Tribal area priorities

02 Feb 2011


THREE developments over the past week or so suggest that efforts to secure peace and rehabilitate the communities in the conflict-ravaged tribal agencies and the Malakand division are being given a new and more rewarding orientation. The future of the whole tribal belt will depend on the outcome of these initiatives.

First, the beginning of the army’s withdrawal from three Malakand districts (Swat, Shangla and Buner), once the extremists’ strongholds, can only be welcomed. On the one hand, this reinforces the army’s claim to have cleared these districts of militants; on the other hand, matters can now be taken up by civilian authorities who are best suited to carry out the all-important task of the affected people’s pacification and rehabilitation.

The critical nature of the process of transferring the army’s responsibilities to civilian law-enforcement agencies can be gauged from the decision to phase out the transition. The current phase will be completed in Buner district by mid-March and in Shangla district a month later. If these experiments yield the desired results they will be extended to other parts of the Malakand division and it may be possible to hope for a complete restoration of civilian control over the whole area within a couple of years.

The next few days will be crucial for the new operation. They will show how far the claims of the militants’ ouster from the territory are correct and to what extent the reconditioned police and other law-enforcement agencies are capable of shouldering their responsibilities. However, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government will only increase its difficulties if it were to concentrate solely on the law-and-order component of its responsibilities. Much more important will be the mission to regain the confidence of the people, not only by introducing measures necessary for the resumption of socio-economic activities but also by removing the people’s grievances that arose during the conflict and afterwards.

The provincial government should not only be allowed its due share of resources that are to be allocated for the rehabilitation of the conflict-affected families, it must have an important role in the planning of such programmes and their implementation. That the federal government has started thinking of paying compensation to the aggrieved families is the second happy development. The interior minister is reported to have disclosed that the government intends to launch a Victims’ Support Programme. Nothing has been said about the meaning and the scope of the terms ‘victims’ and ‘support’. It is necessary to ensure that compensation is offered to victims of conflict regardless of the identity of the agent of harm. Those who suffered any loss of life or property due to any error or miscalculation of the security forces, national or external, are as much entitled to compensation as the victims of militants’ excesses.

Unfortunately, the requirements of rehabilitation of the affected communities are generally viewed narrowly and attention is confined to loss of life and property. Equally important is the need to rehabilitate persons who somehow got sucked into extremists’ ranks and did not commit crimes punishable with death, long prison terms and expulsion from their home territory. Lumping such elements with hard-core extremists who have a vast amount of blood on their hands will only replenish the ranks of militants. A rational strategy cannot exclude the objective of preventing the loss of human resources by abandoning persons who can be reclaimed.

It should be possible to learn something about the transformation of partially tainted young men into peaceful and law-abiding citizens from the Saudi experiments with their extremists. There is much to be said for establishing a Pakistan-US-Saudi Arabia fund for this purpose. This will also offer the three principal founders of Afghan militancy an opportunity for long-delayed but urgently needed penance.

As regards ‘support’ to victims of insurgency, two points will have to be kept in mind. First, the amount of compensation should be reasonable; it should correspond to the loss, to the extent possible. Secondly, the scheme should embrace each rightful claimant and a fair distribution of compensation must be guaranteed. A repetition of the mess made of relief to the flood-affected people will cause grievous harm to the state.

The third encouraging development is the emergence of a consensus among a large number of political parties on the urgency of implementing political and legal reforms in the tribal areas.

Several months ago, on Aug 14, 2009, the president announced a reform package for Fata. The important components of the package were: extension of the Political Parties Order to Fata; curtailment of the powers of political agents; exclusion of women and children from the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) provision for collective responsibility and creation of an appellate tribunal to hear appeals against decisions under the FCR. These measures have not been implemented because of resistance from some elements in Fata and some superior forces outside the tribal areas.

Last week, many political parties and groups, including the PPP, JUI, ANP and some prominent citizens from the tribal area, met in Islamabad under non-party auspices, and demanded the immediate enforcement of the 2009 package. The government should welcome this demonstration of unity among the political elements directly concerned with the affairs of the tribal people and enforce the wrongly deferred measures.

The reform package will not bring about the desired change in Fata but it could mark the beginning of the revival of tribal people’s faith in the state of Pakistan. It is time they were convinced that Islamabad can deliver on its promises and that there can be no states within the state of Pakistan.

For quite some time they have had only one suitor for their favours — the extremist mercenary masquerading as a warrior in a holy cause. The introduction of an unarmed rival to this extremist has long been overdue, one who could undo the damage caused by Islamabad’s failure to keep its pledges (regarding permission for political activities and the establishment of local bodies) and to settle matters that have been hanging fire for decades (a democratic status for Fata).

If the people of Fata are to be rescued from the clutches of a variety of warlords, a broad-based plan for their political, economic and social uplift must not be delayed, even by a day. The highest priority should be attached to the extension of the political parties’ system to Fata so that the people can throw up their genuine representatives. Without political organisation the question of the future status of the territory cannot be amicably settled. At the same time, local government institutions must be established there so that the tribal people receive assurances that they are masters in their land.