Can peace be won in NWFP?

NWFP Chief Minister Haider Hoti made an important speech to the assembly after winning the vote of confidence on April 10. He spoke about the war being fought in the Pakhtun belt of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He also spoke of presenting a peace plan for its solution.

After 9/11, the NWFP and the tribal areas, home to approximately 40 million people, have witnessed death and destruction on a mass scale. The disempowerment of the people is proven by the fact that no reliable statistics are available about deaths in this war; as if the dead did not constitute humanity.

Referring to this tragedy, the chief minister remarked: “The dark forces of death and destruction have played havoc with our beautiful land and innocent people.” He went on to add that the Pakhtuns were not for isolation. “They want to join the mainstream and develop alongside the rest of the world.”

The provincial assembly listened in rapt attention, absorbing each spoken word. Hoti weaved a vision of hope and human development. Words, which twenty five million residents of NWFP and tribal areas were anxious to hear since 2002.

The Chief Minister then went on to promise that, “in the next session of the provincial assembly we shall present a comprehensive peace plan for our province.”

To those who listened it sounded too good to be true! People wished to know basis of the optimism behind these stirring words. They wondered whether the hard non-state fighters, who were involved in war, could be swayed by rhetoric alone. They were also aware that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has laid down impractical pre-conditions before participation. These include the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, withdrawal of the Pakistani military from FATA, and non-interference in the jihad against US forces in Afghanistan. At the same time the US has said that it has no intention of withdrawing from Afghanistan in the near future. Therefore, can any peace plan succeed in the face of such rigidities?

On the other hand the Feb 18 election has clearly indicated that the people of Pakistan voted against militarism and violence. The Taliban recognise that resort to force alone will not lead to the achievement of their main political objective which is the creation of an Islamist Caliphate.

However, while everyone waits for good sense to prevail, there may be forces amongst the non-state fighters planning another strike in the West. If that happens, one may be certain of an air war in FATA and this could lead to incalculable harm to Pakistan. This in a nutshell is the danger surrounding the process of talks.

The political parties in the NWFP believe that they must exhaust the due traditional process based on Pakhtunwali. This traditional code provides that the one who feels injured must prove that the aggressor is at fault. If he fails to do so, then he must forego violence and abide by the terms of a settlement, which would include an honourable let-off; it will not convert those who are politically motivated, but if security is enhanced in the rural areas, it will lessen the recruitment to the cause of the hostiles.

Many conservative Pakhtuns believe that the fighting in Swat, Kohat and Waziristan is a war of liberation against US occupation of Afghanistan; they fight the Pakistani state because of its alliance with the US. However, it does not make it a US war alone. Whatever may be the case at the start, this is now Pakistan’s war, since the objective of the insurgents is to change the nature of the Pakistani state. To fellow Pakistanis I would say that it is our war, whether we like it or not.

If a “class” and regional analysis of the insurgency is made, it will shows that it is based on support of conservatives, who inhabit the poverty stricken and under-developed regions of the NWFP and tribal areas. In the NWFP, more than 33% and in FATA more than 45% of the population lives on or below the poverty line composed of those who earn $1 or less per day.

The liberal economic development model followed in Pakistan since the late 1980s and based on diminishing public expenditure on education and health has forced a sizeable population to seek the services of madressahs and Islamic charities for their basic needs. A large majority of such persons are committed followers of the Islamist. This is the flip side of the liberal model of economic development and globalisation.

Another significant social transformation of the 1980s was our involvement in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. It was the emergence of “Jihadism” as the preferred Pakistani state policy. This ballooned with help from international Islamic charities, many of which focused on NWFP and FATA. This was a shift from state responsibility to private actors.

The war in Afghanistan brought an immense amount of money and weaponry to this lightly policed and institutionally weak region. According to a reputable estimate, from 1979 to 1992, the Afghan-Pakistan duo received $66 billion worth of weapons from various countries!

Thus a conservative Pakhtun society living in poverty was financially enriched and weaponised. What happened in Afghanistan after 1992 and now in Pakistan was a disaster waiting to happen. It is my conjecture that had 9/11 not occurred, it is likely that both Afghanistan and Pakistan would have become Islamist states. It is not for me to say whether that would have been good or bad.

The chief minister of the NWFP made another telling comment when he said, “our people do not support a closed society. They are not for isolation”. What he was referring to was the faulty institutional design of the Pakistani state in its northwest. It encourages weak government, decrepit state institutions and isolation.

In fact, if credence is to given to Viceroy Lord Wavell’s letter of Feb 6, 1946, to the Secretary of State for India, Pakistan was created for it to be a neo-imperialist construction. Wavell had said that since India would be granted freedom, it was essential to retain NWFP, Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh for the future protection of British interests in Iran and the Gulf. The creation of a weak Pakistan filled that bill and its ungoverned periphery was to be used for playing the Great Game.

This in turn forced the fledgling nation to seek protection in alliances like CENTO or SEATO. This policy provided both money and weapons for its military. For instance, in the last five years, military assistance, loan retirement, fresh loans, preferential entry of goods into US and European markets and grant assistance – totalled more than $23 billion! The NWFP and FATA were not the main beneficiaries of these transfers.

Not many know that Malakand Division, which is a part of the NWFP and returns 26 members to the provincial assembly, is like the tribal areas, where the writ of government hardly exists. It is administered by the president under Articles 246-247 of the Constitution. Is it a coincidence that the insurgency is strongest in both these parts?

Peace cannot come to the NWFP, if FATA is disturbed. The NWFP can do nothing, since it is federally administered. It cannot do much about Malakand either, which has a quarter of NWFP’s population, since both are administered by the president. If peace is to be introduced then FATA should be merged into the NWFP and secondly Malakand must be returned to Peshawar. It is only in this way that the Great Game design of Pakistan can be amended to the advantage of its people. Peace can be won but only by cooperation and through a holistic approach. 

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