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In Khyber Pass, Pashtun Tribes Protest Raids

The Khyber Pass links northwestern Pakistan to eastern Afghanistan and is considered a vital trade and transport artery between the two countries.

LANDIKOTAL, Pakistan -- Taking turns before government officials, angry Pashtun tribal leaders criticized the security forces for raiding their homes.

The civilian officials in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber tribal district listened to a litany of complaints from more than 100 community leaders. They represented important clans from the Afridi, Shinwari, Mullagori, and Shalmani Pashtun tribes whose 1 million members populate the region.

“Our entire tribe protests the raids that are being carried out without [a thought-out] policy or mechanism,” tribal leader Darya Khan Afridi told the December 19 gathering. “These [raids] are violating the honor of our homeland and families and are arresting the development of our region. I am asking you to stop these raids.”

The meeting followed a protest this week in which residents blocked the main Khyber Pass road, locally called the Peshawar-Torkham Highway, for several hours. The city of Peshawar, capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, abuts Khyber to the east. The Khyber Pass links northwestern Pakistan to eastern Afghanistan and is considered a vital trade and transport artery between the two countries.

According to Pakistan’s daily Dawn, the protest was prompted by raids in Khyber’s Sultankhel and Walikhel communities, where the security forces found none of the illegal arms they came looking for. The protesters alleged that soldiers acted on false tips and forced their way into homes, which violated local traditions.

“We are really saddened by this conduct,” Afridi said. “Our tribes will not accept anything that destroys our livelihoods, honor, or relations between our communities.”

The issue highlights the precarious situation in Khyber and six other tribal districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These regions formerly formed the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) but were merged into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa this year.

The merger plan, however, is slow in bringing the promised governance reforms and development to these impoverished areas, where a Taliban insurgency and military operations have killed more than 50,000 civilians and displaced millions since 2003.

Mehmood Aslam, the deputy commissioner or most senior civilian official in Khyber, assured the tribal leaders that he has discussed their grievances with senior security officials.

“They [the security officials] also regret these incidents. Some of them might they could have met you to apologize,” he told tribal leaders. “This saddens me, too, but while mistakes are made the important thing is that if someone admits their mistake then our traditions call for forgiving them.”

Like the rest of former FATA, the residents of Khyber are awaiting improvements in services, security, rights, and governance after Islamabad scrapped the draconian colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations that ruled the region’s Pashtun tribes for more than a century.

But tribal leaders in the region say they have faced a legal and administrative vacuum because authorities have yet to implement the changes required for truly merging the region into the country’s mainstream.

Their difficulties are accentuated by an economic squeeze from government efforts to control cross-border trade, which is the mainstay of most livelihoods in Khyber.

“We have to really think about the future of our children -- their education and employment,” Afridi said.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Radio Mashaal correspondent Farhad Shinwari’s reporting from Landikotal, Pakistan.

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