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Arif Wazir’s Murder: The Never-Ending Ordeal Of The Wazir Family

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Talimand Khan writes about PTM leader Arif Wazir’s murder and the fallout of the military action in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The state should consider negotiating with the PTM, he argues.

At last they got Arif Wazir. On May 1, 2020 the ‘unknown’ assassins attacked Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTIM) leader Arif Wazir in front of his house just minutes before Iftar in his native village, Ghwa Khwa, South Waziristan. He received three bullets and was rushed to the local hospital from where he was later shifted to DI Khan. Due to his critical condition, he was then shifted to PIMS, Islamabad, where on May 2, he succumbed to his injuries.

Arif Wazir was a vocal member of the PTM. His father, Faroque Wazir, was the first victim of targeted killing in Waziristan in 2004 when Arif was a student of Grade 9. Faroque Wazir was affiliated with Pakhtun Nationalist party Pakhtunkhwa Mili Awami Party (PKMAP) as its founding member in Waziristan. Since then, the Wazir family has been a prime target of the so-called ‘unknown’ terrorists.

The Wazir family belonging to the influential and powerful Ahmadzai Wazir tribe was carrying out a struggle to prevent and later stop the death and destruction of their people and bring peace to their land. The Wazir family continues to pay the price. They are now known as the family of widows and orphans.

Not only were the lives of their men taken away, their property was also targeted. They suffered massive financial losses alongside the murder of their family members. Their business and properties were destroyed. Their markets in Wana bazaar consisting of hundreds of shops were destroyed. They also faced violence as a punishment of collective responsibility under the draconian law of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), which has only recently been abolished.

In this respect, both the state and non-state actors were on the same page against them. And this is the fundamental aspect of the dilemma of the war on terror which breeds more questions and doubts than answers. In the last 25 months, after the emergence of the PTM, Arif Wazir was arrested seven times and remained behind bars for 13 months.

Arif Wazir’s cousin MNA Ali Wazir and his colleague MNA Mohsin Dawar were arrested following the Kharqamar incident where they were accused of opening fire at the security forces, an allegation they strongly denied. They spent about four months in jail. The media blackout of such events like Arif’s murder adds fuel to the suspicions, because media censorship is no longer a secret.

Since the beginning, the state narrative about the Taliban and militancy was fluid. Prior to the TTP, the Afghan Taliban were presented by a section of media and the intelligentsia as a unifying and stabilising force as an alternate and ultimate force capable of bringing stability and peace to a war-torn Afghanistan. But the erstwhile Mujahidin have now turned into an evil band under countless warlords. Besides, Taliban were also portrayed as a puritanical force striving to establish the cherished Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan which had been compromised by the power hungry Mujahidin after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the fall of Dr Najibullah’s regime.

Immediately after the 9/11 incident, publicly there was almost a lull or ambiguity about the status of the Afghan Taliban, but privately the same elements were apologetic about them and were considered as the victims of rampant super powers aggression and invasion. However, in 2002-3, following intense jirgas and negotiations with the people of FATA, army was deployed to prevent the Al-Qaida and Taliban from penetrating FATA.

Surprisingly, 2004-5 onward, the Afghan Taliban were painted by certain quarters as a nationalist force fighting the invading US-NATO forces to liberate Afghanistan. Meanwhile, elements of Al-Quida and  various groups of Taliban ‘para-normally’ popped up to operate in FATA, later making both South and North Waziristan as their hub.

They were dubbed as ‘misguided and strayed brethren and progeny’, and therefore needed to be handled carefully and diplomatically that resulted in several peace agreements with them. However, that could not prevent the emergence of the TTP by 2008 and its spread to PATA, Malakand Division, including Swat in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid operation in 2007.

Later on, when the military operation in Swat was kicked off, the then army chief called Taliban an existential threat to the state, but a full fledged military operation in Waziristan was held till 2014 that also added to the miseries and sufferings of the war on terror affectees. But, ironically, the top leadership and commanders of the TTP were killed by the US drones. Recently, there is yet again silence and ambiguity about the status of the Taliban i.e. how big of a threat they are now and whether or not they are still considered as a terrorist entity.

If the Taliban were an existential threat to the state, then those who were resisting them from the very start should naturally be part of the state and deserved state protection, not highhandedness. But it did not happen in case of the Wazir family and countless others who did not take the piecemeal approach but were opposing the very policy which brought havoc.

Waziristan or generally ex FATA, as well as PATA, is no longer  black holes. The PTM transformed that situation without any solicitation from the so called mainstream media. Unlike the murder of his other family members, the news of Arif’s murder spread like jungle fire. Despite Ramzan and the lockdown due to Covid-19, Arif’s funeral attracted a multitude in D.I Khan and his native village in Waziristan.

Arif’s murder further galvanised the PTM which cannot be suppressed through force. The use of force in the region has already reached its crescendo and it is now backfiring. The region neither has stamina nor acceptability for another phase of violence under any pretext or nomenclature. The people are now ready to push it back collectively.

Therefore, the state should consider engaging in a serious dialogue with the PTM on crucial policy issues. To avoid confrontation, the state should bring a policy change i.e scrap the suicidal foreign security policy that turned the region into a backyard of strategic game. The gulf of mistrust is too wide. The civilian apparatus of the state should be empowered, restore civil rights in the region  as enshrined  in the Constitution.

Moreover, one PTM’s oriflame is the supremacy of the constitution, and particularly the 18th amendment is a hope for those backward region if implement in letter and spirit, so the government should not  tinker with it, otherwise it can cause more resentments and despondency.   The state must also take practical steps to resolve the issue of missing persons.

The PTM is not a conventional political party working to woo its voters to get a share in power. It is a civil rights movement with its roots in the people which will not evaporate into thin air until it achieves for what it initially came into existence.
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