RECENTLY, the Community Appraisal and Motivation Programme (CAMP) issued its annual survey of the perceptions held by the tribesmen of Fata.
Understanding FATA — Volume 5 provides a comprehensive insight into the minds of Fata’s population. The credit for creating awareness in this regard about Fata goes to the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) for funding the initiative and to CAMP for ably executing the task under dangerous conditions.
In this three-part series, I will discuss some of the results relating to conflict, constitutional change, views about politicians and the priorities of the people of Fata.
Surveys of this sort are the staple of policymakers, especially when they are uncertain about what reforms to initiate for improving the people’s lives. The survey is also important in another sense: Pakistan is geopolitically divided into a core and a periphery and the lack of awareness of what is happening in the periphery can lead to the destabilisation of the country.
We saw this happen in East Pakistan in 1971. The findings provide a bird’s eye view of current perceptions in one peripheral area that ought to be heeded for strengthening national solidarity.
It may be noted that Pakistan’s core is based on territories within the Punjab and Sindh provinces. They contain Pakistan’s demographic, industrial, commercial and agricultural heartland. From Punjab in the north, this region extends southward through Sindh province, flowing along the Indus River valley into the Thar desert.
“This means Pakistan’s core is hard by the Indian border, leaving no meaningful terrain barriers to invasion. (Indeed, the Punjabi population straddles the Indian-Pakistani border much as the Pakhtun population straddles the Pakistani-Afghan border). This narrow strip of flat land is inherently vulnerable to India, Pakistan’s arch-rival to the east, a geographic arrangement that was no accident of the British partition,” notes the report.
Thus, suffering from both geographic and demographic disadvantages, i.e. India — and with no strategic depth to speak of — Pakistan is extremely anxious about its security in the east and is forced to look to the Afghan border both out of concern for its depth and in search of opportunity. Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan form the periphery around the Pakistani heartland and while the core is ever conscious of what happens within that periphery, it has not dealt with it with wisdom so far.
If geography determines strategic choices, then we should listen to it. Instead, we have considered trumping geopolitical limitations by forming alliances to upgrade our military to prepare for wars.
The situation of a country such as ours, that had a much larger India shadowing us in West Pakistan on the eastern flank and an East Pakistan that was surrounded on all sides by it, should have impelled us to reach a détente with our bigger neighbour. We, of course, thought otherwise and paid the price by losing the eastern half.
In many ways the current situation shows that we have become almost blind or indifferent to the challenges facing us in Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
The survey on Fata could thus not have come at a better time to give our policymakers abundant food for thought. It is remarkable that a region and people who have borne the brunt of violence and death for the last 12 years should collectively speak with the wisdom and maturity that they exhibit in this report.
Regarding the constitutional future of Fata, 22 per cent of the 4,000 respondents wanted integration with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the main reason being that both regions contained Pakhtun-majority populations. Eleven per cent of the respondents wanted the existing status quo to be maintained, and 15 per cent of these explained that the conduct of governance in the provinces was not of a quality that would lead to betterment.
Meanwhile, 28 per cent of the respondents thought that a separate province for Fata was the only path towards joining the mainstream. They felt that a merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would lead to them being swamped by its elite. Many thought that by joining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata’s mineral resources would be captured.
Clearly, then, the future of Fata lies in either of two choices: joining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or becoming a separate province.
Perhaps one way out of this dilemma would be to empower political parties to mobilise in Fata as a precursor to a referendum.The survey quotes 71 per cent of the respondents as feeling that the country was not moving in a promising direction. Amongst national politicians, only Imran Khan emerged with high marks. This had nothing to do with performance but with hope and the Fata youth bulge.
Khan was thought by 18 per cent of the respondents as being the best available leader, followed by Nawaz Sharif who received 15 per cent of the respondents’ confidence. All other leaders scored below four per cent.
The survey gave a priority list of the tribesmen: 45 per cent voted for security, the same percentage thought that the provision of electricity was equally important, education scored 44 per cent, next came employment at 41 per cent, followed closely by health at 40 per cent. This constitutes a wise wish list indeed.
In a similar vein, 79 per cent of the tribesmen opposed the presence of the US military in Fata and 68 per cent were against the presence of Al Qaeda, while the Afghan Taliban and the TTP were equally unpopular with 64 per cent and 63 per cent of the total respondents surveyed.
The message clearly was that foreign groups or practices had no place in Fata. To get rid of these elements, 67 per cent recommended that it should be the Pakistan military’s job.
The residents of Fata have retained their rationality despite the fact that 19 per cent, or 720,000 of them, have been internally displaced by war at one time or another. Despite this, they are hopeful about the emergence of a national saviour.
The writer is chairman of the Regional Institute of Policy Research in Peshawar.