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The March of the Khan – Saleem Safi writes in TheNews

The March of the Khan

(Published in Daily English TheNews on October 5, 2012)

Saleem Safi

The tribal areas of Pakistan are called “Bazo-y Shamsheer Zen” (an arm armed with a sword) due to their history and geopolitics. North Waziristan could rightly be termed the heart of these tribal areas, and South Waziristan their mind.


I usually do not waste any opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the region and hospitality of the simple and loving people who live there. However, despite many invitations from PTI’s media team – on the grounds that I have a bit of an understanding of tribal affairs.


I refused to travel with Imran Khan’s peace march to Waziristan. I can distinguish between North and South Waziristan and so cannot be one of those who are fooled by PTI in the name of theis so-called peace march.


I genuinely wish to see Imran Khan safe and am strongly opposed to the idea of wasting the life of a leader like him, or his supporters, just for a political event. When I communicated my opinion about this adventure, I was told that Imran Khan and his supporters are not scared of death.


However, soon after the announcement of the peace march, its venue was changed from North to South Waziristan. When inquired about the change, we were told that the situation in North Waziristan is not conducive. So the first question is: if you are not scared why not go to North Waziristan? And if your preference is the relatively peaceful locations in tribal areas, then why not stage this political show at Khyber Agency?


One wonders about the very rationale behind this peace march. If it is being done to register protest against drone strikes, then one must bear in mind that in the last seven years, there were a total of 223 attacks in North Waziristan, while South Waziristan was targeted 76 times. Thus, the main target of drones is North Waziristan. Even this year, North Waziristan was targeted 32 times as opposed to South Waziristan, which experienced four such attacks. If the idea is to reach the most affected area, then that is North Waziristan. And if the idea is to protest effectively against drone attacks, then why risk the lives of a party leader and his supporters, while making things even more difficult for the already-overburdened security forces in the area.


Imran Khan has so many options to choose from to protest drones effectively. He can protest at the gates of the President House or Airforce Headquarters. Besides, Imran Khan is not Hakeemullah Mehsood, and has no such restrictions on his movement. Drones are coordinated by the CIA, whose headquarters are in the US. Instead of South Waziristan, it is a far better idea to protest in front of CIA headquarters. Perhaps a more appropriate idea, and one that supports logic, is to take stakeholders from Waziristan and protest in the US. This simple logic was perhaps overlooked by the intelligent team that surrounds Imran Khan, who are glad that due to foreign citizens, security forces are obliged to provide more security.


Statements by the party indicate that the march is an effort to show solidarity with local Waziristan people against military operations. Once again, this idea demands a march into North Waziristan. Even if this march is to remove international reservations over Waziristan, it is indeed North Waziristan that is mentioned in western reports and analysis. When the US or Afghan governments point out that the Haqqani Network is active from Waziristan, they are referring to North Waziristan.


With all these arguments about the north and the south, I was genuinely interested in the exact place to be selected for this political show. To my dismay, even in South Waziristan, the protest centre is not the agency’s headquarter Wana; rather the small village of Kotkai, the entry point to the agency. This village was once inhabited by the Mehsud tribe; and during the last two years almost all its population has migrated from there. The non-militant Mehsuds got refuge in Tank and D. I. Khan, while Taliban supporters moved to North Waziristan. According to official claims, 30 percent of the population is now back. Being the birth place of Hakeemullah Mehsood, this village was heavily bombarded and is now being restructured as a ‘model village’ by the Pakistan Army. To date not a single soul can enter or leave the village without the consent of the military. The political loss PTI may suffer through this peace march to Kotkai is more or less a catch. If the military refuses to allow the march, the army will be blamed for political maneuvering. On other hand, if it is allowed, the whole act will be seen as a military sponsored show.


It is much wiser if such activity be conducted in a locality that is not in direct control of the army. If the PTI’s genuine intention is to show solidarity with inhabitants of tribal areas, it was far wiser to stage this show in Wana, where representatives from all tribes could have gathered. Representatives from all tribes from all agencies could have also met in the form of a jirga at Peshawar. And if this exercise is to contact or create rapport with the Taliban, North Waziristan is a more appropriate place.


My opposition to the idea is not actually based on location, intention, or political gain or loss for PTI. My main concern is that our security forces and police are already overburdened, and will have to work beyond their capacity if such a public gathering were to take place there. Any public gathering for any cause in these areas results in net loss. It is claimed that there are three layers of security for Imran Khan and the peace march foreigners. But such security cannot be guaranteed to each participant of this march. Risking the lives of followers for an irrational political show is indeed a bad decision. The major concern for security forces in the area is to cut off extremists from any contact with civilians. It is feared that trained militants may slip from tribal areas to settled ones. The proposed march is an excellent opportunity for such infiltration.


For these reasons, I really cannot understand the wisdom behind this decision by the PTI leadership. Perhaps Imran is still (ill)advised by a select group of self-proclaimed genius minds. If senior and experienced persons had been consulted, the decision might be very different. Despite my opposition to the idea and modalities of this upcoming peace march, all I can do is pray for Imran Khan, and see what happens. I sincerely hope my predictions prove wrong and Imran’s claims prove right.
The writer works for Geo TV.

Email: saleem.safi@janggroup.com.pk

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