Monday July 22, 2024

All is not well on the western border

By Saleem Safi
March 25, 2019

Wise people are experts in making friends while fools create enemies. In the testing times of war and crises, sagacity demands avoiding causing offence to smaller enemies for the sake of focusing solely on the real enemies. Regrettably, we are trying hard to push our smaller enemies or adversaries towards the ambit of our archenemy – India.

Prior to the recent Modi misadventure against Pakistan, we were being told about Washington’s happiness about Islamabad’s support in negotiations with the Taliban. No doubt, the US played a vital role in the de-escalation of the current tense situation with India – much like it had during the Kargil crisis. Yet some circles, unfortunately, are trying to make us believe that India had US backing and support in the Balakot misadventure.

While Pakistan made every effort to push Washington towards New Delhi, thankfully the US’s dependency deterred it from doing that.

Similarly, Israel is also being blamed for its support to India. Some people even floated the conspiracy theory that Iran had also made a plan of attacking Pakistan in collaboration with India; according to the conspiracy theorists, the plan could not materialise due to rain. The fact is that the Iranian leadership is prudent and cannot think of such a folly. However, it is fact that we have left no stone unturned to create enemies and push them towards India by making such speculations and assumptions.

Similarly, we have been taught for a long a time that Afghanistan is an enemy country or a close friend of India. But I believe and for years have been trying to say that, though Afghanistan is not a close friend of Pakistan like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, it is not our enemy. I have used the phrase of ‘first cousins’ for Pakistan and Afghanistan; the term for that in Pakhtun culture would be ‘tabors’. ‘Tarbors’ may have differences and they may hold grudges against each others, but they cannot become enemies. They share common interests and no matter how bitter their relations may be, they always stand united against external enemies.

Though relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan since the inception of the latter have not been ideal, Afghanistan never created trouble for Pakistan on the western border – never during the 1965 war nor the 1971 war with India. Hamid Karzai, the former president of Afghanistan, would always be upset with Pakistan but when Pakistan’s relations fractured with the US after the Salala incident, Karzai in an interview with me categorically stated that in case of war between Pakistan and the US, Afghanistan would stand by the Pakistani side.

Similarly, the recent tension with India began at a time when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was not happy with Pakistan. But still he assured that Pakistan should not be worried about the western border. Countries like France supported India in the current tension, but not a single word came out of Kabul in favour of India or against Pakistan. Being satisfied on the western border, we celebrated our achievements on the eastern borders.

But the situation at the western border is not satisfactory. In fact, it is worrisome. Taliban and the US are engaged in negotiations and we are happy and even boasting that the decades-long war across the border is near an end. However, those who have in-depth understanding of the ongoing negotiations know that the final settlement is far away. Though the US and the Taliban are reaching some understanding, intra-Afghan reconciliation is extremely difficult. And even though a peace settlement has not yet even been reached between the US and the Taliban, signs of deteriorating relations between the Taliban and Pakistan are already being seen.

In order to fulfil the wishes of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the foolish attempt of arranging a meeting between the PM and the Taliban and the consequent refusal of the Taliban to meet created a rather tense scenario. A Taliban-US deal without intra-Afghan reconciliation will lead to a devastating scenario, which could be fatal for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. If Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban further deteriorate, then it would be more dangerous for Pakistan. Moreover, the situation of the erstwhile Fata is getting alarming.

The PTM issue has not yet been resolved; in fact, the way the government is trying to cope with it will just worsen it even further. The committee of tribal areas parliamentarians which was formed to deal with the group is incompetent and incapable to resolve the issue, and I worry that I may be right in thinking that the committee will only deteriorate the matter further. And the way the PTI government is handling the Fata-KP merger process is creating a crisis instead of giving any positive result.

As per promises, the federal government had to provide more than Rs100 billion for the Fataintegration process and the Sartaj Aziz Committee had made a comprehensive roadmap for it, but unfortunately the PTI government did not provide even a few billion rupees during the current financial year. Even a fund is not available for the rehabilitation of the IDPs. KP Chief Minister Mehmood Khan seems to be KP’s Buzdar, who has neither control over his ministers nor the ability to demand funds from federal government and utilise them.

After the constitutional amendment, Mehmood Khan has become chief executive of the tribal areas. But he has no ability to extend control over to the merged areas. Even parliamentary leaders and bureaucrats are not accepting him as their leader. However, Governor KP Shah Farman seems very active regarding the merged areas. He successfully completed the task assigned to him – that of extending the judiciary and the police to the merged region. Similarly, the governor has also succeeded in protecting the jobs of thousands of Levies and the Khasadar force by linking them with the police. Unfortunately, the chief minister and other ministers are complaining against the governor for interfering in matters of the provincial government.

For an effective merger, elections in the tribal areas for the provincial assembly are a prerequisite. That’s why the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Tribal Youth Jirga demanded that election for the provincial assembly should be conducted along with the general election for the National Assembly. But the PML-N and PTI leadership’s reluctance did not let those elections take place in the tribal areas.

The provincial assembly elections are important in the sense that elected representative of tribal area would be able to reach to the assembly and get some important portfolios. They would be in better position to raise issues and would help in the extension of government’s writ and resources to the region. But unfortunately, the provincial government and the PTI’s MNAs and Senators from tribal belt are creating hurdles in the provincial assembly elections.

The provincial government is worried that if candidates of opposition parties succeed, it would affect the PTI majority in the KP Assembly. MNAs and senators from tribal areas are afraid that if MPs come, it would affect their superiority in the tribal constituencies. This is why under the federal minister for religious affairs an attempt is being made to delay the election for the provincial assembly in the tribal area on the pretext of wanting an increase in the number of provincial assembly seats.

In a nutshell, all is not well on the western border. The government should give serious attention to the administrative mess and to people’s genuine grievances. Elections in the tribal areas, for the provincial assembly, should be conducted on a priority basis and the finance ministry should be directed to provide at least Rs100 billion for the tribal area as per the original promise.

The writer works for Geo TV.