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September 13, 2008

FATA: the new battleground


September 13, 2008

President Bush has named the tribal areas of Pakistan as a major battleground in the global war on terrorism. He has also reminded Pakistan of its responsibility to eradicate the menace from that area. The US President seems to be unaware of the fact that FATA has been a battleground for the last eight years where the Pakistani army has lost more soldiers in the fight against THE militants than in wars with India. But has that contributed to the eradication of militancy from the area?

The sacrifices of our army are more than those offered by any other ally in the war on terror. This seems to have been overlooked by President Bush when issuing the warning to Pakistan.

Action in FATA has already been started by the American-led forces across the border in Afghanistan. They are using drones to kill innocent people. As if that was not enough, the Americans violated the independence and sovereignty of Pakistan by landing their troops at Angoor Ada in South Waziristan. This is not a small incident. It has set new trends in the war on terror. The US has given to itself the right to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of independent states in pursuit of its war on terror. This needs to be checked and the aggressor made to repent, to tender an apology to the government and people of Pakistan.

It was encouraging to see the government responding quickly by calling the US ambassador to the foreign office to hand over a strongly worded protest on the violation of our sovereignty and the killing of innocent people.

The foreign minister's statement in the National Assembly was a befitting representation of national aspirations. The stopping of the transit of containers at Torkham was yet another timely reaction in response to the glaring violation of our sovereignty. But all this was short-lived. The very next day the ban on container transit was lifted.

The new policy for FATA unveiled by President Bush leaves us with two

options: One, to accept it as a fait accompli and let the Americans do whatever they want to on our western border; we have already set such examples by not reacting to the attacks of drones in FATA on a daily basis. Two, we seriously reconsider the policy and deal with the situation in accordance with the wishes of the people of Pakistan. This would be obviously the best course of action to follow. It would make us proud as a nation to defend our motherland.

It was encouraging to see the statement of the COAS where he said that "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country will be defended at all costs." This is what is expected of our soldiers. We will stand by them. What we miss seriously today is the lack of trust between the army and the people in the tribal area. This needs to be restored, and it can be restored only if they stop killing the people on the dictates of others. We need to work together and follow the same path towards achieving peace.

The civilian government should follow the principles of democracy which is "government of the people by the people and for the people" in every field and for everyone. The people in FATA are our brethren. They should not be left alone in this time of need.

FATA is at a critical juncture today. Its people are sandwiched between the army and the militants. A situation is fast developing where the American-led NATO forces will start landing for physical assaults in the tribal areas. If that happens, the tribesmen will have no option but to join hands with the militants against the foreign forces. What role will the Army then play? Will it take sides with the Americans by killing its own people or join the tribesmen and the militants against the invaders? I hope some sense prevails to prevent the situation from taking such an ugly turn.

The democratic process has now been completed in the country with Mr Zardari taking oath as president. In his inaugural press conference Mr Zardari said that he is "subservient" to the Parliament. If that is true, then he should not pursue the policies of the dictator and should take the matter to the Parliament to formulate a policy of its own. It would be advisable if he takes into confidence the leaders of those political parties which had not taken part in the election to arrive at a consensus on the war on terror. Once such a policy is agreed upon it will have the support of the entire nation. The West will understand our point and so will the president of the United States. He will hopefully avoid issuing orders for attacks on innocent people in the tribal areas.

A consensus policy will bring us together in our fight against terrorism and extremism. We will not only be united in our stand on getting the country clean from the militants but will be able to defend Pakistan in a befitting manner from the aggression of foreign forces.

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

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