The resignation of the NWFP Governor, Lt. Gen (Rtd) Ali Jan Mohammad Aurakzai was accepted by the federal government on January 4th. He will be succeeded by Owais Ghani, a frontiersman who is currently the Governor of Baluchistan.
The reason for Gen Aurakzai’s exit lies in the dynamic of tribal policy and its interaction with the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto. Her death ended the U.S sponsored unfolding of Pakistani politics planned for the next phase of war with al-Qaeda.
At the beginning of 2006, Project Pakistan became the focus of activity in the U.S both in the Congress and within executive branches, because of the forthcoming general elections in Pakistan. Pakistan occupies a pivotal position in the war on terror. Therefore, U.S policy makers thought that it will be a good opportunity to design Pakistan’s future political landscape, so as to obtain a friendly group of Pakistani legislators. They therefore attempted to devise a dream combination. Such a combination would have ideally consisted of the PML (Q), PPP, MQM, ANP and the JUI (F) coalition headed by Gen. Musharraf and running Pakistan for the next five years.
Political commentators have been predicting that the final battle against al-Qaeda would be fought in Pakistan. If a date had to be fixed for the start of this last phase, it was to be in Oct-Dec 2006. However, the political ripples caused by the Chief Justice crisis delayed this process, which is now postponed to the post Feb 18 general elections.
But the best laid plans of Gen Musharraf and the U.S for the next phase of Pakistani politics suffered an irreversible set back, when two events and a policy collided. The two events were the failure of the negotiations begun to obtain the release of a large number of soldiers captured in South Waziristan by the followers of Baitullah Mahsud.
After negotiations by the Governor NWFP, more than two hundred soldiers were released when a deal was struck with Baitullah. According to the terms of this arrangement the soldiers were released in exchange for thirty two terrorists who were in government custody for various offences.
Baithullah accused the government of bad faith and not fully abiding by the terms of the settlement when six of the terrorists were not released and one of the released terrorist, was later re-arrested by an intelligence agency in D.I Khan.
Baitullah Mahsud charged the tribal administration for reneging on the deal and broke contact while holding it responsible. Two senior and very mature tribal area advisors of Gen. Aurakzai and involved in the negotiations through third parties protested, when the deal was violated and took leave; both have since been replaced.
The other event was the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the federal government’s accusation that Baitullah was responsible for it. Indirectly, it meant that the policy of negotiation which was followed by Gen. Aurakzai became a target in this blame-game.
Both the events collided with Gen. Aurakzai’s avowed policy of dealing with Baithullah by bringing into play the dynamics of tribal rivalries against him and his group. If faithfully implemented such a policy had the seeds of success; but then everyone wants results over night. According to this policy it is believed that political manipulation of the tribes through agreements would have lead to the enforcement of collective responsibility by the tribes against the terrorists, thus achieving government’s objectives with less bloodshed.
Tribal areas are governed through the Frontier Crimes Regulation. According to the principles contained in sections 21 and 22 of the law, the whole tribe is collectively liable for the actions of any one man, a sub clan or a sub-tribe. The administrator of an agency, the political agent takes punitive action against any or all of the related tribesmen, whose member is either involved in criminal activity or is evading arrest. Unfortunately, for Gen. Aurakzai, this policy of using tribal agreement aimed at bringing into play sections 21 and 22 to achieve control were looked at suspiciously by powerful institutions both within Pakistan and the U.S.
It is my conjecture that when Benazir was assassinated, Gen Aurakzai against his advice received shrill instructions for launching perilous military operations for the arrest of Baitullah Mahsud and his followers. Someone, during these conversations may have overstepped the bounds of decency and accused the Governor of supporting the hostiles. This preposterous charge, I feel led Gen. Aurakzai to send his resignation. Being an honorable man he had no other recourse left. Now that the deed is done what of the future? But first a word about the governor’s work.
How would one rate the Governor’s stewardship of the tribal areas? Gen. Aurakzai was a good administrator and a decent human being. He was against any tactic which would increase the chances of collateral causalities. Experience has shown that it becomes a strong mobilizer of resistance against the state thus making administrative contact with the tribes difficult. It must be noted that tribal administration is based on personal contact. If it is poor or there is hostility of the tribe towards the political authorities, then the work on behalf of the state comes to a stop. Gen Aurakzai, wanted to use the force of the tribes to neutralize the terrorist.
Simultaneously, he led the development of a futuristic and far reaching FATA Sustainable Development Strategy for the next ten years and which would cost more than $2 billion. He was extremely hard working and could take the pressure of work and circumstances quite well. This was amply demonstrated by him during the Pak-Afghan Jirga negotiations in Kabul during last August. Many dangerous and acrimonious confrontations were handled by him with great deftness and acumen.
His main failure lay in ignoring the dynamics of the international context of the war on terror. Decisions made on the ground by administrators or military commanders are challenged by other stake holders who are not included in the consultative process. It is an unfair situation. But it is a defining feature of the current international cooperation and thus its major weakness also. It is made worse, because there is no defined Pakistani counter insurgency strategy. During seven years of war, we have often heard public statements touch on war and strategy, but we still lack an articulated strategy which can be the rule book for all to abide by. Its absence allows people to intervene and create serious policy muddles. Secondly, whenever we draw such a strategy it will find that the solution will lie in empowering the people which can only be achieved through democracy. Using tribal mechanisms of consultation is thus the right approach.
It is obvious that with the exit of Gen. Aurakzai, NWFP and tribal areas will be entering a period of greater violence and bloodletting which would make peace more difficult. Apparently, these areas will continue to remain the killing fields of Pakistan which they have been since the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. The last battle against Al-Qaeda will unfortunately be fought here with all its adverse consequences. It will make the state even more dysfunctional. Gen. Aurakzai’s departure thus marks a political watershed.