PESHAWAR: A number of political leaders, writers and chieftains of different tribes of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and tribal areas gathered few weeks ago at a jirga in a local hotel and made lengthy speeches about the heroic past of Pakhtuns and the miseries they faced in recent years.
A young man, sitting quietly in a corner, was listening to the speakers, who were talking about the tribal elders killed by militants. Many at the gathering did not know that the life of this young man, Gulab Akbar Khan, was also shattered by militancy. He was perhaps one of the many silent heroes of the war against Taliban.
Shy at first to tell what changed him from a labourer to chief of his tribe in Darra village of Bajaur Agency, his friend-cum-bodyguard encouraged him to speak.
Gulab Akbar Khan, in his 30s and father of a child, was living a simple life. He used to work in Karachi as a labourer and visit his hometown Darra in the month of Ramazan. But then his life was changed forever.
One day, in 2008, when he was sitting with his uncle, chief of Salarzai tribe in Darra, his father and some other relatives in the hujra, more than a dozen armed Taliban forced their entry into the male guesthouse.
The armed Taliban wanted to burn the hujra like they had done to the houses of other tribal chiefs, who did not join them and remained loyal to the government.
On refusal to submit to the Taliban’s power, a fight and shooting started. Gulab, who had not been carrying any arm, tried to push away a Talib and held his Kalashnikov with his bare hands
. He got injured in the fight but militants killed 10 elders of his family
. Thus he was made chief of his tribe to continue to resist Taliban.
“Life has become so tough now. I have lost my dear ones and militants continue to target me,” said Gulab, finally opening up to tell about hardships of his life in a militancy-hit area.
Life is not the same for him after becoming a tribal chief at such a young age when there are no elders to guide him. However, he said that he would not leave his village.
He might be a silent hero of this war against militants but he is following the example of many other Salarzai tribal elders, who lost their lives in the fight against Taliban instead of submitting to them.
According to media reports, although Pakistani forces announced back in Feb 2009 that the tribal agency was free of militants, people like Gulab still feel that they are under threat.
In April 2011, Salarzai Qaumi Lashkar chief Malik Munasib Khan and three of his colleagues were killed in a suicide attack when they were returning from a jirga. In the same year in May, a suicide bomber killed a tribal chief of Salarzai, Malik Tehsil Khan, in Pashat area. He was one of the senior leaders of the Salarzai lashkar.
The Salarzais, who have been fighting against militants, may have lost pioneer leaders of Quami Aman Lashkar like Major (retired) Haji Fazal Karim and many others, who had not come forward like Gulab to tell about their struggle against militants, they need to be supported.
Recently, a chief of a peace committee in rural area of Peshawar refused to continue to fight alongside with government forces against militants for what he called indifferent attitude of the government. However, Gulab does not have any complaints.
“The government has provided me with security
,” said Gulab, a man of few words.
“Life is like a living hell,” he said when asked how it felt to be a young tribal chief. He said that after losing his elders and surviving remote-controlled bomb attacks almost every month
, life as a chieftain was not as exciting as it seemed. - DAWN