ARE IDPs abettors of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan or victims of both the TTP and state policies? Are we reluctant to help North Waziristan IDPs as generously as we did in case of the earthquake, floods or the Swat operation? Is it because for us Fata is an alien land with regressive customs? Is it because we blame Fata for sustaining the infrastructure of terror that is haemorrhaging Pakistan? Or is it just donor fatigue?
Over 800,000 people have been exiled from their homes due to Operation Zarb-i-Azb. There have been reports that some IDPs have been picked up for interrogation. With North Waziristan emerging as Pakistan’s terror headquarters it is likely that many amongst the IDPs would have worked with or for the terrorists. The infrastructure of terror that our military has found in the centre of reoccupied towns is both unnerving and thought-provoking.
The thriving IED factories, the suicide bomber units (luring, brainwashing and transforming youth into human bombs) and caches of currency must give pause to those who argued that only if the state spoke nicely to our terrorist ‘brethren’ they would just melt away. That such terror infrastructure couldn’t have existed without local acquiescence is also true. But to brand tribals as abettors of terrorists is to place the burden of the state’s failings on hapless citizens.
The terror infrastructure being demolished in Fata can emerge again.
There is a need to evaluate what led to the emergence and sustenance of terror in Fata to ensure that what happened there over the last three decades never happens again. The terror infrastructure being demolished painstakingly by our soldiers can emerge again, unless the causes allowing militants to establish their writ and enlist local support are effectively addressed.
Operation Zarb-i-Azb is aimed at physical deconstruction of the terror infrastructure in North Waziristan and tracking linkages, whether they lead to other agencies, Afghanistan, Karachi or IDP camps. The challenge of feeding and lodging the IDPs is an ancillary part of this operation but of crucial importance, for if mishandled it could further alienate a population the state must win back to build peace.
But even if the IDPs are fed and housed well and sent back to (reconstructed) homes, what will happen in North Waziristan post-op? The military strategy for Zarb-i-Azb is the same as that for Rah-i-Rast: clear, hold and build. Five years after the Swat operation (undertaken in a settled area), the civil and military authorities blame each other for failure to build sustainable governance structures that do away with the need to hold territory by military means.
To be fair to the khakis, it is not their job to build. They can clear and hold, but building falls squarely within the civilian domain. The khaki high command can probably be blamed for the delay in initiating Zarb-i-Azb, which allowed time and space to the militant infrastructure to prosper. There has been cryptic commentary over Maj Gen Athar Abbas’s statement that the operation wasn’t launched earlier because Gen Kayani was opposed to it.
Were we told anything we didn’t already know? That our security policy and strategy falls within jealously guarded khaki domain? That in a hierarchical army the chief has the last word? Maybe Gen Kayani was loath to move troops into North Waziristan seemingly under US pressure immediately after the OBL disaster. Or maybe our ‘strategic thinking’ wasn’t ready to part with the Haqqanis in 2011.
George Clemenceau has famously said that, “war is too serious a matter to be left to the generals”. But can you blame the khakis for delaying Zarb-i-Azb when they eventually had to force it on the politicos still pussyfooting on terror. And how do you make a case for civilian oversight over military matters when the civilians do absolutely nothing about governance (a mandatory requirement for building peace) that they are responsible for?
There are things that must happen in relation to our tribal belt. Exposure of IDPs to de-radicalisation programmes must start immediately. Wars and insurgencies change communities. This is the time to present IDPs with the promise of a peaceful and prosperous future. But words are cheap if not backed by action. Fata needs new governance and justice systems and a border with Afghanistan that provides for control over the entry and exit of men, material and money.
The old system of the state patronising tribes through political agents and tribal maliks is gone. Terror groups filled the vacuum and severed the link between Fata residents and the state. There is a need to get tribal leaders together with politicos and bureaucrats (who understand state functioning but also local customs due to their work as political agents). They can jointly put together a local government law for Fata that combines tribal representation and autonomy with citizen responsibility to the state.
There is a need to introduce a formal justice system that uses a mediation-plus structure as its first tier: trial by jury of peers resembling the jirga system Fata is used to. The second tier can be an appeals court that intervenes when jirga decisions are against fundamental rights. And then an appeal to a high court, which will only be possible once Article 247 is appropriately amended to extend full citizen rights to Fata residents.
The argument that there is nothing Pakistan can do about the porous border with Afghanistan cannot be acceptable in this day and age. We have a disputed border with India, but it is fenced. People still get through but it is harder. Why can’t the Durand Line be fenced while providing for members of tribes spread across it to cross over on the basis of special entry cards etc from dedicated points? Pakistan cannot allow the life and security of its citizens to hang on the vicissitudes of war and peace in Afghanistan.
None of this is rocket science. But for it to be done our government needs to look beyond its nose. Without meaningful reforms and introduction of workable governance and justice structures, the clean-up of Fata will be like the clean-up of circular debt; gone today only to reappear tomorrow.
The writer is a lawyer.
Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2014