Abol­ish the Tribal Area Sta­tus

Southasia - - The last stop - By Anees Jil­lani

On Septem­ber 22, Ad­mi­ral Mike Mullen, the chair­man of the Amer­i­can Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Sec­re­tary of De­fense, Leon E. Panetta, told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that they blame the ISI for play­ing a di­rect role in sup­port­ing the in­sur­gents who car­ried out the re­cent at­tack on the Amer­i­can Em­bassy in Kabul. This was per­haps the first time that any Amer­i­can ad­min­is­tra­tion has pub­licly and of­fi­cially lev­eled such a se­ri­ous charge against not just the ISI but also the State of Pak­istan. Ad­mi­ral Mullen told the Com­mit­tee that the re­spon­si­ble Pak­istani of­fi­cials were not only un­der­min­ing the Amer­i­can in­ter­ests but their own in­ter­ests as well, in the re­gion.

Top Amer­i­can mil­i­tary of­fi­cials have gone pub­lic with their griev­ance and anal­y­sis. The civil­ian Pak­istani Pres­i­dent and PM prob­a­bly do the same but pri­vately. It is in fact most likely that the Amer­i­cans have been em­bold­ened by the in­ter­nal crit­i­cism of the ISI that they rou­tinely come across while meet­ing the Pak­istani of­fi­cials. The state­ments carry ex­cep­tional weight but are un­likely to change things.

The an­a­lysts while talk­ing about the prob­lems af­flict­ing the Pak­istani na­tion fail to re­al­ize that the ma­jor part of the prob­lem is the ex­is­tence of tribal ar­eas lo­cated be­tween Afghanistan and Pak­istan. There is hardly any place on earth which is be­ing gov- erned like these ar­eas. The laws of Pak­istan do not ex­tend to them, un­less spe­cially no­ti­fied by no less a per­son than the Pres­i­dent of Pak­istan. The ter­ri­tory con­sti­tu­tion­ally forms part of the coun­try but en­joys a spe­cial sta­tus, with the peo­ple left to gov­ern them­selves. There is hardly any in­dus­try; most of the area lacks elec­tric­ity and it is er­ratic wher­ever it is avail­able. The un­em­ploy­ment is high and re­sul­tantly there is poverty.

The State of Pak­istan since in­cep­tion in­stead of do­ing some­thing to ame­lio­rate the plight of the tribal peo­ple has been con­stantly us­ing them for one rea­son or an­other, start­ing within months of in­de­pen­dence. These tribal peo­ple were sent to lib­er­ate Kash­mir in 1947 which led to the first war be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan. The tribes also played a ma­jor part in fight­ing the Sovi­ets in Afghanistan af­ter 1979. The whole area be­came a dump­ing and train­ing ground for the mu­jahideen from all over the world; they were free­dom fight­ers then and are called ter­ror­ists now.

The Sovi­ets were forced to leave. The Pak­istani train­ers sud­denly found them­selves with­out work. They di­verted some of the trib­als to lib­er­ate Kash­mir which con­tin­ued till 9/11. Oth­ers sup­ported the Tal­iban who came to power in Kabul and are now again fight­ing a war against for­eign oc­cu­pants.

In the midst of all of this, the peo­ple of the tribal ar­eas suf­fer. The so­lu­tion to their suf­fer­ing lies in abol­ish­ing the spe­cial sta­tus of the tribal ar­eas and merg­ing them with Pak­istan. The ar­eas can be clas­si­fied into a sep­a­rate prov­ince or prov­inces or merged with the ex­ist­ing Khy­ber Pakhtoonkhwa prov­ince; the na­ture of the ar­range­ment is not im­por­tant. What mat­ters is abol­ish­ing the spe­cial sta­tus of the tribal ar­eas. This step, by one stroke of pen, will open the whole area of 27,220 square kilo­me­ters with a pop­u­la­tion of more than 3.6 mil­lion to modern civ­i­liza­tion. The laws of Pak­istan will au­to­mat­i­cally ap­ply there. The lo­cal jir­gas will be­come un­law­ful. The whole re­gion will be­come ac­ces­si­ble to all. Drugs, gun man­u­fac­tur­ing, and many other ac­tiv­i­ties that presently can take place there be­cause they are not il­le­gal un­der law will be­come un­law­ful and the writ of the po­lice will be ex­tended there.

Such an ap­proach may not be easy and will def­i­nitely have its op­po­nents. How­ever, it is one of the key ap­proaches to solv­ing the is­sue of the ex­port of ter­ror­ism from this part of the world. The writer is an ad­vo­cate of the Supreme Court and a mem­ber of the Washington, DC Bar. He has been writ­ing for var­i­ous pub­li­ca­tions for more than 20 years and has au­thored sev­eral books.

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