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Pakistan’s Government Must Respond To Taliban Lawlessness

Taliban militants in the Orakzai tribal agency (file photo)
Last week, Taliban fighters cut off the hands of three accused thieves in Pakistan’s Orakzai tribal agency. Although this horrific episode was reported in media around the country, the government – as usual – declined to comment, apparently preferring to ignore the Taliban’s latest "state-within-a-state" affront.

Why did these three men have their hands amputated? Under what law and after what legal process? And what does this say about the government’s authority in Orakzai, one of Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies? Even if the accused were guilty, under what authority are armed men allowed to implement their own style of Shari'a justice?

I recently spoke by telephone with one of the alleged thieves -- 26-year-old Razim Shah -- in an effort to find out exactly what happened in the remote Kundi village. Shah, the father of two, admitted that the three men were involved in a theft but said the matter had been settled by their families and local elders in a traditional process that involved both the accused and the victim of the theft.

Despite the matter being closed, a group of hooded, armed men broke into Shah’s house late one night and dragged him and the two other accused thieves – Khaistam Shah and Amal Khan – to a private Taliban prison. No one in the village or from the state authorities dared to question the abduction and illegal detention of the three men. In fact, the fear of the Taliban in the village is so great that no one – not even the families of the kidnapped men – dared to report the incident to the local administration or another government agency.

Lack Of Confidence

Kundi village is not alone in this regard. Most people whose friends and family have been victims of Taliban lawlessness in the tribal areas opt to keep quiet and refuse to publicly blame the Taliban, even after they migrate out of the lawless regions to the relatively safe cities. This is clear evidence of the public’s lack of confidence in the government’s ability to protect their lives and property and of the depth of the fear that Taliban tactics have inculcated in the hearts and minds of many Pakistanis.

Razim Shah told me that he and the others were held for 40 days before being brought – blindfolded – before a Taliban court and told they would have their hands cut off, regardless of the case’s resolution by the village elders.

I asked Shah why his family did not appeal to the police or the government during his 40-day imprisonment.

“Which government?” Shah asked. “Whom should we complain to? There is no one to help us.”

State Did Nothing

Similar occurrences have been reported in recent months in many other villages.

In Swat, a girl was caned by armed Taliban, their spokesman admitted in a televised interview.

In Mohmand, alleged kidnappers were publicly executed just kilometers outside Peshawar.

In Waziristan, dozens of elders were executed without even being accused of any crimes.

In Khyber, public executions have also been carried out within shouting distance of Peshawar.

In all these cases, the state did nothing, and its inaction merely reinforced and amplified the fear of the Taliban that has seized the region. Locals throughout the tribal agencies believe there is no escaping the fate of Taliban terrorization.

And the fear is spreading. Various new and traditional media are spreading these stories to every village and town in the region, further eroding public faith in the state and its security institutions. True, the authorities pay lip service to the need to "win hearts and minds" in the region. One such operation is currently under way in Orakzai. But temporary food distribution or having troops hand out lollipops to children says little compared to the government’s inaction in response to the Taliban’s public executions and other atrocities.

What is needed is a far more concerted and visible commitment to establishing control and maintaining security throughout the territory of Pakistan.

Daud Khattak is a broadcaster with RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL