THE pledge by the Pakistan Army to begin the return, in a phased manner, of an estimated 150,000 families displaced by the military operations in the North Waziristan and Khyber agencies is a welcome sign that the leadership has some understanding of the need to fight a people-centric counter-insurgency.
To avoid a familiar cycle of violence peaking and subsiding over a period of time in most insurgency-hit areas, the local population needs to be on the side of the state.
That is possible, but only through the careful management of the needs of the local population.
Take a look: IDPs’ return likely to begin next week
To begin with, the affected population needs to be equipped with enough resources to make resettlement as painless a process as possible.
The military and the Fata administration have accumulated a fair amount of experience in this regard and it appears that a reasonable amount of resources have been allocated to the task. But setting aside a quantum of resources and aid is one thing; ensuring that the families that it is intended for receive it in a manner that is dignified and as trouble-free as possible in the circumstances is another.
Far too often, the good intentions and the well-designed plans fail at the point of contact with the affected population: the lowest tiers of the military are not trained to deal with population and those of the administrative set-up rarely think of themselves as public servants.
What is then designed thoughtfully and with care in Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Islamabad tends to not work as well on the ground in Fata.
This has been a recurring theme over the years with IDP management and returning them to their homes in Fata. Then, there is the sense that after the IDPs have been returned and several months have passed, they are essentially left to their own devices, with the military dominant in the area but focused on protecting territory and the civil administration all but displaced and non-functional.
That turn of events over the medium term is a failing on the part of the military. If Fata is ever to be normalised – and not simply returned to the pre-insurgency state of affairs – it has to have a sustainable, responsive system of government running the gamut of civil administration to the administration of justice to law and order. Worryingly, the military leadership appears unwilling or unready to permit meaningful Fata reforms.
Finally, there is the long term: what is the military’s exit strategy from Fata? One hundred and seventy five thousand troops cannot remain there forever, but militancy in Fata is intrinsically connected to the situation across the Durand Line, management of the border and broader foreign and national-security policies.
The military leadership pledges to wipe out terrorism, but a militarised anti-terror strategy combined with a shield still seemingly provided to old militant favourites does not seem to be the right way ahead.
Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2015