More disturbing news has come from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa- this time from its Chitral district. According to a statement issued the other day by the province’s Home and Tribal Affairs Department, “a large number of unemployed youths belonging to Chitral have joined the Afghan National Army, and are serving in Afghanistan.” Some others are also reported to have offered their services to Nato forces.
The district administration has directed the local people to call back their relatives who have joined the ANA or are working with some other government organisation, threatening to take action if they do not give up their jobs voluntarily. Seven people working for the Afghan government are said to have returned home. It is not known though how many may have been lured into joining the Afghan Army. The KP government has now ordered the Malakand administration to collect data on the Chitralis working in Afghanistan.
The reason behind the activity may be what the District Co-ordination officer says it is, when he explained that there is unemployment in the border areas and people often go to Afghanistan to work in government departments. Yet mercenary military service surely is not a normal activity for Chitralis looking for work. It could lead to dangerous consequences at a time tensions are running high between the two countries over the Afghan war endgame. Also, Islamabad suspects Pakistani militants launching attacks on soldiers and tribal people in Upper and Lower Dir, from Afghanistan’s border areas, operate with Kabul government’s connivance. Notably, Chitral, the largest district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is located north of the restive Dir and Swat area. The induction of Chitralis in the Afghan Army or Nato forces could make a bad situation worse. Besides, if these people are offering their services to the two foreign armies, it would not be surprising if unemployed youth are also joining the militants. For reports suggest that the Taliban pay their fighters higher salaries than those of the regular Pakistan Army soldiers.
It is alright for the government to put pressure on the families for the return of their men from Afghanistan. But that alone may not help. It is pertinent to recall here that initially the extremist militancy in Swat was unconnected to the Taliban. It had resulted from years of neglect. After the abolition of Swat’s princely status, the government failed to replace the old system with an efficient administration. The result was simmering discontent which erupted in the form of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi, whose leadership is now ensconced in the adjoining Afghan provinces of Nuristan and Kunar, from where they plan and execute attacks in the Dir area. The present report must serve as a wake-up call for the governments both in the province and at the centre. They should do all that is necessary to generate economic activity in Chitral so that no one feels compelled to go to the other side of the border to earn a livelihood. –Business Recorder