It was a bloody beginning of the year 2010 in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. More than one hundred people were killed and another 22 injured in a car bomb attack on the packed volleyball ground in Laki Marwat.
At the time when the suicide bomber attacked the volleyball ground, around 25 elders of the "peace committee' were holding a meeting at a nearby mosque, but they remained unhurt. Officials say that the bomber apparently decided to target the crowd and the players, as most of them were members of the armed Lashkar that demolished houses of the militants and evicted them from their villages.
Elsewhere in the northwest province, a roadside bomb exploded near a car in the Bajur tribal region, killing a pro-government tribal elder and five of his family members. Tribal leaders who support the government against the militants are frequent targets of attacks.
Borrowing a page from Al-Anbar experiment, the US has advised Pakistan to enlist tribal leaders in the border areas in the fight against the Taliban, as part of a broader effort to bolster Pakistani forces. The proposal is modeled in part on a similar effort by American forces in Anbar Province of Iraq where American commanders have worked with Sunni sheiks to turn locals against the militant group. This has been hailed as a great success in fighting insurgents there.
Many experts point out that the experiment as it played-out in Iraq had produced disastrous results in El Salvador where it further polarized the populace and turned the people against the US efforts. Tellingly, the consequences of the Anbar/El Salvador model are emerging in the volatile Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) where even the national army is seen as an occupying army by many fiercely independent-mind tribesmen.
The tragic incident of Laki Marwat best reflects the outcome of the new government policy to pit tribes against tribes through bribes. The pro-government tribes are being armed by the Pakistan government. Till this date more than 700 tribal elders have been killed in this strategy.
In October 2008, a suicide bomb attack on a pro-government tribal jirga in Orakzai killed at least 51 people with more than 200 wounded. Orakzai has been the most peaceful of Pakistan's seven semi-autonomous tribal regions. Unlike most of the others, Orakzai does not border Afghanistan. The jirga was about to send a tribal lashkar led by 25 elders to destroy the alleged Taliban headquarters in the area.
South Waziristan Operation
The Laki Marwat bomb attack was not far from South Waziristan, where Pakistan's mercenary army is waging an offensive, called Rah-e-Nijat (the Salvation Path), against the Pakistani Taliban or militants. That operation has provoked apparent reprisal attacks that have killed more than 500 people since October when the military operation was launched.
The South Waziristan operation continued since mid-October 2009 under a smoke screen. No body knows what is going on in the operation theatre since media is not allowed to report about the operation or the plight of the people suffering from the indiscriminate shelling and air strikes on the so-called Taliban targets. No journalists are permitted inside the war zone. Every report on the fighting, Taliban and army casualties, and civilian casualties are based solely on the information, misinformation and propaganda released by the government or military spokesmen.
Bans on media made it impossible to gauge the real extent of civilian casualties which are these days dubbed as collateral damage. A sample of army atrocities in South Waziristan can be found on YouTube.
If the army atrocities in May-July 2009 operation against the militants in Swat are any indication then we may find extra-judicial killings and mass graves in South Waziristan as uncovered in Swat. Returning residents of Swat displaced by the army operation often found unclaimed bodies dumped in agricultural fields, by the roadside or on the banks of SwatRiver.
On September 1, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn quoted government officials as saying that 251 bodies had been found dumped along the roadside in the Swat Valley since July. On August 27, the newspaper reported that 51 bodies had been found in the area in the space of just 24 hours.
Dawn also reported the discovery of a number of mass graves containing victims of the military and referred to local residents who had "witnessed the crude and inhuman lumping together of the living and the dead."
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) sent a fact-finding mission to Swat which documented accounts of not only extrajudicial killings but also the discovery of mass graves.