Militarization Takes Toll on KPK/ FATA Women
By Farzana Shah
Gulbahar, Peshawar

Militarization has always been considered a quid pro quo response to the insurgencies and other conflicts all over the world, more so by the governments of the less developed countries. Pakistan is no exception; rather it had always been pushed into such a phenomenon embroiled in religious, ethnic, and sectarian conflicts.

Some parts of Pakistan have always been militarized, both in terms of the institutional militarization as well as private rebellious/extremist armies, but not to the extent of having a state within a state.  However, in the wake of 9/11, the country willingly or unwillingly adopted the doctrine of pre-emptive war on terror resulting in a sharp increase in the militarization of Pakistani society. The Khyber Pukhtunkhwa Province (KPK) in general and FATA in particular became the hotbed of such extremism and counter-extremism war consequently getting massively militarized in the process.

In the KPK and FATA alone millions of people were displaced due to insurgency and counter-insurgency operations. Of these a large number is of women and children.  These women faced many problems such as health, social and cultural exclusion, even sexual harassment; and the most striking one was the economic burden. 

When the Pakistani military was battling the extremists to reclaim Swat and other apparently lost territories in FATA, many factories and small industries were closed down.  That rendered hundreds of men unemployed which resultantly put extra pressure on their women folk to look for ways and means to feed their families.  On top of that, the closure of cosmetics and silk factories in Swat hit a large number of women employees badly.

Maryam, who once worked at a cosmetics factory in Swat, is now left with no source of earning.  “I used to make a few thousand by working in a cosmetics factory but as the situation worsened the factory owners shifted their business to other parts of the country. We have now no source of earning and are left high and dry waiting for a miracle to happen from Allah”.

She says her twelve women colleagues also lost their job and hardly earn anything now from the embroidery work at home.

The family of the nomad Zaitoon Bibi which entirely depended upon her selling cloth by visiting homes was faced with near starvation when the militants warned her not to roam in the market and the streets without a Mahram. "I used to buy cloth from the local market and sell it on installments to the women in the nearby villages.  However, after a warning to the shopkeepers by the militants they have stopped selling anything to us single women anymore”, she said.

Though many areas, including Swat, are comparatively peaceful now and a few factories have been reopened, the women are still missing from the employee cadres. According to analysts women are still going through the aftereffects.

Tabassum Adnan, the founder of the first-ever women Jirga in the history of Pakistan, lamented that we were turning a blind eye to the post-operation situation which was as grave as the militancy. “Many women are forced to begging for survival for the simple reason that many of them have lost male members of the family during the operations and militancy. Whether they were guilty or not but the space created by their death is taking toll on the women.”

 

Shamama Arbab, member Provincial Commission for the Status of Women and former president of the Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry Peshawar, feels women entrepreneurs are also affected by the situation not only psychologically but at the policy level as well.

“With the prevalent conditions and lack of vision among the policy makers the economic input by 50% of the population – women - is not only diminishing but it is being killed altogether”, she said. 

 

Women Trafficking

Another aspect, which is often ignored while assessing the situation and its impact on women trapped in militarized zones, is the misuse of the situation, not only by the stakeholders of the militarization process but by their own family members as well.  And that is women trafficking! During the mass internal migration in the wake of militarization of the conflict zones in KPK and FATA both by military and the militants, many cases of women trafficking took place. Not much is reported in the national press and electronic media owing to the reason that majority do not want to speak about a topic that is a national taboo. 

Speaking about the problem Tabbasum Adnan said, “We do not have the final estimate of the women affected, not only by terrorism and conflict but also by the natural calamities also. They are in large numbers and a lot of trafficking cases have come to fore. However, there are only a few women who are willing to speak to media but there are many more who don’t want to due to the shame linked to the ignoble women trafficking”.

Narrating one such case and efforts of her organization to stop women trafficking, Tabbasum said, “In one such case reported from Tootano Banda (Swat), I went myself there at 10 pm and rescued the girl and sent her to Darul Aman. She was being sold to someone in Punjab by her own family; the reason was that her husband had joined the Taliban cadre and there was no clue of his life or whereabouts. Her brothers and father had obtained a one-sided decree from the local cleric to sell her.”

Such cases are testimony to the profound burden of pain endured by women in the militarized zones of KPK and FATA. 

Doctor Shehla, a Peshawar-based psychologist, says, “What can be more telling than the ordeal of this lady who on the one hand is dealing with the traumatic experience of losing her husband to terrorists’ ideology, carrying the stigma of being the wife of an extremist, and on the other hand of being subjected to trafficking by none other than her own family?!”

The deadly terrorist attacks on Bacha Khan University (BKU) Mardan in January and on the Army Public School Peshawar in December 2014 forced the government to impart firearm training to teachers and students leading to social militarization of the society.

Kolsoom who runs a private school in Peshawar that imparts education from grades first to tenth, says many women are worried about the apparent growing gun-totting culture and are reluctant to send their kids to schools, especially the girls.

“One such mother worriedly questioned what if a student or a teacher with the firearm starts shooting at other fellow students or teachers?”, Kolsoom added.

These problems have been in the limelight during all these years of militancy and subsequent militarization but somehow couldn’t be addressed satisfactorily.

The absence of women and their due role in peace negotiations or conflict resolutions, is one key factor in the failure of addressing women issues properly in the militarized zones.

Nighat Orakzai, Member Provincial Assembly KPK (PPP) argues, “Women population of Pakistan has increased but still they are not considered worth including in peace negotiations. At political level they are not included in the security-related meetings, neither are they included in the APCs for discussing and giving their valuable input.” 

Though the violence has somewhat abated and most areas have been reclaimed by the Pakistani forces yet, the women are faced with the same problems which they were coping with during the process of militarization by terror groups as well as military.  It was high time that women were included at the strategic policy-making level, not to just fulfill a formality of gender equality perfunctorily but to be heard seriously to ponder over their issues from a human and societal perspective. After all, most security agreements, negotiations with the extremists sans women have already proved futile.

( Farzana Shah is a Peshawar-based journalist. She has deep focus on SAARC, ECO and Mid-East Regions. Has worked for and contributed to a number of newspapers and magazines  including Asian Tribune, a Sweden-based newspaper, The Defense Journal, and Dawn)

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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