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August 13, 2014

What are we doing to Waziristan?

Opinion

August 13, 2014

The best way the war could have been won, without much damage, was to have empowered the people but that was not done nor is any evidence available that the government is considering any such sensible action to set the course right even at this belated stage.
The locals have no ‘voice’ as was reconfirmed by the incumbent governor in his first interaction with the media after assuming charge of that coveted post. Had the locals been consulted or empowered to deal with the situation things would not have deteriorated to the extent that we see them now.
Had the government gone by the worst case scenario and implemented what was agreed upon in a meeting of the National Security Council in June 2007 chaired by former president Musharraf and attended by the chief ministers and governors of the four provinces, to control the spread of ‘Talibanisation’ in Waziristan, that could have taken care of the militants without resorting to the use of full state power as has happened now and would have saved the locals from becoming internally (read intentionally) displaced persons within their own country.
Basically what was agreed upon, apart from other things, was: (a) to launch operations against militants on a fast-track basis; (b) to focus on operations against militant commanders; and (c) to take action against madressahs preaching militancy.
Since Mir Ali and Miran Shah, the two major towns of North Waziristan, are garrison towns necessary action could have been easily taken by the government. Why that was not done is beyond comprehension. Second, the road connecting North Waziristan with the rest of the country remained under curfew during all these years, at least on weekends. How was it possible for militants from all over the world to travel to Mir Ali and Miran Shah?
If establishment of cantonments alone could solve the problem of militancy Karachi or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would have been islands of stability in a sea of turbulence and Osama bin

Laden would not have been found in Abbottabad for that matter. Setting up of cantonments is not the solution. The solution lies in giving the people a political voice and empowering them by building schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, market places, and other infrastructure to bring Fata at par with the rest of the country.
The government seems to have washed its hands completely of its responsibilities in Fata which is why no politician has bothered to visit that area to inspect and report back to the government the havoc caused during the operation and thereafter making proper arrangements for compensating the unfortunate residents for the damage caused to their immoveable and moveable property.
Instead the government is faithfully doing whatever is desired of it. Common sense dictates – and as the saying goes – war is too serious a business to be left to generals alone. The government has not only left it to the generals but has now also handed over Islamabad to them, under Article 245, for protection. What a price to pay for establishment of writ in North Waziristan!
It is imperative that the government put a stop to all these casually managed policies which are implemented in a haphazard stop-gap manner generating hatred than winning the hearts and minds of the people there. It should look at the situation in Waziristan in particular and Fata in general as the army cannot solve this complex problem through the use of force alone. It must have the support of the people there and to have that the existing punitive approach policy needs to be re-evaluated.
It is time the government took steps on an urgent basis to restore the confidence of the people there. It would be well advised to make Fata a separate province where the people have the right to govern like people in other provinces of the country. To have a voice in the affairs of their government is their constitutional right but that right has been denied to them because of the FCR for the last 67 years. This needs to be redressed as the people there have paid a heavy price which has kept them poor, backward and illiterate making them easy to be manipulated by every dictator.
The people are fed up with how the situation is being handled in the area. The claims of Islamabad and Rawalpindi are simply eyewash. The suffering they have undergone are being attributed to the wrong policies of those controlling (read administering) that area. There should be a survey in IDP camps and tribal areas to ascertain if the people there are happy with the development work the government (read army) has been carrying out. An overwhelming majority would say they want the troops to return to the barracks, handing over administration to the civil servants till such time that the locals are empowered to govern the area.
The government needs to forthwith appoint a committee that includes people from Fata to work out a mechanism on how best can they transform the present system into making Fata a province to be governed by the people there. This is all the more important in view of the fast evolving situation in Afghanistan where chances of the country sliding back into civil war cannot be ruled out and one needs to guard against the fallout of such strife in our bordering areas.
Concluded
The writer is a former ambassador.
Email: [email protected]