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September 29, 2008

FATA — who listens?


September 29, 2008

People from all walks of life have been pleading for a peaceful settlement of the situation in FATA. All MNA’s and Senators from the tribal areas, including their sole federal minister, have said time and again that people in FATA are neither consulted by the government nor do they have any say in the policies formulated in Islamabad.

The tribesmen, killed and made homeless by their own army, are sandwiched between the militants and the army. As if that was not enough, the Americans have also jumped in, using drones. Where they consider it necessary, they resort to military assaults, killing innocent civilians, including women and children.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has apparently said that he will convince the US through diplomacy to stop violating our sovereignty. Admiral Mullen is reported to have said during his recent visit to Islamabad that his country’s troops would not conduct further attacks in Pakistan. Within hours of his statement, while he was still in Islamabad, US drones attacked villages in South Waziristan.

We were all pinning our hopes on President Zardari’s meeting with President Bush in New York to persuade the latter to listen to our pleas and respect our sovereignty. President Bush assured President Zardari of his country’s respect for Pakistan’s independence. But Wazir tribesmen in Angoor Adda, South Waziristan, shot down a US Predator drone in their area; so much for the importance the US attaches to our sovereignty. Whose statement should the people of Pakistan believe: the Pakistani president’s and prime minister’s or that of the president or the United States?

The people in the tribal areas, as we all know, conduct their affairs through the centuries-old system of riwaj where a promise made has as much weight as a treaty between states. There is no room for saying one thing and doing another. What credibility do such statements have and how will the tribesmen believe in any

commitment made with them in the future?

The people of Pakistan were praying for the restoration of democracy. They thought that the policies of Musharraf which have harmed the country, will come to an end with the coming into power of a civilian government. A democratically elected government is supposed to act in accordance with the wishes of the people. They thought their leaders would ensure formulation of a policy that would be reflective of people aspirations. They certainly were not praying for a government coming into power which would continue with the former policies and only make empty promises.

We cannot afford to keep this problem in FATA lingering by paying lip service to the people. We have to take it as a national challenge, which it is. We have to put our heads together to take the country out of this mess.

It appears as if we do not have any policy to counter terrorism. The only thing that our rulers know or have shown to know is how to use force and that to the maximum. We need to reconsider this. Eight years is a long period for any experiment to show positive results. Has our policy of using brutal force yielded positive results? If not, then let us replace this policy by one that is effective.

The people are ready and willing to play their role in eliminating terrorism from the country. They cannot do it on their own. They need the support of the government .The two forces need to join hands and act as one. A beginning has been made by the Wazir tribe in Wana where they held a public meeting jointly organised by the local people and the Taliban to express their unequivocal support to the government for defence of the country against the common enemy.

This was the first-ever open and positive response of the Taliban and the tribesmen to the government even though they have heavily suffered at the hands of the security agencies for last eight years. The trust deficit that existed between the two was abridged in no time when it came to defend the sovereignty and integrity of Pakistan. This was a clear message to the enemy that, come what may, the two are together for safety and security of Pakistan.

Those directly handling the situation in FATA should learn a lesson from this and evolve a policy acceptable to the people in FATA. They should stop imposing policies of their own have hardly any knowledge of the area. They should consult people of the area including parliamentarian, intellectuals, notable, religious scholars from all over FATA. A committee of such people should be constituted to advise the government for the best course of action in these areas. This will have an immediate and long lasting effect.

Enough water has flown under the bridge. Enough killings and atrocities have been committed. Enough force has been used but have we solved the problem? Let us not deny the tribesmen the right of a peaceful solution to their problem. Let them it as they wish. Let us listen to them.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email: [email protected]

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