Prior to the 9/11 attacks, very few people knew about the tribal areas of north-western Pakistan, as very little news came out of the region and even less gained international attention. However, since the attacks, the tribal regions have been under the spotlight, not just of various international powers, but also of the international media.
Many in the media speak of how news is always born of conflict, and although the tribal areas, comprising seven agencies and four frontier regions, have seen previous conflict within the region, during those times two things managed to keep the tribal region off such current scrutiny. Firstly, the absence of a proper judicial system and secondly the inaccessibility of media to the almost independent and to some extent unruly areas.
However, this does not mean that the tribal people are ignorant or lacking any kind of legal system or that they live under no law. In fact, some of their their laws might be adhered to much more strictly than in other parts of the world. The region has not been ruled officially or properly by any one for thousands of years, which has allowed them to instead develop their own code of conduct over the passage of time. This code is known as riwaj – custom – and the tribal people obey it, along with the system of reward and punishment implemented by this code of life.
In 1895, when the British first came to North Waziristan at the invitation of local tribes, they managed to introduce in 1900, for the first time in the history of the tribal areas a code of regulations which was called Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). After Pakistan came into being, the tribal areas were included in Pakistan and in the constitution of 1973, and officially called FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). Strangely, following Pakistan’s independence, the same FCR was maintained in FATA, instead of introducing the law of the land enforced in the rest of the country.
Due to some of the articles in the FCR, like the clause on collective responsibility, the unlimited powers of the political agent and the deprivation of the tribesmen from basic human rights, the FCR was called a black law by many critics. Despite this the people of FATA are still living under the same law which was imposed by the British more than a century ago. Indeed, many tribals continue to swear by that law.
When NATO and US forces first came into Afghanistan in 2001 and managed to defeat the Taliban government, many Taliban members and militants took asylum in the contiguous tribal areas of Pakistan. For this reason, the region now receives much attention in the media, but often this coverage is only limited to issues and reports related to the presence of militants there. Trouble for those living in the region increased further when militants in the tribal areas began their attempt at a guerrilla war against outside forces in Afghanistan – the US and NATO retaliated by starting their drone attacks targeted at militants, particularly in North and South Waziristan.
Since then, there are estimates that more than 300 drone attacks have been carried out in North and South Waziristan. Some estimates put the number killed as many as 3000, with many more injured. Not all those killed and injured in the drone attacks are militants. Some are local civilians.
Speaking to an expert on the Jirga system and tribal elder of North Waziristan, Malik Mamoor, said that these drone attacks are a continuation of the same practice of implementing FCR – in a even harsher form than that of the British rule.
When asked why people of the tribal areas provide shelter to those militants that have been seen to be a menace and hindrance to peace in Afghanistan and the border regions, Malik Mamoor explained that the tribal people are not powerful enough to expel them on their own. “The government and the US should try to ensure that the area is vacated from the people who are targeted by the drone attacks, as this causes the killing of our innocent people,” says Mamoor.
Muhammad Tariq Dawar, a political worker and president of Pakistan Tehrik Insaf (PTI) agreed with Mamoor stating bluntly that there was no difference in the use of FCR by the British, Pakistan or the US. “They are all the same and they have made tribal areas a laboratory to test their lethal weapons over the poor tribal people,” Tariq added.
Speaking to people on the drone attacks, for many the situation seems very bleak and hopeless, so what possible solution remains to resolve these violations that are taking place so often in the region.
Malik Mamoor suggests that the government should stop the US from conducting any more attacks and ensure a system of checking over the Pak-Afghan border, to stop any further infiltration from the tribal areas if there is any. He explains, “The US has the resources and the power to stop militants from going inside Afghanistan and for this purpose they should make the border security much tighter.” Mamoor believes that doing so will ensure there will be no need for further drone attacks when they are safe in Afghanistan.
However, should it not be the responsibility of the tribals themselves, to expel those who are causing trouble for them? Muhammad Tariq is of the opinion that tribal people and the government of Pakistan should take steps together to clear the area of the militants. “There will be no drone attacks if there are no militants.”
Both elders believe that jirgas and talks need to be fully utilized, being the best solution for this purpose. “We have to sit in a Jirga to resolve the issue or we will see more innocent people killed in drone attacks,” says Mamoor. While Tariq added, “War and killing is no solution at all. Pakistan and the US should seek a peaceful and durable solution which is only through talks.”
Meanwhile, as the tribal regions await some solution to put an end to the drone attacks, it is the tribal people who continue to suffer. As Tariq explains, “The life of a common man is quite miserable due to the on going war on terror in the region, while the case remains that this common man had nothing to do with all of this in the first place.”