By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
August 6, 2018
On July 31, 2018, two tribal elders, Malik
Salam Khan and Malik Niaz Khan, were shot dead in an incident of targeted killing
in Miramshah town, North Waziristan District, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) [the
Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) merged with KP on May 31, 2018].
Family sources said that Malik Salam Khan and Malik Niaz Khan were going from
Tappi village to Miramshah when unidentified assailants targeted their vehicle.
On February 15, 2018, two tribal elders,
Malik Shah Khan and Malik Askar Shah, were killed and two others were injured
in a landmine blast in the Tor Simat area of Orakzai Agency in (then) FATA.
Malik Shah Khan and Malik Askar Shah were travelling with two other tribal
elders to Hangu (KP) when their vehicle hit a roadside landmine in the Tor
On February 8, 2018, a tribal elder, Malik
Farooq Khan, was killed in a remote-controlled explosion in the Hialal Khail
area of Bajaur Agency in FATA. Malik Farooq Khan was going to a nearby market
in the mountainous Hialal Khail area of Charmang Valley when an explosive
device placed along the road went off.
There has been a spike in such incidents
and resultant fatalities in the current year (2018) after a noticeable decline
observed in 2016 and 2017, in comparison to previous years. According to
partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), during the
first seven months and three days of the current year (2018), there have been
three such incidents (targeting tribal leaders) resulting in the death of five
tribal leaders across Pakistan’s tribal areas. During the corresponding period
of 2017, one tribal elder had died in one incident; and in the remaining period
of 2017, there was one more incident resulting in one death. Through 2016,
there were two such deaths in two incidents. The tribal areas recorded 11 such
incidents, resulting in 14 killings through 2015.
Attacks on Tribal Elders in Pakistan: 2005-2018
Source: SATP, *Data till August 5, 2018
SATP’s partial data, based on erratic
reporting in the Pakistani media, confirms the killing of at least 163 tribal
elders since 2005 in 110 incidents. The first such incident in the SATP record
took place on May 29, 2005, when former Federal Minister and Senator, Malik
Faridullah Khan Wazir, was assassinated along with two other tribal elders
reportedly by four al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in the Jandola area of South
Waziristan Agency in FATA.
SAIR noted earlier that, since the
beginning of the US-led operation in Afghanistan in 2001 and the consequent
influx of Afghan Taliban into Pakistan’s tribal areas, primarily FATA, tribal
elders became frequent victims of a sustained campaign of annihilation that has
virtually destroyed the structure of traditional tribal power in these regions.
In the compound of the FATA Secretariat, there stands a lonely cenotaph with,
“Elders/Maliks of Federally Administered Tribal Areas Martyred in Militancy”
inscribed on it. It bears as many as 111 names. Although the font used for the
writing has remained consistent, additional slabs of marble have been added to
accommodate more names in this expanding list.
Delawar Khan Wazir, a senior journalist
from South Waziristan Agency, who maintained a record of his own since 2001,
claimed on September 5, 2015, that 1,114 tribal elders had been killed till
that point by the Taliban, al Qaeda and their affiliates, in the seven agencies
and six frontier regions of erstwhile FATA.
The attacks on tribal elders and their
families demonstrate the abject failure, irresponsibility and inconsistency of
state policies that have worsened the vulnerabilities of this endangered
leadership in FATA and KP. The attacks mainly target tribal elders who support
Government operations against the terrorists and are often acts of vengeance by
terrorists who have been forced to flee the areas due to successive military
offensives. Brigadier (Retd.) Mehmood Shah, former FATA Security Secretary, had
stated on May 11, 2017, that the Taliban began targeting tribal elders in 2005
after the elders voiced their support for the Government, Army and intelligence
agencies. He observed,
At the end of 2004, the tribal elders
signed agreements with the political administration, [allowing] for the arrest
of Taliban members in tribal areas. The agreements aimed to discourage the
Taliban's presence and power in the region, which previously the tribal
community tolerated. That enraged the militants and they started killing elders.
Not surprisingly, during the peak of
militancy between 2008 and 2015, at least 127 tribal elders’ heads rolled in
the war against terrorism in tribal areas, accounting for 78 per cent of the
total of 163 killings of tribal elders recorded by SATP. Many locals fled the
troubled region as a result. The Army in the meantime lunched major
counter-insurgency operations – Zarb-e-Azb (Sword of the Prophet) on June 15,
2014, and Radd-ul-Fasaad (Elimination of Discord) on February 22, 2017 –
directed against domestically oriented terror groups. These operations forced
these terrorist formations to escape the region and take shelter in areas
across the border, inside Afghanistan. It helped authorities restore
comparative peace in Pakistan’s tribal belt, and also had an impact on the
terrorists’ capacities to target tribal society and to assassinate tribal
elders. Consequently, in 2016 and 2017, only two tribal elders were killed in
each year, as against 14 such killings during 2015.
According to the UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) report of January 18, 2018,
between 2008 and 2014, more than five million people were displaced from FATA
due to the security operations by the military against non-state armed groups.
In mid-2015, because of the improved security situation and a more conducive
environment for their return, the Government of Pakistan initiated a
rehabilitation process for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in different
FATA agencies based, on the denotification notices issued by the FATA
Secretariat. Since then the Government, with the help of humanitarian partners,
has facilitated 438,657 (93%) of the displaced families to return to FATA.
There remains a total of some 29,000 families who are yet to return in 2018.
The tribal areas have been wrecked by the war. The FATA Disaster Management
Authority (FDMA) on October 3, 2017, disclosed that approximately 80,000 houses
were either fully or partially damaged due to militancy in the five agencies of
the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Meanwhile, tribesmen from different parts
of North Waziristan staged a protest demonstration at Mirali town on May 14,
2018, against increasing violence in the area, especially targeted killings.
Tribal elder Malik Ghulam Dawar observed that tribesmen were facing severe
unrest due to regular targeted killing incidents. He added that they had
abandoned their homes and became IDPs for the return of peace, but now upon
repatriation, they are once again facing violence. He added that such incidents
confirm the presence of anti-social elements in the area and the Government
needs to fulfil its responsibilities.
Despite unqualified support and immense
help from the tribal elders and communities in the war against terrorism,
Islamabad has demonstrated little concern for the safety and development of the
tribal regions. The populations of KP (including erstwhile FATA) continue to
suffer under sweeping and indiscriminate military operations, largely executed
through haphazard bombings and artillery attacks on populated areas, which has
brought ruination to the entire region and its populations.
Tushar Ranjan Mohanty is a Research Associate, Institute for Conflict
South Asia Intelligence Review