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Will peace return to tribal area?

The President has appointed Gen. Aurakzai as the new Governor of NWFP. One wishes him luck as he comes at a difficult time; it is a time of troubles and also a time of opportunities.  Let me analyze the situation in a little more detail.

The Governor takes office after the approval of the Sahibzada Imtiaz Task Force report on tribal areas by the President on the 18th of May; according to some sources, the President, has approved its recommendations in toto. However, since the report has not been made public, its contents remain away from public domain.  Secondly, the change of Governors signifies the federal government’s attempt to launch a major policy transformation in tribal areas. Will this lead to peace in the tribal area?

Reportedly, the report’s main thesis is that the institutions in FATA (political agent, maliks, scouts and khassadars) are weak and they cannot deliver the writ of the government. The failure to combat Al-Qaeda and Taliban is a result of this weakness. The report concludes that due to incapacity, the army was called to assist the political authorities. Its prolonged stay in tribal area is the result of the failure of the political institutions to handle effectively the existing insurgency.

The report recommends the strengthening of the political agent and related institutions and proposes that the political authorities, led by the Governor, should guide army operations.

I think the task force’s thesis regarding the move of the army into the tribal area is incorrect. The army moved into the tribal region as part of the federal government’s policy and not upon the call of political agents. The army fanned into tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan, as a result of the aftermath of the U.S operations in adjoining Afghanistan, against the remnants of Al-Qaeda; these hostile fighters had crossed into Pakistani territory for safety. TheUS protested that Pakistan was not doing enough to eradicate them.  Meanwhile, being hard boiled radicals, the refuge seekers began proselytizing amongst the tribesmen and attacked US forces from bases within the tribal areas; some Pakistani tribesmen joined them in these Jihadist operations. It led to US protests, which forced the army to move to the Durand line, where it has remained bogged down since then. This was the reason, why the army occupied the tribal belt and not because the political agents sought its support. Incidentally, all this occurred when Gen. Aurakzai, was wearing the Corp Commander’s hat. So in a sense nothing is new to him, he knows the full background.

However, two matters are causing confusion from the tribal areas reform perspective; firstly, it has been reported in the press that new political agents belonging to the army and Foreign Service will join shortly. This is not the recommendation of the task force and if that happens, it will be the demise of the political system as we know it. The system has already been weakened, because the training school of political agents, which was the former district administration, stood abolished under the Local Bodies Reform of 2000. If the idea is to revert to the structure of the Indian Political Service that will a mistake.  The IPS was a system of institutions within a different organizational framework of the British, which no longer exist. Mimicking it without the context will lead to more confusion and problems. 

Secondly, the new Governor has announced that he wanted a peaceful resolution of disputes with tribesmen. Being a tribesman himself he is likely to be successful here, if he is in total command of all decisions in the region.

However, will the army relinquish the control to him? I do not think so. Therefore, under the circumstances the best thing for the Governor to seek will be the withdrawal of the army into pre-determined camps, as was done under the Waziristan Policy (1923). Under this policy the army was used sparingly against hard boiled targets only, with the Scouts (civilian gendarme officered by army), carrying out all other operations. With the ability of vertical envelopment through helicopters, such a strategy has every chance of succeeding today. This is where Gen. Aurakzai’s strength lies and he must exercise it, along with the ushering in of reforms in other areas of development and empowerment, including re-establishing former institutions.

The insurgency in the meantime has gotten worse; the control of part of tribal areas has vanished; the influence of the Islamists has increased and they have developed a powerful presence in the border districts of NWFP; they are now poised to increase both their proselytizing and anti state activities. It is predicted that they will have a telling influence on the 2007 elections, which will naturally favour the MMA alliance in NWFP and in the National Assembly; it is only a matter of time before they fan out into central Punjab. Will they be able to make inroads into the feudal structure of the Punjab? It is difficult to answer but it can be said with certainty that they will begin to challenge the feudal hegemony there.

What about the future tribal policy in this context? The military needs to change its objective in the tribal areas which at present is the elimination of Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Governor Aurakzai, wants to end the turmoil in the region; it will be a tall hope to fulfill unless the whole approach is reviewed and emphasis placed on a political approach defined above. I am certain the new Governor’s first effort and rightly so will be the reduction of hostilities in North andSouth Waziristan. The success and failure of tribal policy will depend on success here.

The Governor must rely only on the tribes as his agents; his creditability will be challenged at the outset by the tribes to find the measure of the man. But if he can make the tribes believe, that he alone makes the decisions in tribal areas in all spheres, then he is likely to win their confidence. Something denied to all the previous governors.

Another noteworthy fact is that the military is not the only player in this situation. The U.S and the secret warriors of Islam, whether out of belief or otherwise, have an important impact on peace in tribal areas. The US is an institutional player and will benefit, if it lowers the temperature of violence all around. It has the capacity to do so, since it is the principle power in the region.  This time the U.S, I think will be willing to create economic space for the tribes and the talibans. It is the secret warriors, who are the wild card here and who will not subscribe to any other notion of peace except their own; they want an exit of U.S forces from Afghanistan. How can anyone control them? 

It may please be noted that the continuation of this secret war is not in the interest of Pakistan. We are already paying a very heavy price; our law and order is worsening, the violence and millinery thinking is spreading into society and our ability to regulate the state is dwindling; we are in a brittle shape and violence will hurt us badly; the institutional rot will increase.

The path to peace and development in tribal areas is quite clear. Generating the will to bring about the required transformation is needed.

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