Shah Nawaz Turkzai
Fifty-year-old Ziarat Gul, wearing a black turban, sits in a protest camp in a mixture of anger and reluctance. He is twirling the beads with his right hand while his left hand is twirling on his long white beard.
Ziarat Gul is a resident of Atmar Khel village in Baizai Tehsil of Mohmand District on the Pak-Afghan border in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. By forming a peace lashkar, they not only resisted the Taliban militants but also took part in military operations against them alongside the security agencies. The government, in recognition of these services, entitled them to receive a monthly stipend equal to the salary of four employees from the budget of the Khasadar Force, comprising local tribal people.
Many other tribal elders in Mohmand, such as Ziarat Gul – who are called Malik in the local language – enjoy the same privileges as the Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) enacted by the British Government of India in 1901. Were given in accordance with the prevailing system of collective punishment and retribution under a clause.
But in 2018, the FCR system was abolished and the tribal areas were integrated into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. According to the rules and regulations of the integration, the Khasadar force is also being incorporated into the provincial police and all special services attached to it. Privileges are being revoked.
More than 100 local landlords, including Ziarat Gul, have been protesting since March 2019 against the abolition of the privileges – saying it is “excessive” to remove their special privileges in this way.
The protesters blocked the National Highway connecting the Bajaur and Mohmand tribal districts with Peshawar for ten consecutive days last month to convey their demands to higher authorities. During this time, they would gather every day roadside canopy at Ghalani, the district headquarters of Mohmand, and block all traffic.
Ten days later, some local government officials and former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Engineer Shaukatullah Khan came to the protesters’ camp and assured them that they would put their demands before higher authorities. With this assurance, the protesters opened the road, but their protest camp is still standing, where many local tribal elders, including Ziarat Gul, are present almost every day.
Regular Special Forces personnel were recruited from the local tribes as there was no formal system or rules for this recruitment so most of the appointments were made on the recommendation of the elders and the local administration and on tribal basis. The police do things, including setting up government writs, guarding checkpoints and arresting criminals.
The specialty, on the other hand, was a kind of honorary job under which tribal elders or their appointees were recruited into the force but were not required to go on regular duty. The highest government official, a political agent, stationed in the tribal area had the option to give any person one or more – in some cases dozens – special privileges.
According to District Police Officer Tariq Habib, there were 1,122 special force in Mohmand at the time of the integration of the tribal areas into the province, although according to some sources in the district administration, the number was more than 1,500.
If the number given by Tariq Habib is considered correct and the monthly salary of a special forces is considered to be Rs. 20,000, then it means that in Mohmand alone the government pays about Rs. twenty-six crore twenty-two million eighty thousand rupees annually – was paying local landlords-
However, when all the regular and special khasadars were called for integration into the provincial police after the merger, only about 1,300 of these regular khasadars in Mohmand came forward for the integration.
The government has since repeatedly warned locals that all special privileges will be abolished and that no police recruitments will be made in return for which a few hundred recruitments have been made in exchange for these special privileges.
In July 2020, the government finally cut the salaries of all special services for which local landlords did not hire police. As soon as the ban was imposed, locals took to the streets for protest.
Ziarat Gul and others in the camp say they will continue protesting until special privileges are restored and will knock on the court’s door if the local administration does not comply.
However, District Police Officer Tariq Habib says that so far all the special force except 592 have already been integrated into the police. “If the elders do not give the same number of people to the police for these specialties, they will disappear and new people will be recruited in their place.”
Shah Nawaz Turkzai is a journalist. Has extensive work experience in print and electronic media at home and abroad