The euphoria that surrounded the formation of new governments in Pakistan after the February 18th elections has evaporated. Most of the ordinary things that we had taken for granted during the last many years are disappearing fast , food, oil and electricity. Many parts of FATA and NWFP are facing a technical famine due to shortage of wheat. Even where wheat is available, the price is often too high for the low income earner. And their number in these unstable and embattled regions is very high. In NWFP, more than 33% of the population and in FATA more than 50% of the population lives on or below the national poverty line. Inflation is deepening the crisis.
However, out of the many problems facing us, the most dangerous is militancy. Life in NWFP and FATA is paralyzed with fear. It is thought that hostilities and suicide bombings are a short way off. In Swat the torching of girl schools has re-started; even though there is a peace agreement in operation, which was signed by the NWFP government and the TNSM on April 20th. Furthermore, the militants have reoccupied most of the area from which they were evicted by the military only four months ago.
I had had predicted that the peace agreement with the TSNM led by Sufi Mohammad will not deter the Swat militants from their activities. It has been argued by supporters of the peace agreement that at least the followers of Sufi Mohammad have disassociated from the militants and thus their numbers are fewer.
It is obvious that the Swat militants have neither the intent nor an interest in peace. If they did they would have used the TSNM-government agreement for fulfilling their political agenda, which was to bring Shariat compliant laws. On the contrary, Mulla Fazlullah, the leader of the Swat militants has rejected the peace acoord; it is even more surprising since he is Sufi Mohammad’s son in law.
In the south of the region, the government is desperately trying to reach an agreement with the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TeT), led by Baitullah Masud. One apparent feature about the TeT is that it is organizationally better structured and more modern as compared with the government.
Militancy in the North West is being fought between TeT and the government of Pakistan and NWFP. The TeT does not have a confused chain of command. TeT has the authority, while sitting in the wilderness of Masud country, to make a decision, which will be applicable to FATA, Malakand . which is a provincially administered tribal territory, NWFP and the rest of Pakistan! However, team Pakistan has players, who can play only in certain parts of the field and not others. For example FATA is under the federal government and proposals for peace will be negotiated by that government.
On the other hand, peacemaking in NWFP is the responsibility of the provincial government. Yet, in matters relating to Swat, NWFP has to get approval from the federal government as Swat is defined to be a federal responsibility under Article 247 of the constitution!
This shows that TeT has mainstreamed itself as a unified monolith, while the government is splintered into parts like FATA and NWFP, which are under separate jurisdictions. What does this mean?
Clearly peace in NWFP can only come if FATA is peaceful. However, NWFP cannot negotiate with elements in FATA, nor can it hold TeT accountable for peace violation committed in NWFP, since the agreement with them is likely to be signed in Fata by the federal government. This example clearly illustrates that the advantage lies with TeT and it will be impossible to monitor a peace agreement in different jurisdictions due to administrative anomalies. It also indicates the need for an early merger of FATA into NWFP. The immediate short term solution is that federal and the provincial governments should jointly negotiate with TeT.
Another clear example of TeT’s increasing capacity is the deployment of tribes belonging to one agency to another. Such uniting of tribes of adjacent agencies took place occasionally during fights with the British. During 1933 – 37 operations by the British against the Fakir of Ipi in North Waziristan, the Mahsuds from South Waziristan, Ahmed Wazirs from Bannu, Bhittanis, and Bakka Khels from Bannu FR, operated under Ipi’s flag.
What however was previously unheard, except a few days ago, was the hostile activities of Masuds in Khyber agency, which is located on the border of Peshawar; more than 300 miles away from the Mahsud heartland! That is some achievement!
Baitullah Masud, the leader of TeT sent a party under Hakimullah to Bara in Khyber Agency. A few days later, this gang of Mahsuds along with some locals kidnapped three workers of the World Food Program near Landikotal. The kidnappees were quickly recovered by the militia after a fire fight in which Baitullah’s fifteen year old son was injured and seven kidnappers were killed. Two soldiers also died.
It is evident from the grouping of these tribes around Peshawar that the TeT is planning to hold the provincial metropolis hostage to ensure a satisfactory outcome of the peace agreement; the threat projected by TeT is that if the peace parleys fail, other terrorist acts may follow, which will surely threaten the stability of the new NWFP government. It is a strategic move indeed. The security forces guarding Peshawar are short of men and weapons to meaningfully defend against this likely threat.
Another worrying factor is the simultaneous resurgence of Pakistan’s proxy warriors the Kashmiri Mujahideen, who are in a loose alliance with the TeT. Their cadres have been fighting in South Waziristan, Swat, Kohat and other areas of NWFP and Fata in the recent past. The Harkat ul Majahideen, al-Badr, Harkat e Islam, Jaish and Hizbul Mujahideen are relocating in Karachi and Rawalpindi as well as other parts of NWFP. Some of them are registering under new identities to avoid legal limitations since they are proscribed entities. This regrouping and assumption of new identities may be a precursor to the start of another wave of sectarian violence or placing the new government on notice. It is a matter of concern.
Only a few days ago, a 45 member tribal jirga called on the minister of states and frontier region and the federal advisor for interior, demanding creation of a separate province for FATA and replacement of the FCR by Shariat. This demand is obviously a power play, whose outcome favours the militants and will create an institutionalized safe haven in an isolated province. Since the JUI (F) supports the TeT, and is a coalition partner in the federal government, the demand ought to be rejected.
I believe that the main cause of the unrest in FATA is its isolation and separation from the Pakistani mainstream. These attributes have led to the creation of a safe haven for Al-Qaeda and its radical Uzbek and other supporters. The only solution will be the early integration of Fata into the NWFP; let the process begin with the extension of the Political Parties Act to Fata. Other measures can follow for which a road map needs to be defined.
Unfortunately, the dangerous situation facing NWFP and FATA is not receiving the attention that it deserves. We seem to have lost our direction and other issues of far less importance occupy the attention of the federal government. The major issues threatening the survival of the country are the security threat in the North West, shortage of food and oil and inflation. Unfortunately, these matters have a low priority. The time has come to redirect our national attention to issues on which the survival of Pakistan depends.
(By Khalid Aziz, who is a former Political Agent of tribal areas & Chief Secretary, NWFP. He heads the Regional Institute of Policy Research in NWFP. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)