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August 15, 2008

How to fix FATA


August 15, 2008

The Feb 8 elections were evidence of the rejection of President Musharraf’s policies of supporting the war on terror. These policies were seen as serving the US, and not the country. The public wanted change in the way the war was fought against terror. They wanted unity amongst the ranks and file that Mr. Musharraf”s policies divided and split the nation into two. The Taliban came out against it in the open whereas the rest decide to oppose it in the cool comfort of their drawing rooms.

The coalition government needs to rise to the occasion. It has to forged unity between the leadership and the nation on this very important issue. The recent meeting and agreement of the coalition parties to find peaceful way of solving this problem is a step in the right direction. They should not leave it at that, nor should they constitute committees to resolve the problem. Promises alone will not do. The prime minister’s promise of amending the FCR is still fresh in the minds of the people.

The PPP leadership needs to replicate the achievements of the party’s past, especially under its founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, when he managed to win approval from parliament for a dialogue with Indira Gandhi at Simla. This was a much-needed show of unity on issues of national importance and strengthened his hand so much so that he won the negotiation war at least. Another prime minister who rose to the occasion when confronted with an issue of nation and international importance was Mohammad Khan Junejo. He called a roundtable conference on our Afghan policy and all parties attended and supported his initiative in favour of signing the Geneva Accord against the wishes of the then military dictator General Zia.

The current crisis is no less urgent. FATA and NWFP are burning. There is a real fear that these parts of the country may be lost if corrective measures are not taken immediately. In the past we have resolved important issues through national consensus.

Being the largest party in the coalition, the PPP needs convene an all-parties meeting on this burning national issue. It should then take the matter to the parliament, like the elder Bhutto had.

Once that is achieved everyone will get the message and go along the policies of the government. The Americans will have to accept because the whole nation will be standing behind the government, whereas the Taliban would also take the government serious that it will not kill innocent people any more or hand them over to the US in violation of the laws of the land.

The prime minister should then visit all the seven tribal agencies of FATA to interact with the people. He should involve the tribesmen in finding a peaceful solution to the problem in accordance with their custom and traditions. The system prevalent in FATA has an inherent mechanism where problems like this could be settled. The tribesmen will have to be taken into confidence and assured that the government will not interfere but rather support whatever decisions they arrived at. They will then start working within the system by constituting a jirga and raising a lashkar from within the various clans of the tribe. This system binds them so beautifully together that any action which the jirga wants to take becomes the responsibility of the lashkar. It cannot be shifted to an individual so there is no fear of revenge by anyone against anyone. Thus, the job assigned by the jirga has to be accomplished by the lashkar. No tribesmen, including the Taliban, can afford to go against that. This system has done wonders in the past and can do so now. The leaders of the ruling party need to pay attention to this aspect if they are serious about finding a peaceful and permanent solution to the problem that we are faced with on our Western border.

The crisis in FATA has a solution within FATA. We only need to reactivate that system. The past eight years witnessed many agreements but they were signed in violation of the system, that is why they did not work. This has proved the point that agreements signed outside the system have hardly any value and effect. The prime minister should, without wasting further time, undertake a tour of FATA and involve the tribesmen. Calling a jirga of hand-picked maliks on the sprawling lawns of the Governor’s House at Peshawar is certainly not a solution to the problem.


The writer is a former ambassador who hails from South Waziristan. Email: [email protected]

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