, ex-ISI chief Gen. Faiz Hameed was appointed as Corps Commander Peshawar, who initiated peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. Multiple ceasefires were announced, and the state released hundreds of Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture.
Such moves may have been intended to secure some sort of breathing space for negotiations, but they left people wondering if the state itself wants to rehabilitate Taliban in the area. Since then, target killing, extortion, blasts, targeted attacks on local political leaders and all kinds of terrorist activities have become a routine practice. Despite all these incidents, enough to terrorise the residents, almost whole of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is protesting. Young people, as well elders of the area, are aware of the consequences of such activities and do not want to let another bloody game happen in their homeland.
They have sworn to continue their peaceful resistance against the Taliban.