A leading newspaper carried news that Sarah Sewall, the US Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, argues: “In the Pak-Afghan region, Tehreek-e-Taliban has long exploited local grievances in the tribal belt in order to sustain itself.” (March 12, 2015) She makes a lot of sense, common yet not so common in her submission. She is quoted thus by the paper, “Weak, illegitimate, and repressive governments inadvertently created opportunities for terrorists to capitalise on popular resentment.” She is correct in assessing that the drivers of extremism leading to terrorism can spring from varied reasons. While fighting terrorism militarily, it is equally important to assess and address these drivers, failing which new heads will spring in place of old ones, much like the proverbial hydra.
An interesting study by USAID on “Development Assistance & Counter Extremism” conducted in 2009 also uses the tribal areas of Pakistan as a model. It says, “Ungoverned or poorly governed spaces (e.g., Pakistan’s tribal agencies) may enable VEs to establish sanctuaries or safe havens. At the very least, they may provide room within which violent groups can operate more easily. They may offer pools of recruits, create conditions conducive to arms trafficking and smuggling, and allow for the establishment of headquarters, training camps, and communications facilities.”(Page 22 of quoted research)
The research correctly goes on to state, “Protracted, violent local conflicts of sufficient scale can create chaos, incapacitate government institutions, and result in a power vacuum that VE organisations can exploit. They may facilitate access to weapons, combat experience, and potential recruits. Global jihadists and participants in a local conflict may join efforts in what amounts to a marriage of convenience. Global jihadists may attempt to expand their operations and audience by portraying themselves as the champions of one of the parties involved. They may endeavour to weave local and international agendas together. While in reality they are largely indifferent to the narrow grievances and territorial dynamics that drive local struggles, they seek to graft the jihad onto them.”
This brings us back to Sarah Sewall and her very sensible paper.
It is not enough to combat terrorism militarily. The other side of the coin must be seen and analysed. How are the issues in FATA to be addressed?
In another piece, I had highlighted that on June 25, 2013, on the front page of a local daily English newspaper an advertisement was placed by the FATA Grand Assembly, Peshawar, titled as “FATA Declaration”. This advertisement by the tribal elders, religious clerics, political and social activists, students, women activists, lawyers, journalists, teachers and other citizens from FATA claimed to have come together from all seven agencies and adopted the Declaration. Under Article 247 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, special status is granted to FATA, whereby no act of Parliament or the jurisdiction of the High/Supreme Judiciary is extendable to the region. The said advertisement beseeched implementation of the Constitutional Fundamental Rights to FATA that includes right to fair trial, right to freedom of speech, right to access to information, liberty, dignity, equal protection under law, privacy of the home, so on and so forth. Similarly, laws must deal with the principle of double jeopardy, detention without legal counsel, retrospective punishment among others.
Separation of Judiciary from the Executive as another request makes imminent sense as opposed to the de facto judges running the daily administration in FATA. The separation of powers in a democracy is to prevent abuse of power and to safeguard freedom for all. Interconnected is the demand that the jurisdiction of the High Court and the Supreme Court may be extended to FATA. This division of tasks ensures institutions as a check and balance thereby strengthening democracy and ensuring better justice in the society.
Setting up educational institutions, vocational training centres, separate universities for men and women so that both genders can avail good education and progress as an individual and a society is another need quoted in the advertisement.
Infrastructure development in a phase by phase basis is another demand of the Declaration. FATA is a much ignored and backward area in Pakistan, it needs more institutions that offer better education, healthcare, and encourage more micro-investment and generally an improved quality of life for its people.
Press and Publications Ordinance and PEMRA Ordinance too were demanded to be extended to FATA. Others include women seats from tribal belt reserved in National Assembly and Senate, substantial amendment or annulment of FCR to recognise the fundamental rights of the people of FATA, local governments to be established under FATA Local Government Regulation 2002 and so on.
Sarah Sewall’s excellent paper carried on the site of US Department of State hits the nail on the head, “The adaptation of terror organisations highlights the need for us to continue adapting our approach to violent extremism. These realities demand thinking about violent extremism not simply in terms of individual radicalisation but also in the context of dynamics that make entire communities vulnerable to radicalisation, co-optation, or exploitation.”
In case of Pakistan’s tribal belt, an untenable border between Afghanistan and FATA does not help either. Pakistan Today, in a news report, states, “Pakistan plans to register 1.4 million Afghan refugees currently living in the country illegally by July 2015.” Minister for State and Frontier Regions Lt General (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch is quoted stating that there were 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees and another 1.4 million unregistered Afghan refugees in the country.
FATA is looking towards political and administrative reforms. “It is the demand of the hour,” said Amir Haider Khan Hoti (February 20, 2012), the then Chief Minister of KP.
These much awaited and delayed changes must be based on a well-developed plan and time based strategy. There must be a marriage between short-term and long-term goals. The approach must be a genuine redress of issues involved, not steps taken in haste and upon whims of those in the corridors of power.