Abolish the Tribal Area Status
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.