Zarmena of Waziristan

June 06,2017

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I had never met or even heard of Zarmena Wazir. The unrelentingly alert print and electronic media were also unaware that this young woman from the remote and impoverished tribal areas had recently blazed the trail and broken into bold new frontiers.

Despite all the odds, she had entered the prestigious District Management Group after competing in the 2016 Central Superior Services examinations. Never before in Pakistan’s turbulent history has a woman from Fata been able to win such laurels.

I learnt about the young woman’s spectacular success from her father, former ambassador Ayaz Wazir, when he visited me a few days back. Ayaz, a cherished friend from South Waziristan, was a member of the shuttle missions that I had led to the warring Afghan factions from 1996 to 1999. These were at times dangerous and, on one occasion, we came back alive miraculously after a meeting with Ahmed Shah Masood on July 12, 1998 in the remote but picturesque Farkhar Valley.

Such shared life-threatening experiences bring people close to each other, and, there was that unmistakable glitter of joy and pride in Ayaz’s eyes when he said: “I want to share some good news with you. My daughter has succeeded in getting into the DMG after taking the competitive examinations”. He did not mention her name.

One could discern a faint quiver in his voice, as though he was trying to fight back emotions, as he added: “She told me that she owes her success to me for constantly encouraging her and to you because she had read almost every issue of Criterion from cover-to-cover and this had placed her on solid ground insofar as the major issues of our times are concerned”.

Later that day – May 13 – I came across a Dawn editorial on the CSS examinations. The editorial lamented that only a dismal two percent or 202 from a total of 9,643 candidates had qualified in the written portion, 199 survived the viva voce and, of these, 193 secured jobs.

It was only after mulling over these alarming statistics that I realised the enormity of what the young woman from the tribal areas had achieved. This becomes all the more stunning when one takes into account the horrific violence and political instability compounded by the appalling socio-economic conditions prevailing in the region.

In Waziristan, for instance, the literacy rate hovers at between 10 and 12 percent and the outlook for the future is bleak. Education at the primary and secondary levels is provided to more than 80 percent of male children by religious seminaries or madressahs. Approximately 90 percent of these are run by the JUI-F – which, in turn, subscribes to the Deobandi school of thought.

Not only are the youth brainwashed in this philosophy – which is shared by extremist groups – it also ensures that the JUI-F will be able to retain its influence in Fata. In its early years, the JUI-F was purely a religious movement committed to the spread of Deobandi teachings. It was only in 1962 that it was reorganised as a political party.

It is, therefore, not surprising that JUI -F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman should have so vehemently opposed the Fata reforms bill. The government – for its own reasons – has most willingly obliged under the false pretext that consideration of the bill was merely being postponed. But, in effect, this has put the reforms into cold storage indefinitely.

The reason is that throughout the month of June parliament will be immersed in the usual boring and senseless debates on Budget 2017-18. The prime minister, on the other hand, along with his close associates will continue to have the jitters till such time as the final verdict on the Panama leaks case is announced by the Supreme Court.

By then, the political parties will have shifted gears to the election mode. But the psychedelic cacophony of speeches – dominated by the Panama leaks virus, regardless of the Supreme Court’s verdict – will continue to be inflicted on the country with increasing intensity.

The deleterious impact of this pernicious virus was evident as early as May last year. A former ambassador, an expert on multilateral diplomacy, began his fortnightly column with a flourish: “Machiavelli’s dictum, ‘Power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely,’ has been validated by history and current events”.

The problem is that Machiavelli never uttered these words of undeniable wisdom – it was Lord Acton more than three centuries after Machiavelli’s death. Both must be turning in their graves.

The noxious effect of the Panama virus will linger on for months after the 2018 elections, and, as a consequence, Fata reforms will certainly not be a priority of the next government. As a result, the people of the tribal areas will be abandoned yet again.

The proposals of the Sartaj Aziz-led reforms committee, were built around merging the tribal areas with KP and replacing the British Raj-imposed Frontier Crimes Regulation 1901 (Amended in 2011) with the Tribal Areas Rewaj Act.

Admittedly, the proposals for reforms in Fata were imperfect. But they would have brought enormous benefit to the people of the region and eventually transformed their pitiable living conditions. The implications of the indefinite postponement of the reforms are that the estimated 15 million people of the tribal areas will continue to wallow in gruelling poverty.

Even before the destruction wrought by terrorist outfits and the subsequent military operations, the hideous scars of neglect and misery were all too apparent. In South Waziristan alone, there was once only one hospital bed available per approximately 6,000 people. The situation has not improved much today. There is no industry or agriculture worthy of the name and an estimated 80,000 men between the ages of 18 and 25 are unemployed. Want and deprivation stoke violence perpetrated by extremist or terrorist groups.

Ayaz Wazir and his family were early victims. His brother was among the first important leaders of the tribal areas to be a victim of target killing. The assassins – as is usual in this lawless region – were never identified and punished.

These tragic facts prompted me to contact Ayaz again. After a brief conversation, he gave the phone to his daughter. She introduced herself as Zarmena and repeated much of what her father had told me earlier that day. On my goading that she speak only about herself, Zarmena confirmed that her success in securing a place in the DMG on merit was “a feat no other female from Fata had been able to achieve since the birth of Pakistan nearly 70 years ago”.

The Dawn editorial rued that the 2016 CSS examination results “confirm a long-term decline that appears to have accelerated in recent years. Halting that trend, let alone reversing it” will require a mighty effort by the state. The editorial may not have been as immersed in the slough of despond had there been an awareness that a young woman from the tribal areas had established a record against all odds. This is unlikely to be replicated anytime soon because callous and selfish politicians have virtually torpedoed the Fata reforms.

The writer is the publisher of
Criterion Quarterly.


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