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Fixing the tribal areas – Rustam Shah Mohmand

In the following column, Rustam Sham Mohmand suggests that Pakistan must ensure that there should be no training camps of any sort, by any group, in the tribal areas, (as well as in other parts of the country?).

The question is: Will the all powerful ISI be willing to abolish such terrorist training centers, i.e. the so called Jihadi camps?


Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Rustam Shah Mohmand

Never before in Pakistan’s history or in the British period have the tribal areas been so devastated by conflict. If we take into account the loss of lives among government forces and tribesmen in the past five years, the figure will cross 10,000. This exceeds the number of Pakistani casualties in the 1971.

A favourite theme propounded by most people articulating their views is that the government must intervene to establish its writ and use force to achieve this objective. While this is a view that no one would disagree with, it camouflages the stark reality of the blunders that were committed before the start of the rebellion.

With no rule of law and no checks and balances that only viable institutions can impose, people can get away with deception, motivated errors or gross and wilful miscalculations or sheer incompetence. These indeed were the hallmarks of Gen Pervez Musharraf’s policies and the governors he chose to appoint in the NWFP.

The writ of the government must be established. But this writ is best established by strengthening the institutions, by taking people on board, by isolating militants. And why is there such obsession with the authorities in the tribal areas?

When more than 60 innocent people were killed in broadday light in Karachi on May 12, 2007, and scores wounded, what did the government do to enforce its writ? Gen Musharraf declared there would be no enquiry. And when on April 9 2008, five people were burnt alive with onlookers watching, what was done to enforce the writ of the government?

And can the writ be established by incessant bombing from jet aircraft and helicopter gunships? Is it fair to cause destruction to villages and property, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to become refugees in their own country, all in the name of establishing the government’s writ.

Was it fair to continue bombing villages in the month of Ramazan and on Eid? We seem to be overtaken by events all the time: there is no time for retrospection. That is why it is not realised that these ongoing operations would cause a built-in distortion in the socio-tribal fabric of society on our borderland. It amounts to sowing the seeds of permanent destabilisation of the border areas. And that would spill over into the settled areas. What would ensue as a consequence is disharmony, discord, despondency- potentially disrupting ingredients for any civil society.

There is no disagreeing with the fact that such brute use of force would deliver temporary peace. But such peace would rest on fragile foundations. A whole population would have been alienated. The essential prerequisites to the making of a state would have been discarded as far as the border areas are concerned.

Can Pakistan afford to have a hostile population on its borders? Can it maintain such a state of constant vigilance on the border, having to contend with people who feel grieved or let down?

The answer is no. And that makes it incumbent on the government to examine the situation in perspective.

How best to retrieve the situation in as far as the tribesmen are concerned? If the following three conditions are met, the government can safely make a fundamental change in the policy on the war on terror:

a) There should be no training camps of any sort, by any group, in the tribal areas.

b) Foreign nationals should either leave, be expelled to leave or provide guarantees for good behaviour, as laid down in “riwaj.”

c) Block, to the extent possible, any infiltration across the border.

Having announced these measures and policy, the government would engage with the tribes and seek their assistance in the fulfilment of the objectives.

Having done that the government would begin to withdraw the military from the tribal areas, restore the institutions of political agent and elders, invoke the system of territorial responsibility and advise the coalition forces to seek and find other transportation routes for supply of fuel and ration.

Such policy would;

a) bring the insurgency in the tribal areas and the rest of the country to an end.

b) Would unite the country.

c) Would strengthen the federation and the government.

d) Would be easy to sell to the world once it has parliamentary endorsement.

e) Would have a long lasting impact.

f) The government can than move in vigorously to launch an ambitious infrastructure development project to bring economic stability and prosperity to the region.

We must not lose sight of the fact that 95 percent of the insurgency in Afghanistan is indigenous and not attributable to cross-border movement. The bogey of cross-border raids is raised in order to put pressure on Pakistan not to relent in its policy of use of brute force in handling the militancy. After all how many militants crossing over from the tribal areas into Afghanistan have been nabbed, captured or killed in the last two or three years. None. That belies the oft-repeated assertions that the cross-border movement constitutes a major factor in the insurgency inside Afghanistan.

Pakistan must put its house in order. It will derive strength from peace in the area. That can come about by making the needed adjustments and restoring the institutions. Afghanistan is a big stakes game. Its handling should be left to the powers that are operating in that country.

The writer is a former chief secretary of NWFP and a former ambassador. (The News)