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Stabilising the Tribal Areas

Stabilising the Tribal Areas | Dr Raza Khan

In the first year of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistani security forces havepurged Fata of militants and extremists of all hues, which is a huge success. But the ultimate achievement would be the stabilisation of the whole of the tribal areas in the post-conflict period. Military and police action is one aspect of the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategy. The more important dimensions of the strategy are political and economic measures, which address the root causes of the conflict. To come up with the most appropriate economic and political measures to counter terrorism and insurgency, there is a need for profound understanding of the conflict, which in turn means comprehending the profile, actors, dynamics and causes of a given conflict. Unfortunately, Pakistani intelligentsia and media have been largely unable to understand the conflict in Fata.

Insofar as insurgencies and militant movements using religion are concerned, there is an increasing realisation in global policy circles that weak and unpopular regimes provide permissive conditions for radical and violent groups to thrive. Fragile governments, lacking legitimacy and thus popular support, inadvertently create opportunities for terrorists to capitalise on popular resentment. Taking advantage of the weaknesses of regimes, militants and terrorists make common cause with local insurgents, the discontented and criminal networks, and operate in poorly governed territories. Whether it is the Islamic State(IS) in Syria or Iraq, Al-Shabaab in Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram in Nigeria, or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan in Central Asia, they all took advantage of weak governments in their respective states and regions. This explanation is also very much true of our tribal areas. The TTP emerged for the first time in Fata, which has been a region where the writ of the state has never been strong. Corruption of public officials — political agents and their subordinates — has been extensive. Noticeably, Fata has been the only region of Pakistan where there has never existed any elected local government or regional assembly that would debate and discuss solutions to local problems. We have only ourselves to blame for this state of affairs as the weakness in the writ of the state in Fata is not natural, but artificially created.

Research has revealed that some conflicts are triggered and sustained by certain powerful elements within governments, presenting vested interests as ‘national interests’ and thus prolonging the conflict. A closer look at the conflict in Fata would reveal that the indeterminate constitutional and administrative status of the region, along with the in-vogue draconian legal framework, the Frontier Crimes Regulation, have been the source of state weakness and insurgency waged by the TTP and their foreign affiliates against the Pakistani state.

Therefore, in order to stabilise Fata, the Pakistani state has to take large-scale political and economic measures. However, the situation and conflict in the tribal areas is such that political measures ought to precede economic steps to establish state writ in the region. Among the political measures to counter terrorism and insurgency, the most important is to determine the constitutional status of the region. In this regard, the most desirable step is to make Fata a separate province and if this is not possible immediately, then an elected Fata council, a la Gilgit-Baltistan, must be formed.

The second very important political measure is to set up an elected local government system in the tribal areas. This could be instrumental in restoring the state’s writ in every nook and corner of the tribal regions, apart from meaningfully empowering people to govern and address their issues themselves. The gigantic task of development cannot be initiated, sustained and attained in the absence of an elected local government system. History is witness to the fact that public funds worth billions have been spent on development projects through the civilian bureaucratic administration system, but have gone down the drain. Resultantly, the physical infrastructure in Fata is in tatters. The draft of the elected municipal council was prepared and is still lying with the government for implementation.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb has created a rare opportunity for the civilian leadership and policymakers to stabilise Fata and they should seize it immediately. Failing this, the state would not be able to stop the re-emergence of insurgents groups which would be catastrophic as the IS is already knocking at our door.

Stabilising the Tribal Areas | Dr Raza Khan

Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2015.

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