Khyber Agency tehsil bans aerial firing, firecrackers

By Danish Yousafzai

Boys in Khyber Agency play with fireworks September 12. Authorities in the tribal agency are banning such dangerous toys to curb militancy. [Danish Yousafzai]

Boys in Khyber Agency play with fireworks September 12. Authorities in the tribal agency are banning such dangerous toys to curb militancy. [Danish Yousafzai]

KHYBER AGENCY -- Elders and maliks in Landi Kotal Tehsil, Khyber Agency, are hoping to improve security with a ban on some common activities.

The elders and maliks reached an agreement with the Landi Kotal political administration to prohibit aerial firing (shooting into the air), gambling, fireworks and liquor.

Jirga leads to agreement

The pact emerged from a September 19 grand jirga held in Landi Kotal. Elders from the Shinwari, Zakhakhel and Shalmani tribes and officials from the Landi Kotal administration convened to discuss ways to curb terrorism in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

The ban carries social significance, as compliance with socially imposed norms matters greatly in the conservative tribal belt.

Various elders giving speeches at the jirga applauded the political administration for grappling with extremism, while calling on all tribes to fight social evils. Doing so will restore a durable peace to the region, the speakers said.

The immoral activities that became illegal promoted violence and other vices, Zakhakhel area resident Sirajuddin Afridi told Pakistan Forward.

Such activities laid the groundwork for terrorists to disrupt peace in the area, he added.

Making firearms and pellet guns freely available caused no end of problems, he said, adding that easy access to weapons created an environment that inspired some of his friends to join militant groups.

Additionally, pellets fired from toy guns have injured many local children, some of whom lost their eyesight, he said.

The ban on aerial firing is meant to eliminate all-too-frequent tragedies that occur during celebrations, when bullets come to earth and kill or maim someone.

"Many teenagers in the area fire into the air during celebrations," local journalist Ali Shinwari said. "Firing real weapons is often considered a sign of power and dominance among their peer groups. Many have died accidentally. Some were even killed when they [fired on] each other."

Other unwanted results

Firecrackers and the industry that makes them are not entirely a harmless phenomenon, some elders at the jirga said.

The firecrackers contain gunpowder that terrorists extract to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other bombs, they warned.

The joint decision to ban these activities resulted from repeated demands by tribal elders to the political administration, Irshad Ali, the political tehsildar of Landi Kotal, said.

"The ban will have a positive impact on the law-and-order situation in the area," he told Pakistan Forward. "We have the support of the local elders."

Fighting gambling and alcohol will reduce the number of morally compromised tribe members who begin contemplating other transgressions, such as extremism, participants agree.

Several gambling dens have been operating in parts of Landi Kotal, Irshad Ali said. He urged tribal elders to identify those who are behind sinful practices in their localities.

In another effort to blunt extremism, the Landi Kotal elders and officials agreed to ban the use of loudspeakers -- useful in inciting mobs -- outside mosques and other public areas, Ali Shinwari the journalist told Pakistan Forward.

Assembled speakers such as Razaq, Malik Khayal Muhammad Shinwari and Gran Bacha Shalmani, vowed to co-operate with security forces and the Landi Kotal administration to eliminate all social evils from the area.

A local tribal elder, Malik Abdur Razaq, praised the Landi Kotal administration for including elders in the fight against anti-social elements.

Another elder, Gran Bacha Shalmani, expressed willingness to support the authorities in their campaign against obscenity and vulgarity.

Teeth behind the ban

To make the ban meaningful, officials are planning stiff punishments for violations.

"Anyone who violates the ban will be fined Rs. 50,000 to 100,000 (US $478 to $956) and imprisoned," Ali Shinwari told Pakistan Forward. "The decision has been welcomed by all, including youngsters who believe in promoting education."

Pashtun culture is peace-loving at heart, he said.

"The culture of weapons gained roots during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan," he said. "It was reinforced by the [succeeding] war in Afghanistan and the terrorist activities in the area."

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