Shaukatullah Khan is the first civilian from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) to be appointed governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. — Phot: Zahir Shah Sherazi

With peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban on the agenda, newly-appointed Khyber Pakthunkhwa Governor Engineer Shaukatullah Khan does not plan to shy away from the traditional tribal jirga system as a platform for dialogue.

The media’s focus on him is not without reason – Khan is the first civilian from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) to be appointed governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan’s restive northwest.

Listing peace as his top priority, Khan is in favour of talks with the Taliban even if they are unwilling to lay down their arms, citing tribal customs.

“I believe the peace process is heading in a successful direction. I would be willing to take on any task to hold peace talks with the militants,” he said. “Peace is our priority and we shall go for it.”

At the age of 42, Khan, who hails from an influential family of Nawagai in Bajaur Agency, is the youngest among his predecessors to have governed the region, hit badly by militancy and unrest.

The engineer, with a political background, is well accustomed to politics in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

A graduate of the University of Engineering and Technology in Taxila, Khan first contested and lost the NA-43 Bajaur Agency seat in the 2002 elections. However, he won the same seat in the 2008 elections as an independent, and was made Federal Minister for Sports. He was later nominated Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions.

His family’s political legacy is also impressive: his father, Bismillah Khan, had twice won the NA seat from Bajaur Agency, while his elder brother, Hidayatullah Khan, is a senator.

Now, with dialogue between the government and the Taliban becoming a greater possibility, the governor’s appointment is considered the key to success.

Unconditional talks

The governor believes that the traditional tribal jirga, which equally allows for negotiations with or without guns, is the best way to resolve the longstanding conflict between militants and the Pakistani government and military.

“If we go by tribal bylaws of resolving conflict, we should be holding peace talks whether one does or does not lay down arms. There is no bar on it,” he said.

“I believe first we have to kick start the process. Then we shall discuss the conditions, as in the tribal way to resolving disputes, you may not start with pre-conditions or guarantees,” he explains. “When you start talking, then you enter the next phase of guarantees.”

‘Army isn’t going anywhere’

But if Khan is in favour of unconditional talks, then in his eyes that holds true for both sides. Despite a repeated call by tribesmen for the military to withdraw from Fata, the governor is in favour of the army maintaining a prolonged stay.

“It’s our army…it may go and stay anywhere. The tribal areas are part of Pakistan, so the Army can stay there forever,” he declares. “It had been there since the British era, we have cantonments there and the paramilitary troops had always been there.”

Asked whether the tribal people support the military or the militants, he explains: “It’s very clear. The army could not have won so much success if the tribesmen had not been supporting it. It’s their army, so obviously they are with the army and not with the terrorists.”

“The headway in the last five years in the tribal areas is evidence that tribesmen are with the armed forces,” Khan adds. “The sacrifices we and our army have offered for peace are matchless.”

The governor, however, does add a caveat, saying that it was former military dictator General (retd) Pervez Musharraf and his decision to launch military operations which disturbed peace in the tribal areas.

“It was a one-man jury’s decision and it was incorrect,” he explains. “We are still paying the price for the decision today and its fallouts would continue to haunt us,” the governor says. “Elected representatives were never on board. If Parliament would have taken a decision at that time, it would have been different.”

Khan believes the interference of “foreign hands” has also played a hand in the increasing unrest and violence in the region.

“No doubt the foreigners who arrived during the Afghan War are one the major factors for trouble in FATA,” he says, adding, “The arms and ammunition they get clearly points to a foreign hand and the involvement of the enemies of Pakistan. The endless supply of weapons is a question of concern.”

The governor also termed US-led drone strikes in Fata counter-productive for peace efforts.

“Being a tribesman myself, I would say it is more harmful than effective,” he says. “We have taken it up on all forums and are also likely to go to the international court of justice to stop them.”

Speaking about the Pakistani Taliban’s demand to release their top commanders under Pakistani detention, the governor is cautious: “The peace talks would not be the decision of one man being a governor. All the stakeholders, Parliament, officials, the armed forces, all would have to be on board to play their role.”

Khan explains further: “Look. It’s the state which is going to talk (to the militants). And if the state is initiating the peace process, acceptable guarantees are also needed from the other side (Taliban) as well,” he said in reply to a query about the militant’s demand of presenting Nawaz Sharif, Fazlur Rehman and Munawar Hasan as guarantors.

“Still, if peace talks with the Taliban are initiated in an unrealistic way, it could have serious repercussions.”

Dismissing controversies about his appointment, he declares: “I am very much (a) legal (appointment) being a Pakistani citizen, so fanning conspiracy theories regarding my appointment would not do any good.”

He also rejects the notion that tribal parliamentarians have failed to play their role in resolving the Fata conflict.

The development of the tribal areas and the education of every tribal child is my priority, he explains. “The extension of the political parties Act to Fata would help in strengthening the democratic process in tribal areas, and the next elections would be held under party symbols,” the governor says.

With some Herculean tasks ahead of him during a period of continuous terrorist attacks and operations against militants, Khan remains optimistic: “Things are improving and have improved in the last five years. And they will get better,” says the determined governor.

Updated Feb 16, 2013 02:36pm

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Comments (7) (Closed)


IBN-E-ASHFAQUE
Feb 17, 2013 10:05am
Peace is a priority for FATA, KP and Pakistan. At least he has made it a top priority publicly. Given the context the methods of reconciliation that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of the local population of FATA and KP should be the way to go. The real issue is that members of TTP are muslims and Pakistanis. Hence, the state must accomodate them as far as is considered legitimate in FATA and KP. However, the process should involve in addition to the government and TTP all key elements of FATA and KP. The process should end in peace or a massive vote of confidence by most segments of society of FATA and KP to go and eliminate the TTP in order to establish peace in FATA and KP. However, in my opinion the government should make all possible efforts to secure peace, at this time conflict in KP and FATA is not feasible.
Salim
Feb 18, 2013 07:50am
"If you can defeat them, talk to them" seems to be the policy. Very wrong. This policy makes sense if you are dealing with a enemy country but not with fanatics who are hell bent on destroying the country.
Agha Ata (USA)
Feb 16, 2013 04:18pm
First we invented weapons that could kill someone from distance, and then this distance increased, from a few feet to few miles. Now we have created weapons that can kill and the killer is not in sight at all. He is invisible, at a very safe distance. First we killed our enemies, yesterday’s friends turned into enemies, and then some rare lone psychopaths used the weapons and killed innocent people. And now there are hundreds and thousands of psychopaths; and they are organized, they even call their crimes a Tehrik, like Tehrik-e-Taliban. They do not only have fixed operation areas, they also have training grounds. . . . What next?
Ram Lakhani
Feb 17, 2013 10:06pm
Abu Mawayya revolted against Cilaphat….when lost came with Quran on head forcompromise and Elders allowed.Begining of Dynasty…a punishment from God….we are still suffering No truce with killers and aids of enemy….Vaccum bomb will bring them out from Nest. Kill all and once for all….they are Not Muslims Truce is between equals and not revolters
abc
Feb 16, 2013 08:31pm
very good approach. keep it up. all the best.
Himesh
Feb 17, 2013 04:06pm
Well said , its the only way to talk to them
sfomann
Feb 16, 2013 11:18pm
The top priority should be to shoot them first. They keep on killing innocent civilian everyday and wants to have peace talk? What kind of society are we going to have if we are going to have talks with these savage people.