by Rustam Shah Mohmand
The devastation could not be more heartbreaking. From one end to the other, the whole tribal area presents the spectacle of a war zone. Houses blown up, villages decimated, infrastructure no more.
Add Dir, Buner and Swat to that. Vast swaths are in ruins in Maidan, in the Dir region. Whole villages in Buner have disappeared. Matta and the adjoining areas in Swat present a picture of a powerful cyclone having devastated the whole area.
Between Khar and Nawagai, in what once was a most fertile area, villages on both sides of the road have been razed to the ground.
Many of the returning IDPs of Bajaur and Dir could not determine where their villages had once stood, to say nothing of their homes. They had to make return journeys to their camps.
In Qaudahari, in the Safi area of Mohmand, the situation is no better. The wreckage of a war is everywhere, with houses and villages having ceased to exist.
Bara, in Khyber Agency, an area once administered by an Assistant Political Agent, presents the picture of a ghost town.
Orakzai, once a most peaceful area, is a battle zone where on, an average, 20 people get killed in aerial bombing everyday. With tens of thousands of people having left, life has come to a standstill there. The relentless punishment, indiscriminate and merciless, continues with no regard to its horrendous implications.
As in other tribal areas, there is no definitive figure of the number of those killed or wounded in Kurram. But who would care? The “natives” deserve this fate.
Likewise, life remains paralysed in both Waziristans. Institutions are shut, public services suspended. Mobile telephone services have been discontinued. Bombing by helicopter-gunships is commonplace. As a matter of fact, it’s surprising if, on a particular day, bombs are not dropped and shells not fired. As elsewhere, it is innocent civilians, including women and children, who bear the brunt. People are weary of burying the dead and treating the wounded.
Life has almost come to a stop across the tribal area, and parts of Malakand Dir.
Movements are restricted. Every three miles there is a check post where passengers are ordered to disembark, to be searched and interrogated, before they are allowed go onwards, with the procedure repeated at the next stop.
Commodities of daily need are scarce. In an ironic twist, people in Mohmand, Kurram and Wazirstan are dependent for things like vegetables and cooking oil that are brought on mules from Afghanistan across the border, rather than the other way around in more peaceful times.
Women and children are most traumatised. Their lives have been permanently and irreversibly damaged. People live in constant fear of the security forces personnel knocking on their doors taking away adult males for “interrogation.” Many of these have not returned.
The whole area is virtually barricaded. Entry and exit points are under strict watch and control.
Why have people who have lived peacefully for generations been subjected to such humiliation, as well as being killed in such large numbers? Could there be other options? Had other options even been explored? And why were fighter-bombers, helicopter-gunships and heavy artillery made weapons of choice? And why did otherwise peaceful tribesmen turn against the government?
Some soul-searching and introspection must be done. Have we accomplished what we set out to achieve? For example, have state institutions begun to function properly and have people even remotely begun to live a normal life?
The embattled tribal areas will never be the same again. The institutions could never be revived to the point where they were before 2003-04.
Our aligning ourselves with the so-called war on terror was a disaster. To pursue that policy with ever greater use of force, with scant regard to the human toll it exacts, is a continuing catastrophe.
In terms of peace, in terms of stability and in terms of institutions, who are the victors?
The writer is Pakistan’s former ambassador to Kabul. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org