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January 21, 2009

FATA needs a change


January 21, 2009

Barack Obama's victory is itself proof that Bush's policies were flawed and detrimental to peace in the world. They brought economic disaster to Americans and made them more insecure abroad.

US think tanks are reported to have admitted that the Taliban have permanent presence in 72 percent of Afghanistan, that 2008 was the deadliest year since the US invasion in 2001. It reminds me of a prayer by a Taliban leader in reaction to the US missile attack on Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan during the Clinton administration: "O God, we do not have missiles to retaliate, we pray that the Americans make the mistake of landing on our soil so that we can teach them a lesson."

The willingness of the Afghan government to enter into a dialogue with the Taliban speaks volumes of what was going on behind the scenes. The recent visit of the Saudi intelligence chief to Kabul seems to be another attempt to bring the two sides together. It may be a precursor to US departure from that country as soon as a way is found for an "honourable" exit. President Karzai's demand for a timeframe for the withdrawal of the Allied forces from Afghanistan further strengthens this argument.

Cracks seem to have appeared within the Coalition as well. The British have already announced that the war "is not winnable." In 1880, in a message from Kandahar to the British government, General Roberts had stated: "…The best thing to do is to leave (Afghanistan) as much as possible to itself… The less the Afghans see of us, the less they will dislike us." Meanwhile, the government in Ottawa is under pressure to reconsider extension of the Canadian troops' stationing in Afghanistan beyond 2009. The Germans seem to have similar reservations.

Since Afghanistan is on the top of Obama's agenda he will soon shift some of the troops from Iraq to Afghanistan to be stationed near FATA across the Durand Line. The visit of vice president-elect Joseph Biden to Kabul shortly before

yesterday's inauguration signifies the importance that Obama attaches to the Afghan conflict. From the support that has Obama received from people within and outside America is an endorsement of his promise of bringing a change. One can thus hope that he will not follow the belligerent policies of his predecessor but will opt for a change to resolve the issue through peaceful means.

It would be in the interest of Pakistan for our president to take advantage of the changes in Washington at the top level. He should seize this opportunity to persuade Obama that the war against terror cannot be won by force. If force alone could solve problems, the seven years of war in Afghanistan would have achieved that objective. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence in Afghanistan and the Federally Administered Tribal areas in Pakistan. Use of force should be avoided. Efforts should be made to divert the energies wasted on war to finding peaceful solutions to the conflicts around us.

The statements of Barack Obama and Asif Ali Zardari are indicative of their intentions to work towards a positive change. During the election campaign Obama criticised Bush for supporting an individual in Pakistan, Musharraf, instead of democracy, while Zardari said it time and again that the unilateral policies of the dictator were harmful for Pakistan. Now that both leaders are in a position from where they can steer their countries out of this quagmire they should not hesitate to do so. That would not only win the hearts and minds of the people but will help restore the image of both Pakistan and America as peace-loving countries.

The US has serious reservations about Pakistan's soil being used for terrorist activities against other countries. The Mumbai incident has further aggravated this situation. The often repeated stance of our president and prime minister that no one will be allowed to use Pakistan's soil for terrorist attacks has lost its impact. It is hardly being taken seriously by any one in view of the drone attacks in FATA. They have to work seriously and have failed to remove apprehensions expressed by the Americans and others because we have not matched words with deeds.

The best way to do so is to implement the resolution adopted unanimously by the Parliament on Oct 22 for which a committee has already been constituted. It will also make our case stronger before the new president of the United States to agree to resolve the problem through peaceful means.

Delay in implementation has already cost us a lot; backtracking now will have disastrous effects for the country. We have not been able to stop the drone attacks so far. Will we be able to stop military assaults if they are launched in FATA, especially after the deployment of fresh American troops in Afghanistan?

President Zardari can save us from further humiliation only if he stands solidly with the nation by implementing the 14 points of the resolution, which has all the necessary ingredients for bringing peace to the region.

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

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