“IF you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” — Sun Tzu (524-496 BC)
IN the 21st century, the Chinese general’s musings ring very true in the context of our own predicament in the northwestern tribal land.
The identity of the enemy that has kept us engaged in an internecine conflict for over a decade in our backyard is as clear as day, and yet we prefer to dither.
Many politicians and armchair Fata analysts keep referring to the situation in the tribal hinterland as an uprising by tribesmen whereas ground realities indicate that the composition of the opposing forces is very different to what they imagine.
Ironically, the controversial drone strikes have given us several leads regarding the true identity of the enemy but vital information gets lost in the heated debate surrounding the legality of the lethal technology. A majority of the casualties of the two most recent drone strikes this month were non-local militants who had come from as far as Central Asia to the Arab lands.
If that were not enough, the number of tribal people who have been displaced by the unrest in the tribal areas should have convinced those who keep harping on the ludicrous theme of the nature of the seemingly insoluble problem.
The malaise that has struck the tribal territory on a straight line from the Bajaur and Mohmand agencies in the north to South Waziristan Agency has rendered more than a million people internally displaced.
At any given period of time over the last 10 years, perhaps one in every three persons from the seven tribal agencies has been found to be living as an IDP in camps across the settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The living conditions in the camps have been so deplorable that it has moved even the otherwise stolid civil servants.
An officer who appeared to have been greatly touched by the tragic events, recently disclosed that tribal women rendered homeless by the unrest in the Bara region had been forced into begging. “This is a catastrophe,” the officer was heard to remark.
How could the so-called valiant and formidable tribesmen of yore be today forced to leave their hearths and homes? The question needs to be probed — and not only from a strategic point of view. It is one that also requires a meticulous study by students of anthropology.
The findings could lead us to some very useful information. It is quite likely that such information would reveal that the tribesman has undergone a marked change in lifestyle due to easy access to an urban culture that has been made possible by modern means of communication.
If anything, the recent phase in the tribesman’s life could also expose a docile nature as he is found to have forsaken his home under pressure from outsiders, and done so with little or absolutely no resistance. This would have been unimaginable until recently.
The narrative over the years suggests that the authorities tasked with looking after Fata seem bent on keeping the residents of the tribal agencies in the shackles of a primitive tribalism as otherwise there remains very little that distinguishes the so-called tribesmen from their Pakhtun brethren in the settled areas.
The design appears to be to keep the tribal land as jinxed territory to further the ambitions of some who cannot think beyond the level of the dreaded lowest grade revenue official called patwari.
With the approach of the withdrawal of US-led Nato forces in 2014, tribalism will need to be revisited. No one can afford to let matters be as they are today.
An officer who has served as a political agent in two tribal agencies deeply regrets his two stints. He holds the political agent and the malik system responsible for the underdevelopment of the tribal areas and the subjugation of its people by brute force resulting in inexorable corruption.
“I am going to write on how the political agent-malik combined has mutilated the tribal fabric,” the determined officer has resolved.
It is indeed very intriguing how many tempting possibilities there exist for the patwari, an official possessed of the powers to turn landlords into paupers and vice versa, to rise in rank and serve as the political agent in the tribal area.
It would be simply outrageous to keep entrusting the fate of the tribal lands to the patwari in the post-2014 period. It would in fact amount to continuing to disrespect the intellect of the people of Fata who can now compete with people from settled areas in all spheres of life.
In the days to come, Pakistan will have to decide between keeping tribalism in place and permanent stability across the country. The enemy in the tribal land stands identified — it’s not the tribesmen but the disgruntled zealots from other parts of the country as well as from abroad.
Successive governments in KP have, without mincing words, blamed the unrest in the province on lawlessness in the bordering tribal areas. Fata’s educated and law-abiding people alone hold the key to security and development in their area, and not the artful political agent.
The writer is a freelance contributor.