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The implications for Pakistan

IN a meeting of Nato heads of state in Lisbon last November, it was decided that foreign forces would withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The meeting envisaged the handing over of security duties to Afghan forces.

We will analyse this briefly later; we have as yet not thought about what implications this decision has for Pakistan. What will be the impact of this change? What will be the effect of the handing over of security duties to the Afghan National Army (ANA) in the Pakhtun belt of Afghanistan when its current recruitment pattern creates ethnic imbalances?

Will the envisaged counter-terrorism wall around the Pakhtun belt as proposed under the Blackwill Plan threaten the future viability of Pakistan? Will it not create insecurity for the whole of South Asia?

What needs to be done in Fata — shouldn`t reforms be speeded up so that the space is denied to future interlopers? Abdullah Azzam, Osama`s mentor, looked at Fata with the eyes of a strategist when he said in his famous jihad fatwa: “There are more than 3,000km of open border in Afghanistan and regions of tribes not under political influence. This forms a protective shield for [the] Mujahideen.”

It is obvious that Fata is looked upon as a home base by extremists in their future strategies for the region. Fata reforms can deny this space, but are we positioned to reform politically? Shouldn`t these reforms have been incorporated in the 18th Amendment?

Pakistan is like a patient of severe schizophrenia. It remains in a state of denial though. The objective of our creation amongst other reasons was Britain`s desire to have a security state in north South Asia to guard its imperial interests against Soviet intrusion as well as to protect its oil interest in Iran and the Persian Gulf after the independence of India. Pakistan`s use as a security state prevented the country from becoming people-centric.

Thus Pakistan`s citizens have remained secondary to the goals of the state; except for some parts of Punjab and Sindh that have grown and developed, most of Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are ignored as ramparts protecting this heartland.

Those who live in the peripheries have become victims of this security agenda; they die or are displaced in their hundreds. Fata, after 63 years of independence, has a sorry literacy rate of 17.6 per cent; Khyber Pakhtunkhwa still does not have total provincial autonomy. Almost 25 per cent of its area in Malakand, that elects 25 MPAs entitled to legislate for the province, cannot make laws for Malakand because like Fata it is an area under Article 246 of the constitution and is directly under the president. Is it thus a coincidence that the uprising against the state in the northwest occurs in areas under Article 246?

As in other critical matters, we have lost time in implementing reforms and this delay has now created a future impasse — when the proposed withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan starts in 2014. Obviously, the withdrawal will never be complete and there will a counter-terrorist force in place.

It is conceived that the withdrawal from Afghanistan will be contingent upon the enhancement of the Afghan security capacity. Given the current high desertion and absenteeism rates in the Afghan forces it is not understood how this capacity will be attained on schedule. Secondly, not enough Pakhtuns from the insurgency-affected regions of southern and eastern Afghanistan are recruited; this will make future counter-terrorism policing difficult.

One important proposal suggested for containing the Taliban within southern and eastern Afghanistan is the Blackwill Plan which proposes to partition Afghanistan in two; the Pakhtun belt will be blocked by a northern defensive line very much like the Maginot Line to prevent the Taliban from intruding in the north. This plan, however, is quiet on what happens to the Pakhtun areas in Pakistan.

Blackwill feels that the contagion of Talibanisation will be kept within manageable limits by the special forces and drone attacks. The big imponderable is that though northern Afghanistan will be protected from a Taliban outbreak, the Pakistani Pakhtun belt will become the soft underbelly for the Afghan Taliban. The Blackwill Plan will create an existentialist threat for Pakistan and may lead to the creation of a separate Pakhtun identity forged by the de facto partition. An unstable Pakistan is not good news.

Under such circumstances are Fata reforms possible? Yes, but these will require political will. However, I seriously doubt the ability of the present political dispensation to deal effectively with the issues that Pakistan faces in the fields of security, finance, governance, water and energy resources and development.

What is needed is an effective and agile pivot composed of a representative system that reflects democratic governance and a sound leadership that is not blackmailed by parliamentary caucuses indifferent to the agony of the common man. It begs the question whether the time has come for making fundamental changes to the design of our constitution to locate a powerful president who is directly elected and functions with the support of a bicameral legislature at the centre and directly elected chief ministers in the provinces.

In order to end the stranglehold of special interests the new system ought to be anchored on the alternate vote system.

Fata and other important reforms thus should engage us simultaneously if we wish to end the continuous bloodletting and institutional decay that Pakistan has witnessed since 2004. Postponement of reforms is an invitation to chaos.

The writer is chairman of the Regional Institute of Policy Research in Peshawar.

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