Abubakar Siddique, Presenter, Radio Free Europe: Paper provided for the WSN-RCDS FATA Workshop

Posted in Other | 16-Feb-09


Abubakar Siddique is Presenter, Radio Free Europe / Free Liberty, Prague


Resolving FATA Requires National and Regional Integration

Today analysts are scrambling to invent superlatives to describe how “dangerous” or “threatening” Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas are to local and regional peace and security. In these early years of the 21st century, this part of the Pashtun border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan is merely understood as the “heart of darkness”.

The common thread in the solutions being proposed by various strategists is that that they view Pakistan’s western tribal arc through the lens of their own interests. The residents and their miseries are relegated to secondary importance.

Despite the global focus on FATA, the region remains largely misunderstood. That is because for more than a century, the security strategies of successive empires and states have effectively marginalized and isolated this mountainous region.

Seen from outside, FATA's basic problem today is the presence of thousands of local and foreign militants who mostly subscribe to one or another form of extremism. These militants, divided into various factions, claim to be fighting primarily with the aim of forcing Western troops from Afghanistan.

Less commented upon is the fact that this war has increasingly turned inward. Local civilians remain the victims of the bloodshed while militants have now established a kind of de facto control over parts of FATA and neighboring North West Frontier Province.

To some in the West, these militants are trying to establish an Islamic Caliphate that ultimately is intended to emulate Islamic empires of past millennia. But Western governments see these militants as the primary threat to the Afghan “stabilization” efforts that their soldiers and aid workers are laboring to help Afghans carry forward.

They remain more concerned, however, about post-9/11 security threats emanating from the FATA. Most Western observers agree that FATA of today is similar to the Taliban-era Afghanistan that harbored terrorist networks of global reach as they plotted and planned to target “the far enemy.”

But on the ground, the Pashtuns living in those regions -- from Bajaur in the north to Waziristan in the south -- are the worst victims of the now-five-year-old war in those places. Thousands of them have died, and up to a million people have been forced to leave their homes. Thousands have even sought shelter in neighboring Afghanistan. Hundreds of tribal leaders have been killed in these years, but most of those murders remain unresolved.

Already one of the most impoverished regions of South-Central Asia, FATA has seen its economy collapse since the onset of the violence. Militancy now arguably provides the most readily available livelihood to many youngsters. And if this situation continues, future generations will be destined to become militants.

A century ago, FATA emerged as a result of the Great Game between Western empires. Now is high time to undo that formation by integrating the FATA and the entire Pashtun border region into Pakistan and the region -- politically, economically, and administratively. This will contribute to, and conceivably even guarantee, lasting peace and stability in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Though it still seems distant, both countries and their neighbors would benefit from a recognized open border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Such a border would make clear that all Pashtuns have rights as citizens of one or the other state. It would enable them to communicate, trade, and develop both their economy and their culture in cooperation with one another. Such a settlement would strengthen democracy in both states and facilitate Pakistan's access to Central Asia, on one hand, and Afghanistan's access to the sea on the other. It would lessen domestic ethnic tensions and strengthen national unity in both states. It would, however, require difficult internal changes in both countries and a reversal of the hostility that has predominated in relations between the two governments for sixty years.

Peace in the region will be a boost to a Pashtun economy that largely comprises transport and regional trade -- both need a secure environment to grow. The international community should help both states and their people to configure a new economic formation in the borderlands.

FATA, with its predominantly Pashtun population, is a natural bridge between Kabul and Islamabad if each agrees to stop using its Pashtun citizens against the other. The ongoing Peace Jirga process between the two countries should also have a mandate to encourage, debate, and facilitate such a process. Today no secessionist nationalist movement operates among the Pashtuns in Pakistan, and Afghanistan has not revived its irredentist claims. Tribes on both sides of the border are clamoring for development. Economic pressures have forced Pashtuns to migrate to Karachi and the Gulf region in huge numbers. Only policy changes in both Kabul and Islamabad can involve their Pashtun populations in mutual confidence building, which could lead to an amicable resolution of the border issue.

Crafting a 21st-century border settlement will require ending the 19th-century regime in FATA. Since 9/11, Pakistan has ended FATA's autonomy (though the tribal areas have never been truly autonomous) by deploying 100,000 troops in the mountainous region, but those operations have not been matched by political and economic reforms. Stabilizing the border region must include the political integration of FATA into Pakistan. Almost all Pakistani political parties have urged reform packages. Legal provisions allowing mainstream political parties to organize there and counter extremist propaganda should be a priority, as most political parties in the country agree on this and, in fact, many already have local organizations in the FATA. These parties would provide an opportunity for tribal members to campaign for their rights within national institutions.

The FATA not only borders the NWFP but some of its frontier regions are actually surrounded by the settled districts of that province. The first major step toward integrating the region with the province would be to give the people of the FATA representation in the NWFP provincial legislature. Apart from the historic, cultural and ethnic ties, many tribal members have acquired farmland and businesses in the settled areas. They also obtained health care and education in the NWFP's urban centers and are increasingly migrating to the cities because due to insecurity in their home region. Thus the FATA’s administrative and political integration into the province would be natural.

The Frontier Crimes Regulations have remained virtually unchanged since Lord Curzon promulgated their final version in 1901. Islamabad has announced plans to amend or abolish the FCR, although their implementation seems distant as bringing reforms and development have been apparently on the agenda of various governments for the past four decades.

Today human rights advocates and tribal intellectuals are calling for an overhaul of the law. They demand that the FCR or any new legal regime in the FATA conform to contemporary human rights standards; transfer to the parliament all legislative and administrative powers over the FATA now resting with the president; extend the jurisdiction of higher Pakistani courts to the FATA and separate the region's judiciary from the executive; abolish collective punishment and territorial responsibility; extend political and civic freedoms to the FATA; and implement a comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and peace-building program in the region.

The political reforms must be complemented by economic transformation. Although an initiative on U.S.-funded Reconstruction Opportunity Zones has been in the pipeline for years now, it is desperately needed and should be implemented soon. It is crucial that reconstruction in Afghanistan be reinforced with a compatible model across the border in the FATA. The FATA's isolation can be broken only by improving its infrastructure. There is a greater need for major highways spanning the FATA and linking it with the NWFP and Baluchistan. At least a dozen more border crossings, most of them in the FATA, could be opened to facilitate bilateral trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan, which is thought to exceed more than $2 billion annually. So far there are only two official border crossings, Torkham in the north and Chaman in the south.

The FATA needs to join the modern world in virtually all economic and political spheres. Such a development would guarantee that it does not pose any threat to the security of Pakistan, Afghanistan, or the wider world.

London, February 19, 2009