Bringing FATA to the Fold
FATA has been ravaged as a consequence of an international effort to root out terrorism from the world. It is time the region is paid back.
nsurgencies relate to spaces – both geographical and notional. Physically they seek a base from where the insurgents can establish their control and writ. It is like a mini-state where they enforce their own laws replacing those that have existed before. These can be political, social and economic and impact how the people of an area or a region exist and under what conditions. The insurgency in FATA was just that where a geographical space was ceded by the state, as indeed the laws that were replaced with what the Taliban wanted to enforce to run their affairs.
The Pakistani military has been in a war all along to sweep these insurgents away from the seven agencies that constitute FATA, with North Waziristan being the last one in the series where a military operation is going on unabated.
Insurgencies could use terror as an instrument to augment their war and to impose their physical and ideological control over the people. Terror on its own though is a separate branch of irregular warfare. It is aimed to achieve multiple effects: delivering tactical advantage to frighten the targeted people and make them amenable to accepting the long-term strategic dominance of the perpetrators. It is akin to softening the battlefield before a full-on assault. Counterinsurgencies and counterterrorism, therefore, require a separate set of tools to deal with these challenges.
As the Pakistani army clears North Waziristan, it has set into motion a process where full-spectrum counterinsurgency actions will be needed. These will include regaining the physical control of the area through military efforts as well enforcing the accompanying political, social, economic and legal measures that should give the notional and ideological control back to the state of Pakistan. Our politicians and the military will need to be on the same wavelength to deliver a wholesome response. In all applications of the military, the intent is to create space for politics to act. This remains the most central relationship of the military and the politics that proves the only certainty – it is only politics that must deliver in seeking abiding solutions to problems that will invariably always have political roots. Conflict management and resolution are built around this central thesis.
A good model is Swat, both for its omissions and commissions. When the region was lost to militants because of the weakness of the political system, it was left to the military to regain control. However, the steps that were needed as a follow-up action after the eviction of terrorists sadly remained missing. The civilian administration returned to the region albeit after much reluctance – still fearful of the militants’ return. The political leadership only made some cosmetic visits without dealing with the more complex sociopolitical and socioeconomic domains that would have needed clearcut policies with resource allocation and implementation mechanisms to achieve the intended objectives. The absence of wholesome, well-integrated policies with clearly defined objectives meant that little was done beyond the army operation to convince the people of their government’s commitment to serve their needs.
Although counterinsurgency theorists will posit the essence of ‘winning hearts and minds’ as the underlying strategy to win against an insurgency, the roots of such insurgencies will importantly determine the extent of such a need. American literature does not envisage fighting a
counterinsurgency in America, but its mission does entail such an activity abroad in other countries, where the insurgents, and surely the Americans, are aliens to the native people - hence their compulsion to win the hearts and minds of the natives. All the same, when two ideologies are competing to take control of a target people, it remains important for the parent nation to convince the target group that their stakes lie with the larger majority. These stakes per force must include political, social and economic considerations; and, even more importantly, a sense that their safety and security remains the primary responsibility of the government, which it will ensure at all costs.
The ongoing flux in FATA and especially North Waziristan may be an opportunity for the federal government in Islamabad to review its policies which may have brought about such devastation in the first place. There is a pressing need to debate the issue of political restructuring. For example, should FATA continue to be treated as a retinue of the federal government in Islamabad with the aim to preserve its outdated traditions and its way of life built around tribalism? Or should it now be regulated either as a separate province or integrated into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? Should its social and legal status be still run by riwaj (customs) or should regular laws with the extended authority of the Supreme Court govern its social functioning? Putting it more succinctly, should FATA remain mired in the 18th century existence, or is it time now to bring it at par with the rest of Pakistan? That will mean repealing the Frontier Crimes Regulations ( FCR) and replacing it with the new set of laws compatible with the Constitution, the Pakistan Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Another factor of equal importance is the extension of the Political Parties Act which enables political integration of the people of FATA in the regular political system of Pakistan. During its last term in power, the Pakistan People’s Party had enabled the extension of the PPA under a legal framework, but an accompanying change in the laws of the land will provide a more uniform sociopolitical environment for political parties to properly engage with the people. Social and political integration with the rest of Pakistan will translate into a wholesome similarity enabling more recognizable commonality of stakes.
Economic support to the FATA region entails a more deliberate study and careful planning. There is a need to strengthen the local economy, building around what suits the local businessmen. The Pashtuns are known for their sharp trading skills. It will help them greatly if the state can enable more transparent and better managed trade activities even if it is trade across the border. A controlled duty structure specific to the frequently traded items can gradually bring the activity under a legalized framework. It is always useful to build on existing parameters.
Infrastructure, schools and hospitals are the most essential and visible avenues of building communities in FATA. It will give the people of FATA a sense of integration with the rest of Pakistan. Deployment of law enforcement agencies to ensure the security of life and property will also be a key to maintain the social order in the area.
The government of Pakistan should declare a few geographical zones as dedicated zones for development across the country. A FATA fund for both internal and external endowments and aid programs must be created for a certain period of time, perhaps 10 years, and the state must be an equal contributor. Similar development zones can also be considered for Balochistan. Both FATA and Balochistan will need special allocations to realize an accelerated pace of development to bring these regions at the same level of existence as the rest of Pakistan. A Constitutional provision must ensure successive government’s adherence to such a plan for a fixed period of time. An international conference to seek assistance may also be considered. A broad consensus of politicians is needed on this issue.
FATA has been ravaged as a consequence of an international effort to root out terrorism from the world. It is about time FATA was paid back for the losses it has suffered due to this armed effort. Even if the rest of the world does not contribute, Pakistan’s own internal focus should be on bringing the people of FATA back into the fold, ensuring them rights similar to those enjoyed by their fellow countrymen. This is the need of the moment.