Gulf countries must be involved in normalising FATA

Posted in Pakistan | 24-Jun-08 | Author: Khalid Hasan| Source: Daily Times

* Researcher says peace agreements in accordance with tribal traditions
* US failed in its ‘winning hearts and minds’ strategy

WASHINGTON: Any future development plans for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) should include the Gulf states as an integral partner with a leading role, as the locals would resist attempts by militants to sabotage such programmes since they would perceive them as an ‘Islamic initiative’, according to a commentary published on Sunday.

Faryal Leghari of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre writes for its online publication, Security and Terrorism Studies, that the involvement of Gulf Co-operation Country (GCC) states will also address the concern about unemployed youth getting drawn to extremism as the development projects would aim to provide jobs to young people. Many of the large youth population -- approximately 15 percent in Waziristan alone -- could also be provided jobs in Gulf States after careful monitoring from the Pakistan side, she says. A key factor in the implementation of any development work in the region is consolidating and strengthening local support. It is important to reach an effective agreement with the tribes in the FATA region in order to implement development projects, and this, in turn, will have far-reaching implications, as the tribes will realise the benefits of these projects for their areas, she says. She expects that GCC states will reach out to extend co-operation for the development of the FATA region, and that it is also mandatory that the internal dynamics of the region be incorporated in any strategy that seeks to deal with the conflict situation obtaining there.

Leghari writes that it is beyond comprehension that Washington seems to totally disregard ground realities, instead revealing signs of panic by committing policy errors. The rhetoric about successes in Iraq and control of the situation in Afghanistan is not consistent with reality, and Pakistan has also taken exception to a RAND report titled Counter Insurgency in Afghanistan, which claims that there are Taliban sanctuaries inside Pakistan and that elements within the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Frontier Corps (FC) are providing arms and financial assistance to Taliban, she says.

Traditional: According to Leghari, the much-criticised peace agreements with the tribes were made in keeping with tribal traditions, and the change in government in Islamabad has led to renewed efforts to initiate dialogue with several militant groups to re-establish the writ of the government and end violence against the state and civilians. She points out that Pakistan also plans to initiate a $4 billion development fund for the NWFP, including the FATA region, in addition to several other multimillion-dollar development projects that have been proposed for the area. However, the implementation of such projects has faced obstacles with a major portion of the funds going towards consultants’ fees in western capitals and very little trickling down to benefit the locals, she asserts, adding, that Afghanistan is facing the same problem where reconstruction funds amount to a meagre $7-8 billion compared to military costs running into $80 billion.

Failure: Leghari argues that the US has failed in its “winning the hearts and minds” strategy. Conducting airstrikes in FATA, dismissing civilian casualties as “collateral damage”, and expecting local people to be grateful for development aid, she finds “incomprehensible”. While development funds are badly needed in the impoverished and radicalised region, the tribesmen view any development aid from Western quarters as “blood money,” she argues. There is evident hostility towards western aid, a fact exploited by the militants who have termed it haram and have vowed to sabotage such projects, she says. She maintains that to deter cross-border incursions, the US should focus on increasing troops on the Afghan border, adding, the refugee problem and the villages that have sprung on the Afghan side of the border have been largely ignored. The efforts made by Pakistan in the past to fence and mine the border were met with strong resistance from Kabul for it feared the action to amount to recognition of the border, she says.

Leghari points out that the Pakistani people, in general, do not consider the war on terror as their war, and they feel to have been dragged into it. Despite being subjected to a wave of suicide attacks and the spread of Talibanisation, they feel these are in reaction to the government's support of US policies, she says. Instead of aggravating an already volatile situation by staging ground operations to hunt down Al Qaeda, the US should place the onus on the Pakistan military and beef up the regional security forces with technical training and intelligence support, Leghari argues. “However, the unilateral use of force to address the situation in the Tribal Areas is not the answer to the problem. This is especially true of the FATA region as is clear from historical evidence. The most significant missing factor in the strategy to deal with the situation in the Tribal Areas has been the effort to use military deployment as a means of political negotiation and facilitator of economic development,” she suggests.