Carsten Michels, Editor, World Security Network: Paper provided for the WSN-RCDS FATA Workshop

Posted in Other | 16-Feb-09


Carstens Michels is Editor, World Security Network.


Win over the trust and respect of FATA residents

When we look at FATA from the outside, it is very hard to determine what is happening on the ground. Different interacting levels of conflict between a whole numerous actors make it hardly possible to come up with the one, most plausible solution that might be capable of brining back stability to the region. On the other hand, at least from the European perspective, a number of suggestions made by scholars, practitioners, and journalist, seem to represent almost everything the international, liberal-minded community has learned from various conflicts and (failed) attempts to resolve them. Many suggestions are quite convincing, some very ambitious or even unrealistic, but only a minority seems to be feasible in the near future.

In order to bring a structure into the bulk of suggestions, this brief paper puts forward the argument that whatever measure implemented to enhance the socio-economic and security situation, it needs to be accepted by the people of FATA. They must regard the undertakings as honest and serious attempts to improve their personal living conditions in line with their culture and way of living. Only then, there is a certain chance that the current state of FATA will see at least some improvement in the long run.

Self-determination denied

People of FATA today find themselves in a very difficult situation, for several reasons, which cannot be explored in this paper. However, one can argue that political developments especially during the younger history of the region, say from the founding of the sovereign state of Pakistan in 1947 on, have contributed to built up a level of frustration among people of FATA, that makes it hardly possible for them to trust political actors, such as the Pakistani government, Western States, and especially the U.S. For example: the governments in Islamabad have hardly changed the administration and legislation imposed by the British colonial power, designed to serve the interests of London. In reality, this means that even in the early 21st century, people of FATA are denied fundamental human rights. On the socio-economic level, FATA is the least developed region of Pakistan, ranking among the poorest of the world. At the same time, billions of Dollars of foreign aid have been spend on issues related to the rivalry between Pakistan and India, in full disrespect of the needs of the people of FATA and its strategic importance in stabilising the whole region, including Afghanistan. The U.S., after supporting the fight of the Mujaheddin – the later Taliban – against Soviet Russia, has completely changed its position after 9/11. For years, FATA has solely been regarded as one among many battlefields in the so-called “War on Terror”, finally leading to frequent bombardments of civilians on Pakistani territory. Today, the U.S. is regarded as a source of violence and aggression, not only in FATA, but the whole of Pakistan.

The challenge is that Pakistan, the U.S., as well as the Western community, have a strategic interest in containing militancy in FATA, which threatens the state-building project in Afghanistan, Pakistani stability, and international security. This can only be achieved in co-operation with the people living in the Tribal Areas, with those residents, who oppose fanaticism, the killings of innocent people, and the implementation of Taliban-style of rule.

The first good news is that they represent the vast majority of the people of FATA. Hardly anyone wants to experience the draconian Taliban rule. The second good news is, that they basically seek to improve their personal living conditions, send their children to school, enjoy some wealth, and at least a certain kind of health system. These are goals, which can be achieved with the help and the financial resources of the players mentioned before. The crucial challenge will be, to win over the trust and respect of the residents of FATA, to find ways how to channel the aid into FATA, which is accepted by the people and goes in line with their cultural attitudes and beliefs.

Suggestions already on the table

During the last couple of months, several think tanks and scholars have come up with suggestions on what to do next – and most of them are definitely worth thinking about.

There have to be projects aiming at raising the socio-economic level. Education is key to preventing radicalisation and extremism. People need to be able to generate a proper income so the do not have to rely on the cultivation of opium, which at the end of the day largely finances the Taliban, or even join the militants, because there is hardly any other source of income. Infrastructure has to be improved as a basic precondition for the establishment and possible expansion of trade and businesses.

On the political level, the Pakistani state can send a strong signal by transforming the FCR into a system of administration that reflects human rights and a certain degree of self-determination. The people of FATA are very much familiar with the principles of democracy, even as they might not look like the ones established over centuries in Western nation states. Analysing the mechanisms of tribal life and trying to bring them together with mechanisms of a “more modern democratic society” is an attempt worth considering.

With the rising amount of militants operating in FATA, there obviously has to be a strategy to contain Taliban and al-Qaeda affiliates with military force. But this needs to be in accordance with a general plan, one means among others to stabilise FATA in the long run. As for now, the Pakistani army does not seem to be very successful, for a number of reasons. Providing troops with the equipment and expertise necessary to combat irregular fighters in a highly complicated area might be a way forward.

Talk to the people and take their concerns serious.

During the last couple of months, governments like the US, Great Britain and Japan have stated that they are willing to spend more on FATA and support the new democratically elected Pakistani government. This sends a positive signal to the international community and should encourage further states to follow this example. Together with the obvious need to take over responsibility for FATA, there is capacity and will to move into the right direction.

However, one must not make the same mistakes as in neighbouring Afghanistan, especially in the south, where the strategy over years almost ignored the socio-economic component and failed to embrace the will of locals. Therefore, what needs to be done is to assess and learn about the “personal horizon” of the residents of FATA. Talk to them. Ask them, what are their most pressing concerns, and take them serious. What is their opinion on what is happening every day? What are their expectations? What are their fears? What are their plans on how society in FATA should be organised? How can people willing to oppose the militants be supported, and by whom?

There is an urgent need to explore ways on how to connect locals with internationals, and bring in support for the right projects and people. Otherwise, success will only be sporadic and of limited duration.

London, February 19, 2009