By Zia Ur Rehman

Oct 23, 2012

PESHAWAR – As the Taliban continue to oppose those who symbolise peace, they are actually fanning the flames of popular desire to achieve harmony in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

That has frustrated the Taliban’s efforts to spread terror among the local residents, observers and tribal elders say. “Instead of becoming terrorised from the attack, Swati people not only condemned the coward act of targeting a young peace activist but also show their unity against the terrorism and militancy,” Swat human rights activist and analyst Sardar Ahmed Yousafzai told Central Asia Online.

A woman October 11 holds a picture of Malala Yousafzai and a candle during a Karachi rally to condemn the October 9 attack on Malala, who survived. Taliban militants in a state of frustration are attacking peace activists to spread terror, analysts say. [REUTERS/Athar Hussain]
Most recently Taliban militants in Mingora October 9 boarded a school bus and shot Malala Yousafzai, a 15 -year-old who earned international fame for blogging about the atrocities of the Taliban during their reign of terror in Swat in 2007-2009. She and two wounded schoolmates are recovering.

Though the Taliban might have temporarily silenced Malala, they have amplified her message of peace, Sardar said.

“The terrorists wanted to send a wrong message to rest of the country and the international community that there is no peace or security in Swat,” Sardar said. In reality, though, the attack on Malala sparked anger in Pakistan and worldwide support and sympathy, he said.

Militants not interested in peace process

The targeting by Taliban militants of several influential Pakistani peace-seeking figures who disagree with their version of Islam indicates that the Taliban are not interested in the peace process, Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies security analyst Muhammad Nafees said.

“Although the violence is getting utterly inhuman and sickening, there are hopeful signs as well,” Nafees said. “More and more are joining the struggle to end the menace of terrorism.”

For example, there is a broader support for peace lashkars. Ethnic Pashtuns traditionally raise lashkars (armed peace groups) or amns (unarmed peace committees) when they face a common enemy.

Over the past few years, tribes have organised lashkars in Bajaur, Peshawar, Dir, Buner, Lakki Marwat, Khyber Agency and other areas with support from the government. The Salarzai tribes have also made a more active commitment to fighting terrorists.

With the increase in militant atrocities, the Taliban have crossed the line, Salarzai peace committee member Malik Shah Zaib said.

“We’ve seen in the past in both Afghanistan and Pakistan that when the Taliban commit heinous and barbaric acts – like bombing mosques and funerals, targeting schools and killing tribal elders – it galvanises popular opinion against them,” he told Central Asia Online.

“We have paid a heavy price to maintain peace in our area as dozens of our elders and young members have been martyred by the militants,” he said. “We will not allow them to sabotage peace in our area.”

Assaults on peace activists

But taking a stand for peace carries a risk.

Although no official statistics are available, at least 89 attacks – 32 in KP and 57 in FATA – on peace activists and lashkars were reported in 2011, according to the Pakistan Security Report 2011, prepared by the Pak Institute of Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank.

The actual figures may be much higher, according to tribal elders, as many cases go unreported. Militants have killed tribal elders in public places, in their houses, during jirgas, and at mosques and funerals, they said.

Besides Malala, militants have conducted the following attacks on peace activists:

On October 6, at least five lashkar members in the Akakhel area of Bara Tehsil, Khyber Agency, were killed and seven others were injured.

A remote-controlled explosion July 14 killed Kamarkhel tribal lashkar head Rasheed Khan and injured his associate in the Takhtaki area of Tirah Valley, Khyber Agency.

An unknown attacker July 12 fatally shot Afzal Khan Damghar, who played a key role in maintaining peace in the Swat Valley.

Pro-government tribal chief Malik Abdul Wazah Khan was gunned down July 7 in the area of Buggan in Para Chinar. A June 19 bomb in Nawagai Tehsil, Bajaur, killed tribal elder Malik Atta Khan and critically injured his nephew Fauji Khan.

Tribal elder Sultan Baachazad was shot to death May 13 in the Mamonzai area of Kurram Agency.

And Malik Waris Khan, a pro-government Ferozkhel Amn Lashkar chief and presidential award recipient, was killed March 9 in Jalaka Mela Ferozkhel, Orakzai Agency.