February 24, 2009 Special Dispatch No. 2058

Tribal Elders in Pakistani District Assemble 20,000-Strong Force to Fight Taliban Militants

February 24, 2009
Pakistan | Special Dispatch No. 2058

On September 21, 2008, tribal elders in the Upper Dir district of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) held a grand jirga – a traditional meeting of tribal elders and local people – in order to devise strategies to confront Taliban militants in the area and to establish peace.

The Taliban in Pakistan hold nearly total control of the country’s tribal districts, or the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATAs); additionally, their presence in the North West Frontier Province is crippling Pakistani state institutions.

The jirga was held at the Government Higher Secondary School at Wari in the Upper Dir district, and was attended by a number of major tribes in the district, particularly the Sulthankhel and Payandakhel tribes. Also attending were a large number of local people as well as tribal elders, including Faiz Muhammad Khan, Malik Jahanzeb, Malik Behram Khan, Malik Sher Bahadur Khan, and Malik Zar Muhammad Khan.

Following are the highlights of the decisions taken by the jirga, as reported by the Urdu-language newspapers Roznama Jang and Roznama Jasarat:[1]

Jirga leaders in the Upper Dir district announce their decisions at a press conference.[2]

Roznama Jang: Tribal Elders Assemble Force to Confront Taliban

Roznama Jang reported that the tribal elders decided to form peace committees at the village level to monitor the situation in the Upper Dir district, and to report on the presence of non-local individuals in the area and their activities.

According to the paper, the elders decided to firmly deal with anti-state activity in the area, and to punish those guilty of killing innocent people as well as anyone damaging private, public and government properties.

Significantly, the jirga established a 20,000-strong peace force of local tribesmen to confront the Taliban militants. According to the report, "the armed force will assist the law and order agencies to end illegal activities and establish peace in the district."

The report quoted tribal leader Sher Bahadur Khan as saying: "The tribal elders have decided that the local people will not provide shelter to any evildoer [Taliban militant]."

Roznama Jasarat: Jirga Leaders Asked Government to Implement Shari'a Governance In Area

Another report, in the Urdu-language newspaper Roznama Jasarat, quoted Malik Sher Bahadur, a leader of the peace force, as saying that the force had been created to protect the area against the Taliban’s militant activities. He said: "Anybody aiding the militants will be shot dead."[3]

Roznama Jasarat said that the jirga leaders also asked the government of Pakistan to implement a shari'a system of governance in the area. A decision was also taken to organize a grand jirga, with representations from the neighboring districts of the NWFP, to make the anti-Taliban initiative effective.

Report: 2 Million Rupee Fine for Sheltering Taliban

According to a similar report from the tribal district of Bajaur Agency, a grand jirga of the local tribes decide to impose a fine of 2,000,000 Pakistani rupees on any individual found guilty of sheltering the Taliban militants.[4]

The tribal district of Bajaur Agency has witnessed fierce fighting between Pakistani security forces and tribal militants for over a month, which has caused difficulties for the local people and forced them to leave their homes for safer places.

Also according to the report, the tribal elders decided that the houses of the families that shelter Taliban militants in Bajaur Agency are to be burned and families expelled from the district.

Similar initiatives in the recent past in Pakistan's tribal areas have been unsuccessful against the Taliban militants, whose rise was due in part to their ability to destroy the traditional authority of maliks, or tribal chieftains.

[1] Roznama Jang (Pakistan), September 22, 2008.
[2] Roznama Express (Pakistan), September 22, 2008.
[3] Roznama Jasarat (Pakistan), September 22, 2008.
[4] Roznama Jasarat (Pakistan), September 22, 2008.

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