(First Published on 15/10/2012)
Saleem Mehsud is a friend and journalist originating from the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. His views are a narrative often missing from the western media when it comes to drones. Saleem is an important link for me in helping to understand the problems on the ground in the beautiful region of Waziristan torn apart by internal conflict where local people are caught between a rock and a hard place, the Pakistan military and the insurgents. I asked him for his thoughts on an historic event, a peace march led by Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party which stands for Justice, Humanity, Self Esteem.
The idea was to march into Waziristan and allow international media and human rights activists independent assessment of the difficulties for those suffering the impact of drone strikes. The march was a great success despite being stopped just short of the border of South Waziristan by the Pakistani military. Large crowds joined the convoy, new friendships were forged with visitors receiving a warm welcome, there did not appear to be any serious breaches of security and the rally gained the attention of international media. Those participating stood up to the governments of both Pakistan, America and Britain and said stop the drone strikes, we want our lives back, we have had enough!
Words of Saleem Mehsud
The following is the general script of Imran rally to Waziristan and views of the tribesmen being written while travelling back to Islamabad…..
Mehsud tribesmen saw ray of hope in the personality of Khan who might be proved better in future for addressing suffering of the tribal people…..
Tank, Oct 7: The rally of Imran Khan was stopped at Manzai Checkpost, from where the area of Frontier Region (FR) Tank was starting. The rally was stopped hardly at 50 kilometer distance from South Waziristan by the security forces of Pakistan where emergency has been imposed after the 2009 operation against the Mehsud Taliban.
After rejecting the entering of rally into the FR Tank, Imran Khan addressed a big gathering of people in Jahaz Ground area of Tank which was constructed by Britishers and was used as runway. Addressing a rally in Tank which was once a strong hold of Mehsud Taliban in 2005-6 is big achievement because after long time ago such a gathering was held by high profile politician. No leader of the mainstream political parties have arranged such a huge gathering in the district Tank after the operations in tribal areas were launched.
Mehsud tribesman appreciated the march of Imran Khan, saying that we have been deprived of having representation in the national assembly during the 2008 elections on the pretext that Mehsud tribesmen have deserted their homeland and were able to cast their votes because their families migrated to many areas in the country but Imran Khan’s voice for the tribal people gave them ray of hope that there is someone who is raising a voice for them.
The area of Kotkai where Imran Khan’s rally was supposed to be held had been in military control but TTP fighters still fired mortar shells in the village and other parts of the South Waziristan Agency are still under clashes between TTP and the Pakistan army. So law and order situation is not satisfactory still after huge devastation of the houses of the locals who have returned to their flattened houses by the government in separate phases after getting the locals registered with the concerned centres.
If the rally was allowed to go to Kotkai which is the hometown of TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud and suicide mastermind Qari Hussain Mehsud then the idea behind big gathering might be turned to other discussion because rally was organized basically against the US drone strikes but the Kotkai and also other parts of the South Waziristan were badly destroyed and demolished by the Pakistan that media might got focused on the brutalities of the army in the area. Government has claimed the construction of the highway in the area but that highway was constructed with the stones collected from the destroyed houses of the locals and also locals could not avail the newly constructed road because they are living in makeshift tents and are not willing to reconstruct their houses. They are saying that repeated military operation could not be stopped so they are not going to spend on the reconstruction of houses, adding that if government could compensate them only then construction of the houses is possible.
Many Mehsud tribesmen participated in the rally of Imran Khan, saying that they are not activists of the Khan’s party but are joining the rally because Khan has raised his voice for the tribal people and also gave message of brutalities being done to the tribal people to the international community.
Malik Hakim Jan Mehsud added that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto the late founder of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) visited South Waziristan’s Laddah Tehsil in 1975 and announced free of cost supply of electricity and Pakistan Telecommunication (PTCL) landline to the tribal region. Malik Jan said that Bhutto came to Laddah area along with his wife who was wearing tradition dress and announced the construction of a hospital in Laddah.
Malik said that Bhutto again visited South Waziristan in 1976 Laddah Tehsil and then went to Waaccna. Bhutto also inaugurated Razmak Cadet college during the same visit in North Waziristan. He said that rally of Khan was not allowed to go to Waziristan, adding that Khan is second politician from the mainstream political parties who tried to held a gathering in the no-go area but government was not happy to allow him.
US drone victims were also marching in the rally of Khan against the drone strike. Some fresh cases of drone victims were also included in the list of victims who came from Wana and Miranshah.
Why Imran opted for rally in Kotkai area of South Waziristan?
North and South Waziristan are sharing border where Mehsud dominated relatively major portion of South Waziristan and Wazir tribe have occupied less territory as compared the Mehsud while in North Waziristan there are two tribes one is Wazirs and other is Dawar tribe. So Wana where Wazir tribe is in majority is the stronghold of Maulana Fazl ur Rehman and similarly in North where Wazir and Dawar are living also there JUI-F have strength. In the Mehsud tribe area which was previously the stronghold of TTP fighter there JUI-F is not enjoying big support and also the Mehsud tribe after military operations were disheartened by the politicians so Imran won the best wishes of Mehsud tribe by helding rally in Tank and also voiced for the suffering of the tribe. The recent rally of Imran remained successful in mustering support for his party in the next general elections as local appreciated the move of Imran in good words.
The basic difference between the rally of PTI and other political parties was that in Tank and also while travelling from Islamabad to DIKhan and Tank there was no bullet proof vans and no strict security for the leaders of PTI including Imran Khan who everywhere mixed up with general public after and before his addresses.
Government has not provided strict security to the rally as foreigners were also marching in the rally but even then Khan appreciated and thanked the efforts of police personnel of Tank who provided relatively better security to the rally. However, overall security was not satisfactory.
Saleem Mehsud is an independent Tribal Area journalist from Waziristan and Carol Grayson is an independent writer from Newcastle, England.