Pakistan’s US-Backed Al-Qaeda Search Trespasses Tribal Turf

LAHORE – Tribal leaders have accused Pakistani security forces of atrocities, including firing at children, in last week’s raid on Al-Qaeda militants in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan, alleging it is part of a US plan to create another “Israel” in their fiercely independent fief.

Protesting the deployment of paramilitary forces in the area – which is governed by tribal laws – senator Sanaullah Baloch of the Balochistan National Party alleged that at least 70 children were injured when the Frontier Corps (FC) tried to take possession of a school during operations against the Al-Qaeda.

Describing it as an act of state terrorism, senator Maulana Samiul Haq says houses of tribesmen were being bulldozed under the collective responsibility clause of the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR).

“How long will our military continue to conquer its own people?” he asks. He says troops were indulging in loot and arson and demolishing the houses of tribesmen.

Opposition members of Senate on Tuesday staged a walkout in protest against the firing. Senator Ibrahim Khan of the radical Islamist organization – Jamaat-e-Islami – also condemned the military operation in Waziristan.

Khan demanded the House be taken into confidence about the operation against tribesmen. Accusing the government of implementing America’s diktats, he claimed the military operation violated the tribesmen’s rights, traditions and customs.

The FCR is a separate legal system which recognizes the doctrine of collective responsibility in FATA. But the authorities make use of this provision to detain clansmen of a fugitive’s tribe, or blockade the fugitive’s village, pending his surrender or punishment by his own tribe in accordance with local tradition.

During an operation in November 2003, the administration arrested a ten-year-old boy named Jan Shah belonging to the Mehsud Abdulae tribe, and asked the tribe to surrender wanted criminals. Jan Shah’s father was already in custody.

Under the concept of the collective responsibility clause of the FCR, the administration is empowered to arrest any person and seal businesses in the locality where an offense has taken place.

This time, the Pakistani troops were also hunting for those who had launched an attack on the Pakistan Army. But tribal chief, Haji Malik Salaam Khan, says the feds are looking in the wrong place.

“The government has sent its troops here but no suspect could be found. The troops also demolished three houses suspecting the militants were hiding there,” he says.

Khan adds that, “It is the tradition in the area that before the government launches an operation, it is bound to take the tribal chiefs into confidence. But this time the troops were sent there without taking us into confidence,” he says.

Calling for an end to the military operation, last week, a tribal council comprising FATA parliamentarians and elders urged the government to exempt tribal elders from the collective responsibility clause.

The council warned that it would withdraw cooperation to the administration if the government failed to meet its demands.

That could hit the US-led flushing-out campaign against the Al-Qaeda and the remnants of the Taliban, both of which are active in Pakistan.

The federal government’s stance is that anybody who obstructs the arrests of those involved in terrorist activities are disloyal.

Says Interior Minister Syed Faisal Saleh Hayat, “The critics ought to see how these people have undermined the very infrastructure of civilization in the country. If anybody is criticizing us, he is not rendering any service to Pakistan and his loyalty to Pakistan is doubtful.”

The tribesmen aren’t convinced. The president of the All-FATA Supreme Council, Saif Ali Haideri, hits out at the Levies – a special force that maintains law and order in the semi-autonomous and tribal areas of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and South Western Balochistan province – for brutalizing tribesmen.

He says the council will submit a detailed report to the UN on human rights violations perpetrated in the name of collective responsibility in the tribal areas.

Haideri says that recently the authorities arrested over 200 tribesmen for protesting the killing of a taxi driver near a Levies checkpoint. When the driver drove past the checkpoint despite being signaled to stop, the Levies opened fire, killing him on the spot.

According to the AFSC president, instead of taking legal action against those responsible for the driver’s death, the political authorities, in connivance with tribal elders, had lodged cases against the protesters.

NWFP governor Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah assures that an amended FCR would be enforced soon. He says laws that fix responsibility of a criminal incident on the tribe were “cruel,” and adds that only the family of a tribesman responsible for a criminal act would be held accountable.

Another amendment incorporated in the FCR will provide tribesmen the right to appeal. “These amendments will benefit the tribal people. I don’t see any negative reaction. I strongly believe that these changes were long overdue,” maintains the governor.

Shah says the government has prepared a comprehensive reforms package for the tribal region, keeping in view the customs and traditions of its people.

Inter Press Service