Bannu: The love of weapons runs in the blood of tribesmen. It is reinforced by a traditional justice system that upholds an “eye for an eye” law. In the absence of government writ and courts, the culture of revenge serves as a deterrence to crimes and misdemeanours.
But government security forces seem to have achieved what authorities in the tribal areas could not, despite several previous deweaponization campaigns: They have taken away the tribesmen’s weapons; and with them, the unwritten rule of revenge.
“I feel quite relaxed in this environment, as our life before the military operation was no life at all,” Shaukat Ali, a resident of Khaddi village in NWA, told News Lens Pakistan.
“We were totally at the mercy of militants, living under constant fear. If the current drive of deweaponization continues, it will revive prospects for peace in the region.”
Security forces collected weapons from the houses and arms bazaars of Waziristan Agency during Operation Zarb-E-Azb, a military operation conducted against militants. A strict ban on weapons has been imposed since the army declared the area “clear” and displaced residents poured back into the agency.
Among the returnees are the family of Haji Toor Khan. They had fought a bloody dispute with the family of Malik Suleman Khan for 30 years. The feud has claimed 12 lives. Toor Khan has yet to take revenge – or badal, as the custom is locally known – against Malik Suleman Khan for the killing of two of his kinsmen.
Now both maliks (tribal chiefs) can sit together peacefully, without showing any signs of enmity or desire for vendetta.
The case of the two maliks burying the hatchet is not an isolated one. In North Waziristan where every village has families waging endless violent disputes on petty issues, sworn enemies have had to learn to live with each other under the steady gaze of military.
While local tribal customs and a culture of honour and badal has promoted the prevalence of guns as deterrence in the absence of government writ, in 1979 that the region became awash with weapons. Kalashnikov culture arrived in Pakistan in the wake of the Afghan mujahideen’s resistance to Russian intervention in Afghanistan, supported by Pakistan, the United States and Saudi Arabia. Arms proliferated in the border region, where the mujahideen were trained and armed to fight the Red Army.
“Pakistan’s efforts were supported by huge influxes of money from Saudi Arabia and the United States; eventually $6–$8 billion would be distributed to the clerics waging jihad,” writes Shuja Nawaz in the research paper “FATA – A Most Dangerous Place” published by the Washington based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
“Once again, outside funding that was intended for a particular short-term political purpose provoked lasting and unintended social consequences that undercut the intentions of its original financiers.”
Tribal areas, Waziristan in particular, turned into an international bazaar for arms and ammunitions provided to the Afghan mujahedeen and local tribesmen to fight against the Soviet Army. Arms markets sprung up in Mirali and Miranshah, the two main towns of North Waziristan. In the absence of a local economy, industry and employment, the arms business boomed in the region, becoming a lucrative source for earning.
“Lethal weapons like AK 47s, heavy machine guns, missiles of short and long range and even rocket launchers were easily available for affordable prices in the local markets,” Malik Pazeer Gul*, an elderly tribal chief, told News Lens.
“Heaps of explosives could be seen in the markets and in the houses of the arms and ammunition dealers.”
Before Kalashnikov was introduced to the tribal region, the tribesmen used locally manufactured guns called Daraywall guns – made in Darra Adam Khel, a semi tribal area situated between Kohat and Peshawar.
“When the Kalashnikov was adopted as “the jewellery of the tribesmen” and heavy weapons were stored in each and every house, the state of tribal feuds also changed alarmingly,” Pazeer Gul said.
“Where once light weapons were used to settle scores, people took to using heavy weapons against opponent tribes and whole tribes were forced to migrate to safer places after they started targeting each other.”
When the army announced a military offensive in North Waziristan in June 2014, people left all their belongings behind, including weapons. According to military sources, many hid their weapons in deep trenches dug inside their houses. Using metal detectors, the army combed the area for weapons and took away arms and ammunition. In absence of official data, it is hard to know the number of weapons confiscated. Local tribesmen estimate the figure was in the hundreds of thousands.
When repatriation started earlier this year, people returned to a totally different environment. Now not a single person is seen with a weapon on his body or inside the house.
“Due to the arms culture, we have long lived in a hell,” resident Hameed Khan told News Lens.
“We have so many orphans and widows in our area due to feuds and gun violence. This is not the age of arms. We must focus on educating our next generation.”
Before the operation, people used to enjoy festive firing in the air on the occasion of marriages, circumcisions and Eid celebrations. Many valuable lives were lost to this trend that had become something of a local custom, with the killers often going unidentified and unpunished when bullets falling from the sky killed someone.
“If we get rid of the curse of aerial firing, I think it would be a great achievement,” Sharifullah Khan Dawar, a resident of NWA who works as Director Audit for Fata, told News Lens.
However, local tribesmen expressed concern that there might be tribes with weapons in their possession still, creating an imbalance of power in a tribal society and making others vulnerable.
“I fear this state of partial deweaponisation will create severe imbalance of power in the area,” says Abdul Qayum Khan, a local of NWA. “In absence of proper laws and law enforcing agencies in the tribal region, one cannot guaranty peace.”
Irfan Burki, a youth from neighbouring South Waziristan Agency, favours deweaponisation but insists it must be effected without any discrimination.
“You have to disarm across the board, or weaponise all, to ensure balance of power,” Burki told News Lens. Selective deweaponisation would have serious implications for the inhabitants, he added.
“It is not fair to give arms to maliks and influential people while leaving the common man without any protection,” Burki said.