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October 28, 2008

New policy in FATA


October 28, 2008

Our representatives in Parliament have taken a united stand in formulating a new anti-terror policy which is in line with people's wishes and aspirations. Those advocating peaceful resolution of the problem stand vindicated, Parliament has finally listened. The past eight years in FATA have seen nothing but death and destruction. All kinds of weapons and war equipment, including jetfighters and helicopter gunships were used against our own people. The atrocities thus committed were enough to have forced people of different areas to go their separate ways but once again the tribesmen proved their loyalty and sincerity to Pakistan.

Had common sense prevailed before, the situation would not have deteriorated to that extent. We have not only created more enemies in this ill conceived war against our own people but provided an opportunity to the enemy to enlist people in anti-state activities. The government's responsibility has now doubled. We have to clear the area of militants as well as of the enemy agents whom we provided with fertile ground in FATA.

Now that we have decided to resolve this problem through dialogue and negotiations we have to be extra-careful with the implementation of the new policy. It is not only the enemy which would like to use every method to derail the process but also those amongst us who were calling the shots till yesterday and would apply delaying tactics to bring a bad name to the government and to its anti-terror policy. The catch of the new policy lies in its implementation. The nation is apprehensive about the half-hearted action of the government in pursuing military operations in the past. They would naturally watch implementation of the new policy with caution. They have not forgotten the ill conceived peace agreements signed with the militants which led to the quick spread of militancy. The new resolution will therefore be looked upon by all the stakeholders with the same suspicion unless it is proved by the

government that it means what it says. Once the beginning has been made the rest is a foregone conclusion. It has all the chances of success. The government should only ensure its quick and timely implementation.

The prime minister is absolutely right when he says that "if we want that others respect our territorial sovereignty then we should also respect the territorial sovereignty of other countries. Pakistan should not allow anyone, local or foreigner, to use its soil for attack on any other country." The decision of the government not to allow anyone to use our soil for terrorist activities will itself address the question of violation of our sovereignty by the American-led forces in Afghanistan. Similarly, provision of employment opportunities through economic development of the area will also reduce the chances of future militancy in the area.

Our problem on the Western border is a product of this policy. If we want to have normal relation with our neighbours, we have to remove their apprehensions. Only after we ensure that our soil will not be used for attacks across the border can we expect that others will not do the same to us. Militancy, which has spread almost all over the country, can be controlled by ensuring that the decision of the Parliament is implemented in letter and spirit.

The resolution adopted unanimously by the supreme body of the nation should make it clear to all and sundry that it is the parliament that makes policies. Other organs of the state are there to ensure its implementation. No one has the right to question such a policy, much less reject it. Everyone should accept this reality. A lot of blood has been shed. We should prevent the country going to the point of no return.

Passage of the anti-terror resolution by Parliament is a historical achievement, but it is not enough. More importantly, the government should ensure its unanimous acceptance by the tribesmen and their full involvement in its implementation. It would be in the interest of the government if the president or the prime minister undertakes a visit to each Agency or calls a collective Jirga at Peshawar to take the tribesmen into confidence about the new policy. Thereafter, it is for the governor and his Political Agents to ensure its smooth and quick implementation.

The question that arises is how to go about its implementation. The deployment of the army in FATA has already weakened the established system of governance (the Political Agents). Despite the fact that many of us have strong reservations about the system, such as the powers of the Political Agent, it was in use for a long time and people are somehow used to it. It should be restored and given full support to ensure implementation of the new policy. For the time being, the Political Agent should be made responsible to the committee that the government is yet to establish in each tribal agency to oversee implementation of the anti-terror policy. Meanwhile the committee that the prime minister has constituted to amend the Frontier Crimes Regulations should expedite their work and bring changes in the FCR in accordance with the wishes of the people. The government needs to tread very carefully in implementing all the 14 points of the resolution. In case it resorts to selective implementation it will have disastrous effects. It may then not be possible for the government to control militancy or Talibanisation in the rest of the country.

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

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