Recently, governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, who is ex-officio president of Pakistan’s representative for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), declared that the writ of the state had been established in every nook and corner of the tribal areas. This is, indeed, a very welcome announcement for the country because the crisis and conflict in Pakistan has been affecting the entire country, particularly the KP province. Before Mr. Jhagra, Pakistan’s military spokesman, Major General Asif Ghafoor, on several occasions claimed that the whole of FATA was under state control. Peace has been restored in FATA with the sacrifices of people of FATA and KP and also of the security forces of Pakistan.
Here it would be important to note that one must not claim that peace has been restored in FATA because the term “peace” is quite extensive. So we must be cautious in using the term in explaining the post-conflict situation on our borderlands in the northwest of the country. Historically it has been a very volatile region and unpredictable. Thus, it would be safe to say that Pakistan state forces have been increasingly successful in restoring normalcy in FATA. Two military operations, namely, Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fassad have been instrumental in dismantling the terrorists’ command and control structure in FATA. The operations have been so successful that even the hitherto unmanned regions like Shawal Valley in Waziristan and Rajgal Valley in Khyber Agency have come under state control. This is no mean achievement by any standard. Now the biggest question in FATA in the months and years ahead would be how to have sustainable normalcy in the region. Once there is sustainable normalcy in FATA one could expect peace in the region. Stability of FATA is critically important to prevent insurgents and terrorists from staging a comeback. To prevent such a doomsday scenario, the most important step would be to analyze why insurgents and terrorists emerged in FATA and established control in various areas.
It was the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which destroyed the peace of FATA. The TTP and disparate groups of militants and insurgents in FATA arose while global and regional militant organizations like Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban found sanctuaries in FATA. The foremost reason for this was the political, administrative and governance vacuum in the tribal region straddling Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. This vacuum in turn was the upshot of the indeterminate status of FATA. This can be gauged from the fact that the Constitution of Pakistan recognized FATA as an integral part of the country but, at the same time, the law of the land was not enforceable there. This is something of an anomalous situation. There has been little attention from successive governments to address this anomaly. Recently, finally the Senate of Pakistan passed the bill of extending the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the Peshawar High Court to FATA, but it is only part of addressing the great malaise in FATA.
Here we must briefly recall the genesis of the presently attenuated conflict in FATA. The Pakistan military started targeted operations against the extremists and militants in 2004, the year when, for the first time ever, Pakistan Army regulars were deployed in FATA. The first such operation was launched in Azam Warsak area of South Waziristan near its headquarters Wana. In this incident, a Pakistan army major and several troops were martyred fighting the foreign fighters. This incident triggered attacks on Pakistani troops across FATA. Nevertheless, Pakistani forces’ intrepid operations continued against extremists and terrorists, which kept taking the lives of our security forces. The military operations also compelled disparate militant organizations to join forces and form an umbrella organization in the shape of the TTP in 2007. The formation of the TTP triggered the worst-ever terrorist wave across Pakistan, which has so far taken around 70,000 lives of Pakistanis, including those of security forces. The victims included former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, scores of sitting and former ministers, high-profile military officers including a couple of general-rank officials and innumerable police officers. It was the entrenching of the extremists and terrorists in FATA which enabled them to take over the KP district of Swat in 2009 and wreaking havoc there.
The continual military operations against the extremists and terrorists in FATA by Pakistani security forces dislodged the base of the former one district after another. Both North and South Waziristan proved to be the toughest nuts to crack. Although South Waziristan, the base of the Mehsud tribe- dominated TTP, was cleared after an offensive was launched in 2009, but the NWA became the base of almost all militants and terrorists, once spread across FATA. In June 2014, Pakistan decided to launch an offensive in NWA. This operation has been very successful and by now most of the district has been secured. The operation really accelerated after the loathsome attack by the TTP on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, in which more than 150 schoolchildren were ruthlessly killed.
Now coming back to the lasting solution for FATA without giving FATA a clear constitutional and political status, it would be well-nigh impossible to prevent the return of the militants and terrorists in the region. The state fortunately is cognizant of the problem and to recommend a feasible course of action regarding FATA, it had formed a FATA Reforms Committee headed by former advisor to ex-PM Sharif, Sartaj Aziz. The committee, among other things, recommended merging FATA with the KP province and it has been accepted by the federal government of the PML-N to be implemented in five years. But this is a recipe for disaster because merging FATA with KP is akin to sowing the seeds of more conflicts. So the best option for stability and normalcy and ultimate peace in FATA is to give provincial status to the region. This would help provide the much-needed enabling environs for civilized and modern governance and political structures to be established and serve the people. For instance, after giving provincial status to FATA, a provincial assembly or legislative body could be formed. However, only establishing a provincial assembly would not suffice to address the complex administrative problems and development needs of FATA and its inhabitants. Therefore, the other most important step would be to establish elected municipal or local councils. This is the only mechanism through which the state writ in the tribal areas could be established, the myriad problems of the people could be addressed and people would learn the art of self-governance.