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Reforming the tribal areas

In this news letter we analyze yet another attempt to deal with the issue of reform in the tribal areas. The President has formed three groups that are examining reform of the tribal areas. Mr. Imtiaz Sahibzada, former chief secretary of NWFP, is examining the strengthening of the institution of the political agent (PA). Mr. Jehangir Tareen, federal minister for industry and special initiatives, has put together his thoughts for the development of tribal areas, through an equivalent of a Marshall Plan. Army officers and others are examining how to deal with the deteriorating security conditions, particularly in Waziristan. Another group from the US and the Pakistan Commerce Ministry are discussing how to implement President Bush’s recently announced strategy of Reconstruction Opportunities Zone for the region; a package of incentives is under discussion.

The last few days has seen increased attacks on government posts in tribal area and the districts; a booby trap exploded killing policemen in a vehicle in D.I Khan. At the same time there have been reports of the assassination of tribal elders, who supported the government. In Wana, South Waziristan a parallel administration (people’s court) has been set up to administer justice according to Sharia. A radio tower in Wana, situated within the most guarded part and transmitting the official line was destroyed. For the time being, there is a lull in the ground and air assaults in North Waziristan.

On 20th March, the parliament of North West Frontier Province passed a resolution by majority vote, asking the federal government to immediately stop the military operations in Waziristan.  On the 22nd of March, the chief minister of NWFP spoke of the plight of many tribesmen and their families, who had fled Waziristan and sought refuge in the districts of Tank and D.I Khan. He pleaded for federal support for the internal refugees, I had earlier warned of this situation in my news letters, which are available at Once population begins to shift then evidently a law and order problem has distilled into guerilla war; a notch higher than an insurgency. This to my mind is the result of a flawed Waziristan policy, which relies only on the use of force. 

In southern Afghanistan, the level of resistance has increased with a rise in the number of attacks on government functionaries and posts. In a sense the Pakistan tribal belt and the troubles in Pathan areas of Afghanistan have one similarity; the fighting and deaths are amongst the Pathans.

So what are the significant issues in this situation? Firstly, the war on terror from here looks very much a Pathan resistance against the US doctrine. Locally, it is idiomized as a war of resistance against �infidel� forces, who want to destroy the Islamic identity of the Pathans; for them it is a fight to protect their way of life. Secondly, the issue within the Pakistani context has assumed an ethnic dimension because of perceived short changing by the federal government. The tribesmen and many in NWFP are unhappy with the federal government; they see the war on terror as another attempt by the majority province to give the Pathans a raw deal. In the past, the government trained fighters for Afghanistan. From 1978 to 1992 more than 1, 60,000 Pathans were trained by the Pakistani military to end the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. They succeeded brilliantly. Now the same people were being extinguished. The only difference is that they are now well trained and equipped to resist; I do not see how force alone can ever succeed in solving this matter. On the other hand there is another message that is coming through strong and clear , the Waziristan fighters have the capacity to de-stabilize the government and threaten security in the district.   

On the other hand the 8% annual economic growth in Pakistan has had a marginal impact on NWFP and tribal areas, poverty is more rampant than before; this further clouds the picture.  Many pathans are of the opinion, that if NWFP does not receive even its constitutional dues (net profits from hydel generation), how can the province develop and grow or poverty reduced? On the other hand it is evident that Pakistan has gained financially and economically for the role largely played by the inhabitants of NWFP and tribal areas in freeing Afghanistan from the Soviets. Now a similar situation is being repeated in the war on terror. What percentage of the total benefits accruing from Pakistan’s role as an ally in the war on terror has accrued to NWFP and tribal areas? Very meager, I am sure.

One of the matters that Mr. Sahibzada, has been asked to deal with is how to strengthen the political agent? The answer is staring us in the face. The strength of the political agent is enclosed in the aura, which he carries. It is not something physical; it is the recognition of his pre-eminent position by the state and the tribes. The political agent is more of a diplomat, with the difference that he has the right to use force and is the source of good or evil for the tribesman; if the later feels that the PA is not important then the game is lost. Today, in the tribal areas the office of the political agent has been reduced to that of a minor functionary, carrying out the orders of the military commander. The PA has been weakened by the system of government that is now operating in the country; it is predominantly a military administration and all the other state institutions are cosmetic. No amount of tinkering will improve this institution. If you want Waziristan and other similar tribal problems solved, then recognize the pre-eminence of the PA. It cannot happen in the present dispensation. Sorry, but that is the truth of the matter.

I give an example of the role of the institution of PA in 1974-75; a Bara lashkar in Khyber had threatened to come to Kajuri to destroy government property. Believing that a show of force would be enough to deter it, I requested the air force base commander at Peshawar to break the sound barrier over the lashkar. In half an hour the job was accomplished; the lashkar disappeared without any loss of life. Both the Commissioner and Governor were informed after the matter had been settled. I very much doubt if any PA can act in a similar manner today; I believe even the deployment of army is centralized with the CENTCOM commanders having a major say. Maybe rightly so, since they are paying for every thing. How on earth does Mr. Sahibzada hope to strengthen the PA’s office in such a situation? The problem is systemic and cannot be cured by placebos.

The present reforms can only be meaningful, if another set of reforms aimed at ending the isolation of many regions of NWFP and tribal areas is carried out first; the military cover can be useful to do a whole sale re-structuring covering the political, administrative and developmental aspects of isolation.  Tough surgery, which will not be possible for any political government to carry out. At the same time, the federal spirit must be strengthened, if ethnic fires are to be put out. In this the political parties can play a major role. They are a part of the solution of the problems of tribal areas, the insurrection in Waziristan and unhappiness in NWFP. That is where the re-structuring should begin. Without it we will be touting garrison solutions, which is neither here nor there. Such a strategy can only succeed if there is an agreed road map for the return of an active and genuine democracy in Pakistan, immediately following these reforms (consent of the political parties essential). If we are able to do so, then the present military government would have delivered a social good after all.

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