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Approaches for dealing with insurgency in Fata is development the answer?


Militants in Fata and NWFP remain fragmented and solutions to the problems posed by insurgents ultimately require political handling, which in turn depends on legitimate and capable civilian and military state institutions that provide services and governance to establish empowered communities able to deny space to militants.

The al Qaeda and the Taliban are a creation of power politics and technology and have grown into a complex religio-political movement with three distinct and at times mixed objectives. One is focused westwards bent on fuelling the Afghan conflict and overturning the international framework for security and development in Afghanistan. A second is directed towards providing a safe haven for al Qaeda and its affiliates to attack Western interests. A third aims to create sphere of influence within the tribal agencies of the FATA and in Malakand for establishment of an Islamic emirate and destabilizing the Pakistani state and thus take out a primary source of strength for the West in the region. In this context intervention in the economic and political fields in FATA and NWFP are more important than ever before.

A matter of significance which escapes policy makers is the impact of the intervention in Afghanistan upon the Pushtun population of the region. The war has impacted upon the Pushtun social code the Pushtunwali and has triggered a reaction from them aimed at protecting their identity and the way that they live. The issue is discussed in a section below. This aspect is of very important significance for those attempting to pacify the region.
                While Pakistan and the United States resort increasingly to military action against the ideologically driven insurgent groups, military efforts alone may not be enough to create a stable political order that satisfies the strategic objectives of Pakistan or subdue the goal of protection of identity by the Pushtuns of Fata, NWFP, Baluchistan and Afghanistan. On the other hand without military ascendancy it is not possible to begin the retrieval by the state. Therefore the situation requires a more comprehensive approach which is focused on security, local governance, politics, economy and understanding of the sociological aspects driving the dynamics within Pushtun society.  

The nature of US-Pakistani relationship has been overly reliant on empowering the military at the cost of civil society, democracy and human rights. It is principally due to such policies that Pakistan today has weak civilian institutions that are unable to provide leadership and develop policies preventing insurgent mobilization. While the Taliban insurgency remains dependant on FATA, the movement’s centre of gravity is shifting into Southern Punjab, Baluchistan and Karachi. The writ of the state in NWFP has been eroded by a steep rise in militant activity over the last two years, and NWFP increasingly resembles FATA. Political reforms in FATA, which is an important aspect of solution to fighting the insurgency remains stranded due to a failure of leadership.

The situation thus demands the development of counter-insurgency programs, which operate across settled and tribal areas and which deny political space to religious insurgent movements. On the other hand the manipulated introduction of proto Taliban rule in NWFP through the MMA in 2002-2007 was the best favor done to the Taliban by the Musharraf regime.

Issue of Pushtun Identity

If the US wishes to resolve the problems in the region, it must engage the Pushtun people who number about 42 million. There are about 27 million of them living in Pakistan and about 15 million in Afghanistan. Without cooperation of the Pushtun tribes, it is concluded that the US will not have peace.

Secondly, it may be noted that most of the US anti terrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan are in Pushtun areas. The drone attacks create more Pushtun enemies because of the collateral deaths. Unless the US wins the friendship of these people there will never be complete peace. Furthermore, many radical Pushtuns have integrated into the trans-national al-Qaeda network and have thus become a formidable mass of warriors who follow a religious flag of convenience.

Many Pushtun intellectuals wrongly believe that the Pushtun is a peaceful individual who has been transformed into a fighting machine by the Afghan Jihad. This analysis fails to note the primeval cultural and religious drivers of Pushtun society. The US has no problems with the Tajik or Uzbek or other ethnic groups inside Afghanistan. However, with the Pushtun the US faces a unique cultural difficulty.

The issue is that the Pushtun is prone to religious extremism because he and readily accepts membership into millenarian movements if he needs to resist reform of a centralizing state which externalizes Pushtun governance and politics; he cannot live with the transfer of his management to a larger entity like a modernizing state. This is because he fears that his social conduct determined by Pushtunwali, will be endangered and that he will lose his identity. For a Pushtun, whether he is supporting Mulla Umar in Afghanistan, Fazalullah in Swat, Maulvi Faqir in Bajaur or Baithullah in Waziristan  he is fighting a war to preserve his identity.

On the other hand, the US believes deeply in civic values of freedom and democracy almost like the precepts of religion. To the US the Pushtun resistance doesn’t make sense! However, this Gordian Knot of social misunderstanding between America and the Pushtun cannot be undone by drone attacks or kinetic operations. As a matter they lead to actions ending in seeking revenge which is the hall mark of an honor driven society. A fundamental shift of approach is needed which should be based on befriending the Pushtun. Thus there is very little chance of anti terrorism operations working unless punishment is meted through the vehicle of the existing law as practiced in the different regions. In Fata it would be through the enforcement of the FCR (Frontier Crimes Regulations).

 If one examines history there have been many Pushtun revolts in the past and they have occurred when the Pushtun felt that his identity was under attack  and whenever that has happened he has looked for a religious leader to lead him because his own social set up is so afflicted by jealousies which prevents him from following a traditional leader who might become too powerful and thus reduce the common Pushtun’s freedoms embedded in Pushtunwali.

Therefore the US needs to forge a policy which focuses on strengthening the Pushtun social structure. However, while doing so it must realize how deeply the Pushtun issue divides both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In order to neutralize Pushtun ethnic nationalism from undermining the Pakistani state, her leaders have promoted religious radicalism in the tribal areas.  On the other hand the US interest lies in reducing the support of the Pushtuns for religious extremism reflected in the presence of al-Qaeda safe havens in Fata. Yet this can only happen if there is total understanding between the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It will also entail the resolution of the Durand Line issue within the existing state systems and boundaries.

The Challenge

The core issue facing Fata is the challenge to the states right to govern; another way of describing it is that over a period of time the government became dysfunctional and was thus prevented from the supply of those goods which lead to the creation of legitimacy and permits the state to govern through voluntary obedience. According to this analysis, legitimacy occurs when a state provides the following social goods at an efficient level;

�         Security

�         Justice

�         Political empowerment

�         Economic development and employment

As long as Pakistan is unable to provide these goods the insurgency in FATA will continue unabated. One of the reasons for the insurgency lies in the failure of the state to look after the welfare of its people in FATA. The dysfuntionality of the state has been further aggravated by the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and the need of the Pushtun to protect his identity. A reading of Afghan history shows that the tribesmen of FATA have always assisted the Afghans whenever they have been able to project that they are under threat of absorption by an outside force. The situation today is no different in this context. There are therefore three main reasons for the insurgency  a nonexistent legitimacy of the Afghan regime, the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and the Pushtun fear of losing his identity.

The presence of the military in FATA since 2004 is seen by the tribesmen as a threat directed at ending their freedom and unique social system and has therefore invited a stern reaction. Thus it will be wise to gradually withdraw the military and replace it with a retrained and properly equipped Scouts force for which purpose the US has begun a capacity building program. As the Scouts complete their training they should take over the duties from the military and deal with the insurgency more effectively.

The ending of the insurgency will require at least 8-10 years of nation building. Stability and reconstruction efforts will result in retrieving the lost ground essential for re-establishing government’s legitimacy. In the meantime the Scouts and the military need to be trained to fight a counter insurgency war. For this purpose the military training and operational doctrine will need to be revised. The forces must be equipped to undertake stabilization and reconstruction operations in Fata. Thus change in force structure and devising new rules of engagement involving the civil-military institutions will be needed. One of the essential capacities required by the Scouts to undertake S & R operations in the future will be to provide them capacity in engineering, medical and education management on a much wider scale like the military.

Political Reforms in Fata

In the long term FATA needs to become the part of NWFP; in the meantime steps should be taken to carry out reforms to bring FATA at par with Pakistan in matters of the constitutionally guaranteed legal, human and political rights.

FCR Reform

This law which was put in place in 1887 and then revised in 1902 should be suitably amended in the light of Justice Ajmal Committee’s recommendations. Secondly, the right of habeas corpus and writ jurisdiction before a High Court as available in provinces should also be provided in FATA by creating a FATA Tribunal with powers of a high court. Appeals and revisions in criminal and civil matters will also lie before this tribunal.


Empowerment and Good Governance

The tribal areas administration is based on more than a century old archaic system  whose purpose was not human security or development but an indirect system of administration for maintaining a colonial system based on patronage of a few Maliks.

Such a political system excluded a huge majority from participating in their own affairs and thus to get connected to the state; it was a system which did not build loyalty or attachment to the state. Under such conditions the penetration by the administration of the tribal social structure was poor. It also resulted in a tenuous commitment towards the state.

As a result of disturbed conditions in Waziristan and other parts of Fata tribesmen in large numbers abandoned the state driven systems related to security, justice or development. They are now supporting replacements by non government leaders. The government has lost legitimacy and its patronage driven system is being replaced by indigenous formations which are more effective in delivering security, justice, services and empowerment.

To recover the lost ground the state has to do better than the non state actors. It is therefore proposed as follows;

  1. Immediate extension of the Political Parties Act to FATA through a Presidential Regulation.
  2. Creation of an empowered local government system based on democratic principles followed by the tribes and limited to basic needs development sectors.

A New Development Approach

Similarly the principles of development need to be redefined and it is proposed that they be guided by the following principles:

  1. A resource utilization strategy based on transfer of funds to communities and the determination of priorities by them.
  2. The development strategy should remove agency imbalances at tehsil level.
  3. The development strategy must identify hot spots where fighting will likely take place and where an integrated civil – military approach based on stability and reconstruction operation is undertaken to build and extend government’s legitimacy. In the first phase certain pilot project areas should be identified for implementing this approach. It is also proposed that a percentage of the development funds should be set aside for this purpose as it is difficult to identify since it is based on activity of militants and difficult to predict.
  4. The reduction of development funds of Fata must not be allowed. The reduction of development effort leads directly to the erosion of legitimacy of the government.
  5. To accelerate capital formation for economic growth and development, recourse to establishing individual responsibility has to be encouraged so that households begin to benefit from different mineral resources available in the region. Recently, the Taliban of Mohmand agency successfully initiated marble mining at Ziarat mines which had been closed for many years due to a failure to resolve the issue of rights. The Taliban solved the issue by providing shares in incomes to all the neighboring families. The solution to the problem of a lack of development and entrepreneurship is thus staring us in the face

Communication Strategy

It is unfortunate that not enough attention is paid in Fata to implement a comprehensive communication strategy to mould the perception of the tribesmen in favour of the government by using different component of the media. This reform agenda will need the implementation of a comprehensive strategy to be devised for this purpose.


Too much water has passed under the bridge for the people to agree to the re-establishment of the old system of administration as proposed by some. The pre 2002 political administration system is now dead and cannot be revived so let us move on with the proposed reforms. The NWFP could also follow the same reform path with changes as it has more institutional strength.

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