IN 2014, the military reported that 90pc of North Waziristan had been cleared as a result of Operation Zarb-i-Azb. There are still areas that remain to be cleared. But from the latest pronouncements of the military, it appears that the army is about to declare victory.
There is still time for celebration. But the important question to ask is this: have the Pakistani Taliban been vanquished? If this claim cannot be made then the nation should be told where the militants have gone. A splintered and dispersed Taliban force can wreak more senseless havoc on the civilian population as is happening at the moment in the hapless KP province and its environs.
An accepted adage is that if guerrillas are not defeated then they have won. In 2002, hailing an American victory over terrorism, the then US vice president Dick Cheney announced, “The Taliban is out of business, permanently.” The Afghan Taliban are reported to be in a much stronger position in 2016.
The tribal areas have been neglected by the centre.
Fluid and unpredictable as the situation is, an effort is on simultaneously to work out a future dispensation in Fata. The committee appointed by the prime minister to suggest reforms has visited and met jirgas in three out of seven tribal agencies. Fata is poised for a change, no doubt. The essence of the matter is that the final approval of the reforms must lie with the majority of the tribal people. Here an option is unveiled that the committee and ultimately the people themselves could consider.
The merger of Fata with KP with ‘special status’ is suggested. The two entities are Siamese twins. Their peace and war are indivisible; the lines of communications of one pass through the other; the same rivers flow through them; they are firmly interlinked through trade and commerce; they share markets, a common language, ethnicity, traditions and geography. Their separate existence is an anomaly.
Granting special status to Fata in KP would mean that the privileges enjoyed presently by them would continue. The maliki and lungi system, the payment of Muajib, the Khasadar and Levies forces should continue. You may ask what the difference is then. The difference at this point will be to bring a change in thinking from a tribal to a ‘settled’ one. Once that barrier is broken, other changes will not be far behind. The dynamics of change would complete their course.
An important issue is the abolition of the Frontier Crimes Regulation. This is a highly misunderstood issue. The tribal people themselves believe in collective bargaining and collective action against the authority. The rational response to collective bargaining is to accept collective responsibility which they had done. If they give up collective action and bargaining today, collective responsibility can be dropped tomorrow. Many in Fata understand this fine point. That is why they do not press for the abolition of FCR.
Special status in KP would further give them the right to send their own representatives to the provincial assembly; become entitled to be provincial ministers (they may even produce a chief minister if they are a part of the majority political party in the province); share provincial services and budgets just as Pata is doing. Some sweeteners may also be added.
On balance Fata stands to get much more politically and economically being part of KP as compared to its present status under the federal government. Under the federal government it has always been a neglected subject. Many among the tribal people have a misplaced sense of importance of Fata being a federal subject entrusted to the president whose role is largely ceremonial.
There is no shortage of bogeymen. They imagine that united Pakhtuns will be a threat to the solidarity of the country. So keep them divided. It is the same minds which for decades opposed the change of name of the NWFP. The heavens did not fall after the change in the name of the province. Only a senseless controversy has been buried.
The Pakhtuns united in one province will be the strength of the country and not its weakness. The people of Fata have always looked east and west. Being part of KP, they will turn their back permanently on the west. The provincial government in Peshawar will be more aware and sensitive to the needs, aspirations and developments taking place next door — the magic of daily interaction.
Fata will bring its own resources to the province which it is getting from the federal government currently. It should not be another unnecessary controversy. The National Finance Commission will take care that the province does not suffer in any way.
The final merger scheme can be arrived at by mutual consultation of Fata, KP and the federal government.
The writer is a former political agent and federal secretary.
Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2016