The conduct of multiple military operations by the Pakistani forces in NWFP and Fata coincides with the planned surge of US troops in southern Afghanistan. The induction of fresh US forces on Pakistan’s Baluchistan border generates its own dynamics. The surge will push the Pashtun living in the Baloch border areas inwards towards Quetta and onwards to Karachi where their extended families already live. The start of operations in Waziristan and the increasing number of skirmishes in Orakzai, Mohmand and Bajour gives a picture, whether by coincidence or design, which clearly shows how the Pashtun both in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been placed in the tweeze of death and destruction.
In Karachi the MQM has shown its ethnic leaning by doing it best to stop the movement of Pashtuns to that city; Karachi incidentally is the largest Pashtun metropolis in Pakistan. In Punjab the police are preventing the Pashtun IDPs from entering their areas although publicly the government is saying the opposite now. One responsible officer from Punjab commented that they had made a mistake by permitting the Afghan refugees in the 1980s and 1990s free entry to their province. The Pashtun is thus unwelcome in his own land. These restrictions imposed on them are against the law and the Constitution. Is it then the case that the Pashtun IDPs are not Pakistanis?
There are already more than 2.5 million Pashtun homeless. Their forced migration from Swat, Dir or Waziristan makes this displacement bigger than that of Darfur or of the Rwandans a few years ago. Many of the Pashtun that I have spoken with are fearful about their future. It is worth noting that this violence against the Pashtuns extends from eastern and southern Afghanistan to northwestern Pakistan and it has now clearly become ethnic , or is certainly being perceived that way.
If someone wants an image to visualize what is befalling the Pashtun today the region truly reflects a scene from Vin Diesel’s recent science fiction movie Babylon AD. People are moving from place to place aimlessly and directionless. They have lost their homes, families, children and livelihoods. They are people without identity and if they also lose hope and are unable to return soon then I am afraid the promise of Pakistan in their minds will be broken. It is a great irony of history that those who are sons of the soil in Pakistan have become homeless, yet those who were homeless previously are anchored in Pakistani cities and are its masters – what a remarkable turn of events!
Sooner than later the ethnic nature of operations in Af-Pak and the issue of simultaneous displacement of Pashtuns in such large numbers, the less-than-fraternal attitude of individuals from other provinces of Pakistan coupled with the matter of so many ruined lives will aggregate into an ugly conundrum which will take many unpalatable directions in the not-too-distant future. Unfortunately, the leadership of the ANP in NWFP has lapsed into political oblivion. It’s only visible face is its brave and yeoman information minister, Mian Iftikhar. Secondly owning to their failure in Swat the secular ANP will suffer in any future election because available signs clearly indicate that new dynamics are in the making and they will usher their own political direction which may not be within the framework of the present political discourse of growth and development. People want security and development has become irrelevant in the face of basic issues of survival and identity. The crying need is for Pakistan to quickly rehabilitate the displaced persons or forego the right to lead the Pashtun. They could well then seek their own destiny.
Some intellectuals feel that the timing of the current operation was badly planned since the crops in Swat were ready to be harvested. They ask: “Couldn’t the operation have been delayed for a few more weeks?” A few on the other hand say that the timing of the operation was planned to coincide with the president’s US visit! Coming from this perspective it is claimed that Pashtun blood was spilt as a sacrifice for other strategic gains.
It may be noted that in 2005 there was no insurgent movement of the type witnessed in Swat and Buner and elsewhere. It all happened after the occurrence of the October 2005 Earthquake in Balakot and Azad Kashmir. The camps where jihadis used to receive training for fighting against Indian forces in Kashmir had to be sequestered from the prying eyes of US and NATO troops who were using helicopters for delivery of relief to NWFP and Azad Kashmir and were clearly aware of the presence of such camps.
Many of these camps were shifted and relocated in Swat and the Dir mountains. The location policy showed colossal ineptitude. A small section of the population in this region already stood radicalized by the TNSM movement of the 1990s. The creation of a lashkar by Sufi Mohammad, which he led into Afghanistan to support the Taliban against the US led invasion in December 2001, further radicalized those residents of Malakand who had accompanied him. The arrival of more radicals due to the shifting of the camps and their evangelical programming of the local population created the monsters that the military is now trying to get rid of.
Furthermore the use of the sledgehammer of the artillery and the air force which causes collateral damage is like operating against a shadow and such tactics cannot succeed. A counter-insurgency war cannot be fought from a distance. For success the “enemy” has to be hunted at close quarters. This calls for the use of special forces and the police. Draining the swamp cannot eliminate the fish if other rivulets of escape are available.
The present operation cannot be considered successful until the leaders of the Taliban who have challenged the writ of the state are brought to justice. If this doesn’t occur rest assured that the IDPs are not returning and it will be futile to return the area to civil administration because the militants will surely return again and the civil administration will be made a scapegoat again.
Some other important questions are why arrangements were not made for the reception and feeding of IDPs before the operations began. The argument that secrecy has to be maintained is, to say the least, egregious. Didn’t President Zardari “announce” before hand that Pakistan would launch operations in Waziristan? He did and still we did not make any arrangements for caring for those who were leaving after the announcement.
Agreed that every nation passes through rough patches during its history but there are clear indicators which warn the leaders and people to correct their direction. We in Pakistan unfortunately ignore such indicators and live in a make believe world. We regularly take up futile positions which can only result in injuring ourselves We spend hours of air time every evening fulminating against the US as if that will bring peace to Pakistan. Apparently the US is implementing its national security objective which is to ensure that 9/11 is never repeated. It will do everything to ensure that. By allowing the spirit of militancy to flourish in Pakistan we are prolonging the stay of the US in Afghanistan. Is that wise?
Finally let us not forget that both Fata and Pata come under the President’s personal dispensation. Art 247 lays this down and in my mind is a time bomb inserted in that document to devour Pakistan! If you look at areas where insurgency flourishes today then strangely they coincide with the special areas defined under Article 247 of the Constitution. It is proposed that before the military operations end in FATA and PATA we should use the opportunity to amalgamate them fully under the normal law within the Pakistani state. In my view both Fata and Pata should be merged into NWFP a better opportunity will not come our way. This cloud may have a silver lining!
The writer is a former chief secretary of NWFP. He now heads the Regional Institute of Policy Research. Email: email@example.com