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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Endgame in FATA ?

In 2004, for the first time in Pakistan’s chequered history, the federal government had to order military offensive against virulent and violent militant outfits in its tribal regions, although troops had been previously deployed in the remote Tirah Valley in Khyber tribal region to correspond with the US military action against Al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden and his associates in the neighbouring Tora Bora region in eastern Afghanistan.

The action in South Waziristan had begun after some reluctance amid differences between the military and its intelligence wing over the presence of foreign militants in the Wana region. This denial and inability of the state and its various organs to nip the evil in the bud led to catastrophic consequences.

The military offensive, therefore, proved fatal and costly for the government both in terms of the casualties suffered as well as its image. The myth of the mighty state crashed, replaced by the seemingly invincible Nek Muhammad and hordes of his Waziri militants.

Soon, and predictably enough, militancy spread to the Mehsud heartland, across the boundary into North Waziristan Agency (NWA) and beyond.

The July 2007 siege and subsequent clashes to wrestle back the control of Lal Masjid in Islamabad, fomented further troubles, leading to the rise of militant groups in Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies.

In December, 2007, Baitullah Mehsud, the undisputed leader of the Pakistani militants in South Waziristan (SW) moved to establish the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, assembling various factions on a single platform, creating a formidable challenge for Pakistan.

He swiftly established control in Orakzai, appointing his ultra-radical and aggressive young lieutenant Hakeemullah Mehsud to oversee Orakzai, Kurram and Khyber tribal regions.
Hakeemullah would succeed Baitullah after his death in a drone strike in August, 2009.

In the following years, the military and paramilitary forces launched a series of operations against militants in the length and breadth of Fata. Some were aborted half way, others put off or put on hold, following peace agreements through tribal interlocutors.

Realising these were futile, the Pakistan Army launched a decisive operation against the Mehsud heartland in October, 2009, forcing the TTP leadership to take refuge in the neighbouring NWA, while paramilitary forces fought fierce battles in Bajaur and Mohmand tribal regions. By April 2010, Bajaur was declared a conflict-free zone.

In March 2010, security forces launched an ongoing operation in Orakzai. According to security officials, total control over the territory is now in sight. Kurram was also cleared and a road link between Kurram and down-country was reopened after years of blockade by militant groups.

The security forces have been able to reclaim and regain control of much of the lost territory with Bajaur and Mohmand. Kurram is less of a problem now while Orakzai is on the way to be reclaimed.

But three years later, South Waziristan remains a dilemma even with large troop deployment and massive development projects. Only a small number of the displaced Mehsuds have returned or agreed to return home, others are weary and fearful of the revenge and return of the TTP. Ambush, sniper attacks and fire-raids by Mehsud militants, still hiding in the countryside continue unabated.

While the army and the paramilitary forces have been able to re-establish state writ over much of Fata, civil administration is still hamstrung, so the policy of clear, hold and transfer has not been entirely successful.

Today, the Bara subdivision in the Khyber tribal region remains unstable despite several clean up operations. Part of Orakzai, close to Khyber’s Tirah Valley remains uncleared.
Militants fleeing Orakzai have now taken sanctuary in Tirah.

There is a tenuous and somewhat tactical truce between the belligerent groups: the Lashkar-i-Islam, Ansar-ul-Islam and the TTP, but it is only a matter of time before clashes flare-up in Tirah pressurising the plains of Bara, which would spell trouble for the adjacent provincial capital, Peshawar.

By no means is the fight over with the TTP leadership at large. Hakeemullah Mahsud in  NWA; Maulvi Faqir Muhammad and the TTP commander from Mohmand who managed to flee across the border into Afghanistan continue to create trouble by attacking Pakistani outposts on the borders.

With the operation in Orakzai nearing an end, all eyes are now fixed on NW: home to Pakistani and foreign militants including the Haqqani Network which has proven itself to be the US’s toughest and most relentless enemy so far. NW is also home to Al-Qaeda central leadership and various strands of foreign militant groups of different nationalities, languages and ethnic groups making NW one of the toughest challenges that the Pakistani security forces have faced so far.

In the words of one senior security official, if and when it happens, the battle in NW will determine the future course of events in Fata with profound security and stability implications for Fata and Pakistan. Time will tell.  
By Ismail Khan http://dawn.com/2012/10/21/the-endgame/
Guarding the frontier
The fascinating and indomitable people of Fata have been beautifully described by Lt. Gen. Sir George Macmunn in his book The Romance of Indian Frontiers. “There is such colour and romance, such love and lust, such tragedy and glory as would fill 10,000 volumes.”
Bound by a common language, Pakhtu or Pashto with different dialects, yet a single code of honour and culture called Pakhtunkwali, the inhabiting tribes remain fiercely resistant to change and outside interventions and hence an enigma to the outside world.
Having largely remained what they are since Pakistan’s inception in 1947, both politically and administratively, the tribespeople inhabit seven tribal agencies over 22,407 square kilometres, much of it trudging along the borders with Afghanistan. While the rest of Pakistan moved on, the tribal agencies mostly remained impoverished and backward with the lowest socio-economic indicators in the country.
Proud to be the unpaid soldiers and defenders of Pakistan’s borders, the tribals feel that their areas have been treated as the country’s backyard, abandoned and forgotten.
Sharing the long and porous border with Afghanistan and tribal linkage meant that events and turbulence in the neighbouring country would impact the tribal areas. So the US invasion of Afghanistan barely two decades after the Soviet invasion, followed by the aftermath of 9/11 caused an upheaval that rattled the tribal structure and brought the already tenuous government control to nearly nothing.
As a result of our national ignorance and indifference, little effort was made to get to know the people inhabiting Fata.
Khyber: Comprising 991 square kilometres, with its agency headquarters in Landi Kotal, Khyber sits on the so-called international highway linking it with Afghanistan through Khyber Pass. Its three sub-divisions, Landi Kotal, Jamrud and Bara are inhabited by the Afridi, Shinwari, Shalmani and Malagori tribes administered through the offices of the political agent in Peshawar. Afridis being the predominant tribe, further divide into eight sub-clans occupying Jamrud and Bara sub-divisions. Shinwaris are the smallest tribe living in and around Landi Kotal on the border with Afghanistan. Khyber borders Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province.
Bajaur: Stretching over an area of 590 square kilometres and originally a sub division of Malakand,  it is situated along the Hindu Kush range. Bajaur gained its federal tribal agency status in 1973. Inhabited mainly by the Utmankhels and the Tarkanris, the former being the major tribe whereas the Tarkanris of which Salarzi is a major sub-tribe inhabit the relatively greener Salarzi, Mamud, Nawagai and Charmang areas. The headquarters are in Khaar which borders Afghanistan’s eastern Kunar province.
Mohmand: Spread over an area of 2,296 square kilometres, Mohmand agency was created in 1951. Because of its congruity with Peshawar, until 1951, it was directly administered by the deputy commissioner in Peshawar. The agency headquarters are in Yakkaghund. The major tribes being the Mohmands, Safis and Utmankhels.
Kurram: Established in 1892, Kurram which borders Nangarhar, Khost and Paktia provinces of Afghanistan is the second oldest tribal agency after Khyber. Spread over an area of 3,380 square kilometres, Kurram is one of the most sensitive tribal regions, owing to its Sunni and Shia population. The agency headquarters is in Parachinar and is Shiite, while Sadda is predominantly Sunni. It is inhibited by 15 tribes including Turis, Mangals, Bangash, Massouzais, Paras, Chamkanis, Alisherzais, Zaimukhts, Maqbals, Jajis, Jadrans, Ghiljis, Hazaras, Khushis, Kharotis and Lasianis. The Turis are the largest tribe bordering Afghanistan’s Khost province.
Orakzai: Formerly part of Frontier Region, Kohat, Orakzai was declared a tribal agency in 1973 with its headquarters in Hangu. Out of the seven tribal agencies, this is the only one that does not share borders with Afghanistan. Spread over an area of 700 square kilometres, it is inhabited by Orakzais and Bangash tribes. Mostly mountainous with thick forests, it has two sub divisions, Upper and Lower Orakzai.
North Waziristan: Spread over an area of 4,707 square kilometres, it borders the Khost and Paktia provinces of Afghanistan and has three main sub divisions, Miramshah (the agency headquarters), Mirali and Razmak. Inhabited by Utmanzai Wazirs, Dawars, Saidgis, Kharsin and Gurbaz tribes, it has a volatile history as the inhabitant tribes fought the British until 1947.
South Waziristan: Spread over an area of 6,619 square kilometres, the largest agency in Fata was established in 1895 with Wana as the regional headquarters. The three sub divisions, Wana, Sarwekai and Ladah are inhabited by the Mehsuds and the Waziris. The former gave the British a hard time and suffered several punitive expeditions. Both tribes spearheaded the Afghan army and restored King Nadir Khan to the throne in Kabul in 1929.
Dubious debate
Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas inherited from the British the 1901 Frontier Crimes Regulation and an administrative system that gave them an indirect control over its populace, thus leaving them outside the purview of the British law.
The system revolved around a political agent or an administrator of a tribal agency who exercised his powers as a government or state representative over their respective tribal clans through a bevy of tribal maliks, elders and notables. They helped maintain law and order through responsibilities assigned to them.
In the context of law and order and dispensation of justice, the responsibility is shared or collective. Administratively, the tribal areas are divided into what are called protected areas, administered areas and inaccessible areas — where the government has no writ.
Other than the system that remains in operation, Pakistan as a British dominion also inherited treaties between the British Empire and the tribes that continue to regulate relations between the state and tribal territories to date.
Hence the tribal areas or agencies have a ‘special’ status in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan where the president of Pakistan enjoys sole executive authority over Fata, exercising his powers through the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).
This ‘special’ status of Fata and the system in operation have remained unaltered and any attempts to introduce social and political reforms were met with fierce resistance from the status-quo conscious bureaucracy and vested tribal interest groups within Fata.
So the British-time policy of assimilating Fata and its people into the mainstream through social, political and economic amalgamation remained mere words.
The first major political reform came much later, in 1997, when tribal people were granted the right of one-man-one vote.
The US intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s alliance in the ‘War on Terror’ brought tribal borderland, back into focus.
General Musharraf donned two hats of the army chief and the president; and  cluelessly toyed with the idea of replacing the old system with a military officers-led tribal administration thereby introducing a semi-elected tribal council. He called it “my own (military) unit” and abandoned it for the old order again.
What majorly led to militancy here  includes the absence of an effective governance system, expansive area, and social, economic and political deprivation.
The PPP-led coalition government introduced amendments in the FCR extending the Political Parties’ Act to it in August, 2011 — small but important steps which perhaps could not bridge the yawning gap between the socially, politically and economically backward tribal areas and the rest of Pakistan.
Given decades of inertia and status quo, these are significant changes that have spawned a whole new debate on the status and future of the tribal agencies.
Ironically, elected Fata parliamentarians participate and vote to legislate for entire Pakistan, yet they cannot legislate for Fata which continues to be governed through presidential decrees.
The extension of the Political Parties Act in particular has brought Fata on the political agenda making it a part of the political discourse and political parties manifesto. The debate over whether Fata should be a separate province, made part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or given an autonomous status like Gilgit-Baltistan should be viewed in the same context.
Resource constraints, the state of the security environment in Fata, the border region and neighbouring Afghanistan, sensitivities of the tribal people, the British legacy of tribal treaties, constitutional provision which requires ascertainment of the will of the tribal people with regard to changing their ‘special’ status and above all, its impact on the overall national political and parliamentary scene all remain open questions.
The future
In the absence of a long term national strategy, political vision and a roadmap with the unequivocal support of the political and civil and military establishment, as well as the consent and consensus of the tribal people; the debate to change the course in Fata remains rhetoric.  — Ismail Khan
Battle for survival
“Neither militants nor military has won our hearts or minds,” says Shad Mohammad*, a 40-year-old shopkeeper from Inayat Kallay of Bajaur Agency. He clearly remembers how Taliban would publicly beat, humiliate and kill people. His hometown does not feel like home anymore.
Following the military offensive against the Taliban, the tribal agency has been denotified as a conflict zone since last year even though the local militant commander Maulvi Faqir Mohammad is still at large. Yet, many like Shad Mohammad in Bajaur have no peace of mind. They feel uncertain and anxious, while every day is a fight for survival.
Movement inside the agency is difficult due to long waits at check-posts and the fear of sudden bombing. Shad Mohammad, father of six, does not feel secure even in the presence of the peace committees which  comprise armed volunteers who are members of the lashkars formed by the government to maintain peace in the area.
“How can we leave our land and home to the militants?” says 30-year-old Qadir Khan who hails from Salarzai tribe of Bajaur.
He lost his father, uncle and other elders of his clan a couple of years ago during a Taliban attack which was a punishment for taking sides with the government. Having survived many attempts on his life, Khan will never leave the area to his enemies.
“We have not lost resistance. In fact, we have become stronger with time,” says Brig. (Retd.) Mehmood Shah, former Secretary Security Fata. “The military is trying its best to curb militancy and is quite successful. Initially, people sympathised with the Taliban but after seeing the devastation, they have also joined hands with us.”
Brig. Shah believes that civilians abhor militant attacks and  have distanced themselves from militants but they have higher expectations from the government to restore normalcy in their lives. “This does not mean that the people are any less resistant towards militants.”
Dr. Ashraf Ali who heads the Islamabad-based Fata Research Cell writes in the July 2012 issue of Tigah, an FRC journal, that militancy has risen in recent years.
Instead of joining the militants who reportedly pay a handsome amount to recruits, people have shown resilience in the face of militancy. They have left their homes and bear the hardships in shelter camps in their battle for survival. *(names changed for security reasons)