PRIME MINISTER Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with Fata representatives on Thursday was a much-needed one. The meeting touched upon the need for long-term, sustainable efforts for peace, which the legislators made clear had been missing till now. Coincidentally, this meeting was held the same day as newspapers published an ad pertaining to a citizens’ initiative that includes more than 300 tribal elders, religious clerics, political and social activists, and other citizens, asking for wide-ranging reforms. These include the right to local government, education and the repeal of old and draconian laws. Consequently, it was clear that Fata needed far more from Islamabad than a decision on the choice between war and negotiations.
At the heart of the matter is the manner in which the tribal areas have been governed — with no representation; no legislative powers and ruled by draconian laws deemed unacceptable in a modern, democratic polity. Tragically, in the last five years, the FCR provisions have remained in place while another harsh law — Aid of Civil Power Regulation 2011 — has been added to further erode the rights of the tribal people. Undoubtedly, the war against militancy that has plagued Pakistan has brought nothing but anguish to Fata’s residents — they have suffered the brunt of the violence exercised by the militants and the state; lost lives and been displaced from their homes; and seen a further erosion of their already non-existent human rights.
The government needs to realise that militancy in the tribal areas has erupted due to a number of political and historical factors. Fata is our ‘Wild West’ where the state never tried to establish institutions. In a region with little economic opportunities, what would the youth do but get involved in ‘jihad’, smuggling and other criminal activities? These issues have to be addressed if militancy is to be eliminated. The latter is a many-headed hydra which is kept alive by criminal gangs, smuggling and drug mafias and economic underdevelopment. If militancy is only addressed via an army-led operation, the result will be an unending military presence in these areas. A long-term, nuanced strategy has to be put in place to integrate the region into the country, give its residents the same rights as the rest of Pakistan and wean the area’s economy away from the murky activities in which a menace such as the Taliban breed. Anything short of this will be nothing more than a band-aid on a festering wound.