Who were the ‘Pakhtun elders’ who met Clinton?
And what did they say to her?

Monday, November 02, 2009
Bureau report

PESHAWAR: The ‘Pakhtun elders’ who met US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Islamabad during her visit didn’t include anyone from conflict-hit South or North Waziristan and even Swat though it was reported that they came from these places.

In fact, a bearded man wearing a big turban like those worn by the Mahsud and Wazir tribesmen wasn’t a tribal elder and parliamentarian. He was seen in pictures in the company of Ms Clinton and newspapers reported he was a tribal elder. He turned out to be Faisal Awan, belonging to Dera Ismail Khan and executive director of a non-governmental organization called FIDA. This NGO has been given the task to register the people displaced from South Waziristan and arriving in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank following the military operation there.

A number of Mahsud tribesmen wondered as to who was this man wearing a turban that is usually worn by the Mahsuds. He looked unfamiliar and this made them to ask journalists and others about his identity.

The US embassy and its consulate in Peshawar had drawn up the list of invitees to this meeting of ‘Pakhtun elders’ with the Secretary of State. There was only one tribal parliamentarian in the group that twice met Ms Clinton, for an hour first and then for another half an hour later. He was Munir Orakzai, the MNA from Kurram Agency and also leader of the tribal parliamentary group in the parliament.

Another invitee from FATA was Dr Begum Jan, who runs an NGO. The other women in the list of ‘Pakhtun elders’ invited to meet Ms Clinton were NWFP social welfare minister Sitara Ayaz, who belongs to the ANP, a PPP lawmaker Shazia Tehmas, another NGO head Maryam Bibi who is founder of the Khwendo Kor organization, and Frontier Women University vice-chancellor Farhana Jehangir.

The politicians in the group were ANP NWFP president Senator Afrasiyab Khattak, PML-N provincial head and former chief minister Pir Sabir Shah and JUI-F lawmaker Mufti Kifayatullah.

Nauman Wazir, a Frontier industrial, and Dr Farooq, a former Jamaat-i-Islami member and writer and religious scholar, were also part of the group that exchanged views with Ms Clinton.It was learnt that Pir Sabir didn’t say much in the meeting and failed to attend the second part of the session. Munir Orakzai opposed US drone attacks and Mufti Kifayatullah argued that presence of American and Nato forces in Afghanistan and the region was the real cause of unrest. Afrasiyab Khattak echoes the ANP policies, which support the US and Nato military presence in Afghanistan and support tough army action against the militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Dr Farooq stressed that the US must send the 40,000 extra troops demanded by its military commander to Afghanistan to stabilize the country and tackle the militants. Other participants mostly restricted themselves to their own fields such education, social welfare work, development activities and outside support for the NGOs.

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