Next Steps in the FATA
When considering a strategy towards Pakistan and the FATA, there is little practical value in trying to define a 'solution' to the complex of challenges within that region. It is similarly fruitless to suggest that a resolution of the disputes between India and Pakistan is a necessary pre-condition for the success of a Pakistan strategy. Such objectives would be over-ambitious and unattainable since they take insufficient account of the range, intractability and historic roots of the challenges within and around Pakistan, and to the realities of domestic politics in the countries concerned.
It is instead more realistic to seek progress by means of small steps sustained over a long term. The strategy, therefore, should be to aim to manage existing problems, to avoid making them worse (where the record in recent years has been conspicuously poor), and, with time, effort and patience, gradually to alleviate them.
More idealistic prescriptions advocated by some Western governments - in which the best is the enemy of the good - appear to be based more on hope than on reality. The goal of a comprehensive approach which is locally led (i.e., which is adopted and taken forward by the Pakistani government with, hopefully, popular approval) and which is internationally supported is unobjectionable in theory, and it has the merit of highlighting the responsibility of the Pakistani Government for the management of its own country. But it is of scant practical value: there is little prospect against the current background of political, social and economic turbulence that the Pakistani body politic will be able to articulate, deliver and follow through anything resembling an internally agreed comprehensive approach, any more than has been the case in the past. In particular, the special social, customary and constitutional conditions which apply in the FATA are not susceptible to rapid change in the direction of stable and peaceful governance from the centre; nor is there any consensus within that region or the country as a whole about the way forward.
Any realistic approach towards Pakistan and the FATA also needs to take squarely into account the widespread unpopularity of the US throughout Pakistan and the deep concern there that the West, unwilling to continue its efforts in Afghanistan, may instead simply 'declare victory' at a propitious moment and withdraw, leaving Pakistan to deal with the consequences, as occurred in 1989. And it should recognise that Pakistan, a nuclear power with a massive army and a population over five times that of Afghanistan, is more important to Western interests than Afghanistan. Its problems present universal risks and it is in the West's interests to help to stabilise the country.
It will require substantial and sustained human and financial resources to restore the effectiveness of Pakistan's ailing institutions and hence make progress towards stability. Non-military assistance would need to be brought up to at least the high level of military assistance which has been provided since 2001. While the benefits might take time to emerge, a pledge of such assistance would nonetheless do much in the short term to rebuild the current distrust of the US and the West.
Recognising the severe limitations of Pakistan's absorptive capacity and the security risks to foreign aid workers, external assistance would need to be carefully targeted and monitored so as to minimise waste and leakage. And the fullest use should be made of reputable non-governmental organisations, the International Financial Institutions and local expertise and manpower. Initially, quick impact projects and programmes may inevitably involve some misuse. But this should not be the determining factor. There is both great scope and great need for external support: for displaced persons (of whom there are now tens of thousands from the conflict areas in the FATA); to improve the effectiveness of the police and the judiciary; to strengthen the education and health sectors; and to help reduce the chronic deficits of energy and water supply and distribution. In view of the varying capabilities of the Provincial Governments, selectivity of partners will be necessary and it may not be possible initially to operate in some areas at all. But programmes and projects in more permissive areas may still bring indirect benefits, such as employment opportunities, to the areas where the need is greatest but the capabilities are weakest.
It would be essential that external resources are provided on the basis of partnership, and that they are seen to be in pursuit of a common interest: the stability of Pakistan and the region. If, instead, they are presented as an act of generosity and patronage, they will inevitably fail in their purpose.
Consulting Senior Fellow for the International Institute for Strategic Studies, former Regional Coordinator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Southern Iraq and former British High Commissioner to Pakistan