War in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) Under an Instable Pakistan

Posted in Broader Middle East | 09-Sep-08 | Author: Kulamarva Balakrishna

Pakistani traders burn a U.S. flag to protest against strikes in Pakistani tribal areas along the Afghan border, in Multan.

The northwestern region of Pakistan in the Hindu Kush mountains - from the Chinese border in the north to the Iranian border in the south covering Baluchistan has remained ungoverned for thousands of years. It remains so even today. The tribes of this region were converted into different crude forms of Islam depending upon the historic invaders’ identities .It is a museum of ethnicities traceable to several thousands of years. Roughly, there could be as many as four thousand ethnic traces, that we see on the Indian sub-continent today.

Ever since Pakistan was carved out as a separate country in 1947, the region has remained static. The government there was left to the tribes themselves. Pakistan’s inability to organize itself even in the Punjab and Sindh provinces because of the obscurantism of Islamist Mullahs, feudalism of landlords and cash and power-hungry politicians and generals had given the new nation no space and time to integrate the area at least to the obscurantist theocracy standards.

The region served Pakistan as a mercenary recruitment area for the army, in the same way as Gurkhas of the northeast served the Indian and British armed forces. In the northeast there are other savage tribes in Assam. But work continued by anthropologists, beginning with Verier Alwin and followed up by Jawhar Lal Nehru’s government with the establishment of the North East Frontier Agency, NEFA. Indian mercenary recruitment was confined to only Nepali Gurkhas in the east.

Thus the Hindu Kush region was left for harvesting human weeds for the Pakistani Army. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, this buffet region was converted into a wild guerrilla war zone. More updated modern weapons were distributed there freely without accountability to already armed groups.

They were then joined by Muslim volunteers from the Middle East, Central Asia and of course newly converted Muslims from the West, meaning Europe and America. It was into this weed growth of Islamists that the Taliban of Mullah Omer and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda was plunged, when Afghanistan as the Taliban hinterland of Pakistan was liberated with the help of modern Western armies.

Under General Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles made a kind of sub-contract system with the Pakistani Army by promoting the CENTO and SEATO multinational military organizations and through providing military aid in the form of weapons and cash. This subordination of the Pakistani Army to US leadership was to get a further boost when, in the wake of the 1979 Mahdi occupation of the Makkah grand mosque, Saudis contracted two divisions of the Pakistani Army (between 25 000 - 35 000 men for the internal security of the kingdom).

A vested interest ensued in the Pakistani armed forces, especially in the officer class which on retirement bought substantial land properties in Canada’s Quebec region. This then served as a base for the establishment of a future epicenter of terrorism in Pakistan, which was heralded by the second terrorist attack launched on New York on September 11, 2001. The first attack was of course in 1993.

It is not clear if the United States military establishment that dealt with the Pakistani Army directly since Dulles’s days has re-examined the implications of this recent history. But John D. Negroponte, US Deputy Secretary of State dealing with Pakistan under the present George Bush administration made a submission before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the context of fighting “international terrorism, the most serious security threat of the twenty first century.”

Mr. Negroponte suggested that the US develop a “fully coordinated strategy to address the ground truth on both sides of the Afghanistan -Pakistan border....We must therefore find ways to more effectively coordinate and synchronize operations by both nations, and thereby reduce the operating space where our common enemies function.”

For the first time, Mr. Negroponte spelled out the need of using the US skills of diplomacy, military, and developmental. Since Negroponte’s submission is compact, we have to conclude that it submitted only after due deliberation before appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on May 20th, 2008. It appears from the reports coming from the field and a review made by the Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, aboard the Abraham Lincoln with Pakistani Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, that the strategy is now being implemented employing various elements. This covers recruiting tribal mercenaries referred to locally as “lashkar.”

In the Kunnar region of the FATA there are some 5 000 men the tribal army recruited for engaging the Taliban as being reported. The operation continues in the whole region creating more than half a million refugees sheltered in camps managed by the North West Frontier Agency from Peshawar.

There are some seven regions in the FATA. The nominal governance there has so far been taken care of by some 2 500 to 3 000 tribal “khadsa,” corrupt individuals, tribal chief “maliks” as well as mullahs. Mr. Negroponte proposed for the first time - not a Pakistani initiative but an American initiative - to bring the area first under Pakistani authority, and then give attention to governance, the economy, health, education and security problems faced by the inhabitants of FATA on a daily basis.

We should keep in mind that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan excluding Baluchistan has almost six million people. For the first time, elections were held there in 1997 or later. The second election took place in the year 2002. In other words, unlike India´s Kashmir where elections were held with national general elections every five years, this region of some six million so-called Pakistanis remained non-citizens even fifty years after independence while at the same time serving in the armed forces!

Mr. Negroponte knows well when he said: “ Pakistan´s tribal areas have some of the worst social and economic conditions in the world. In some areas, the female literacy rate is as low as 3%.There is little access to safe drinking water or even to rudimentary health care.”

Reports pouring in daily from this region are contradictory and confusing in the least. For example, last week alone some 400 militant deaths were reported. On the other side, the number is being reduced to a half. This then has to be validated by segregating combatant and civilian deaths. It is a tough job. With Ramadan having begun yesterday, there is an unconditional official ceasefire from the side of Pakistan. It is not clear if it is recognized by the army. There have been reports of Islamic sectarian clashes and nearly 100 deaths in the Kunnar region of FATA. Some 3 500 combatants are involved. The situation developing with these Shia-Sunni related tribal sects is worth monitoring.