A major gathering of two Pashtun tribes in western Pakistan has requested that the government give their restive homeland its resources if security forces fail to establish peace in the region reeling from years of militant attacks and military operations.
Political and clan leaders of Wazir and Dawar, the two major tribes whose members make up the vast majority of residents in the remote North Waziristan district, say they are fed up with increasing insecurity years after officials claimed to have completely pacified the region following a major military operation in 2014.
“The state must ensure peace in North Waziristan, but if it continues to fail in establishing security it should hand over its resources to the local tribes,” noted a declaration from the August 4 jirga or tribal council. “The Uthmanzai tribes will then ensure peace with these same resources,” it added while referring to the Wazir and Dawar tribes.
While the declaration was vague on what specific resources the tribes demanded, it implied that locals want the government to give them weapons and funding if they deem security forces as not being up to the task. Some Pashtun tribes, particularly those in Waziristan, have raised posses to enforce peace, disrupt violent conflicts, and enforce collective decisions.
“Our basic aim in convening this event was to ensure that the increasing insecurity can be stopped in its tracks,” lawmaker Mohsin Dawar, who represents North Waziristan in the Pakistani Parliament, told Radio Mashaal. “We deliberated over why the state has failed to establish peace despite committing so many [military] resources to the region.”
The demand follows nearly two years of increasingly frequent attacks that have seen local elites and government officials killed in a targeted assassination campaign. The Pakistani military says its soldiers are regularly attacked by what it calls “terrorists” in North Waziristan -- a euphemism for remnants of anti-government Taliban factions who once controlled parts of the vast region bordering southeastern Afghanistan.
The tribal gathering called on Islamabad to swiftly resettle thousands of local families who were displaced during 2014’s Zarb-e Azb military offensive and compensate the region’s civilians for losses to their properties and businesses during subsequent fighting.
Zarb-e Azb forced more than 1 million North Waziristan residents to flee their homes. Senior Pakistani military officials have repeatedly characterized the offensive that involved airstrikes, long-range artillery barrages, and infantry operations as a resounding success. They maintain that they killed thousands of militants and reclaimed North Waziristan, which once headquartered Pakistani, Afghan, Central Asian, Chinese, and Arab militants affiliated with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and a host of other groups.
“We want to restore peace to North Waziristan, which is why we gathered people from all walks of life to determine a path forward,” Malik Khan Marjan, a Wazir tribal leader, told Radio Mashaal. “We cannot allow our children to suffer endlessly.”
A senior security official in North Waziristan, however, says they have made “tremendous progress” in restoring peace to the district.
Speaking with Radio Mashaal on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, the official said the security situation in North Waziristan has undergone a sea change since before Zarb-e Azb, when militant practically ruled parts of the region.
“We are now acting against remnants of militants in intelligence-based operations,” he said. “Some elements still hiding in remote mountains will be handled with an iron hand.”
He pointed to the return of more than 90 percent of North Waziristan’s displaced as evidence of their success in rebuilding peace in the region. “We are acting to eventually control all elements responsible for fomenting insecurity in the region,” he said.
But independent observers are not convinced. Journalist Ihsanullah Tipu Mahsud recently observed that “surrendered” Taliban returning under an opaque government amnesty scheme are wreaking havoc in North Waziristan and neighboring South Waziristan. He wrote that locals see these reconciled militants as being behind a string of assassinations that have provoked local anger and protests.
“To prevent the resurgence of militancy in the region, a comprehensive national policy incorporating security, social, political, and economic factors needs to be devised with the consent of parliament, local tribal jirgas, and civil society,” Mahsud wrote in a recent op-ed.
Tribal leader Marjan says they will soon meet with senior civil and military officials in North Waziristan to press their demands. The tribes will convene another jirga on August 14 to review the government’s response and decide the next course of action.
Radio Mashaal correspondent Shaheen Buneri contributed reporting to this story.