analysis: Kamal Mehsud: did the ISPR cheat him? —Farhat Taj

Courtesy to "Daily Times" 

Kamal Mehsud’s story is just one of the hundreds of stories of horror in Waziristan. The other stories are much more brutal and sinister in terms of the intelligence agencies’ collusion with the Taliban

Kamal Mehsud was the most famous singer of Waziristan. He died in January 2010 in a fire that broke out in his house when his family was away for a wedding ceremony. The family believes he has been target killed by the Taliban. The killers tampered with the gas system of the house that led to the fatal fire breakout. The family also holds the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) of the Pakistan Armed Forces responsible for that. Following is some detail of the connection among Kamal Mehsud, the ISPR and the Taliban. The detail is based on my conversations with Kamal Mehsud before his death, discussions with some Mehsud tribesmen, and Kamal’s family after his death.

Before the first military operation in Waziristan, a music composer from Peshawar contacted Kamal Mehsud for making an audiocassette with peace songs from Waziristan. Kamal agreed. The cassette was made. One of the songs was also videotaped. To his utter surprise, Mehsud came to know that the audiocassette ended up with the ISPR, which distributed it all over Waziristan in the army’s propaganda campaign against the militants. The video song ended up in a PTV drama ‘Wana’, another piece of the army’s propaganda campaign against the militants of Waziristan. No financial benefits were given to Kamal Mehsud for the use of his work of art by the ISPR. The audiocassette and Mehsud’s song in the drama invited the anger of the Taliban and displeasure of the Mehsud tribe for Kamal Mehsud.

The Taliban saw him as an accomplice of the army in their violent jihad. The Mehsud tribe was gradually awakening to the perceived reality that the military and the Taliban are one and the same. Together they are implementing a deadly agenda on Waziristan to create safe havens for the terrorists who escaped the post-9/11 US bombing of Afghanistan. Leaders at all levels of the tribal society had to be eliminated to create leadership space for the Taliban. In this context, some tribesmen were left vulnerable to the Taliban through deceit and others were encouraged to stand up to the militants, who were then given a green signal to target kill them. The Mehsud tribe perceived Kamal Mehsud to be part of the military’s plan of death and destruction in Waziristan. Later, the tribe found that Kamal had been cheated by the ISPR, and so it forgave him. The Taliban never forgive.

Kamal Mehsud got many death threats from the Taliban. He and his family left Waziristan; they sold their property in DI Khan and took refuge in Islamabad. The threats continued and the family kept moving in Islamabad from one place to another out of security concerns. His son informed that eight months before his death, some militants stopped his father in a street in Islamabad and warned that they had been busy with other issues and had little time to deal with him. But they will soon kill him. The Taliban also said he and his entire family are wajibul qatl (worthy of murder). A couple of months before his death, Kamal Mehsud got a threatening letter from the Taliban, so he took refuge in a mosque in Islamabad. “The Taliban have finally killed him,” alleges his family.

His family believes the ISPR first cheated him, which left him dangerously exposed to assassination attempts by the Taliban, and then abandoned him. No security was provided to him despite requests. The security situation left him unable to work freely. He faced financial problems. He contacted the ISPR for a job in its FM radio in Waziristan. His request was turned down. No one from the government of Pakistan or the ISPR contacted his family following his death. During his lifetime, the government of Pakistan never even recognised his great services to Pashto music with a symbolic gesture, like a Pride of Performance Award.

Kamal Mehsud’s story is just one of the hundreds of stories of horror in Waziristan. The other stories are much more brutal and sinister in terms of the intelligence agencies’ collusion with the Taliban, followed by the target killing of hundreds of tribal leaders, doctors, teachers and government servants in Waziristan. To my knowledge, Kamal Mehsud’s family is the only family from Waziristan that has publicly spoken on this issue. The other families are too scared of the Taliban and the intelligence agencies to do that.

The protracted human tragedy in Waziristan, perceived as the state’s collusion with the Taliban, has dangerously damaged the Mehsud tribe’s trust in the state. I have even heard former Mehsud soldiers of the Pakistan Army — who served it with their blood in its wars with India — saying that they now hate Pakistan, its military and its Taliban.

The intelligence security apparatus has to undergo a great deal of accountability to restore the trust of the Mehsud tribe in the state. It is a gigantic task. An appropriate state response to the family of Kamal Mehsud, which has publicly spoken up on the complaint against the ISPR, could be a small first step in this direction.

A foreign policy shift needs to come about before one could even think of accountability of the intelligence agencies — a shift that looks at Waziristan not as a military map, but as a human society entitled to basic human rights, like the right to life. I am not sure whether the shift has come. Many Mehsuds are not even sure whether it is possible. However, Kamal Mehsud’s family has a hope in one section of Pakistani society — the media. His son and wife said they hope the media of Pakistan would keep highlighting his services to music and peace in Pakistan.

Kamal Mehsud will go down in Pakhtun history as an icon of music and a symbol of resistance to Talibanisation. I have had the good luck of having interviewed him for my documentary film: ‘Waziristan — a culture under attack’. He said during the interview that music is his cultural jihad against the violent jihad of the Taliban and al Qaeda. He said he would never give up music despite the death threats. If he gave up, the forces of religious militancy will win. His life and services give the message that Pakhtun resistance to Talibanisation must go on at all levels of society, no matter how small it may be.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. She can be reached at