The latest counterterrorism operation will succeed only if we put our own house in order
The string of terrorist attacks in quick succession across the country has once again brought to fore the question as to what drives the menace of militant violence. This article sets forth two arguments. In the case of FATA, Taliban militancy mainly stems from loose administration. Secondly, in the case of latest wave of terrorism in urban centres such as Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar, Sehwan Sharif and Charsadda, local networks of militants are primarily responsible for militant violence.
According to Edward Newman, state weakness leaves behind power vacuum, which is amenable to the rise of non-state actors. In FATA, state weakness is exhibited on various counts.
Geographically, in normal circumstances, say pre-9/11 period, approximately ten per cent of territory in the tribal areas comes under state’s jurisdiction, stated an Assistant Political Agent (APA), who wished to remain anonymous. Billed as ‘protected area’, this category of territory includes government installations such as political administration offices, basic health units, state properties and among others national highways. Protected area, according to the APA, comes under the direct jurisdiction of the political administration headed by a Political Agent (PA) in each of the seven tribal agencies.
Ninety per cent of FATA’s territory is what is called as ‘non-protected’ area. This territory does not fall under the direct jurisdiction of the political administration. Here tribesmen are left to fend off for themselves. Wolasi jirga (people’s council) decides disputes according to the norms of Pashtun culture and traditions with minimal or no interference from the political administration.
Nevertheless, a provincial bureaucrat in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa secretariat, aware of the operation of state authority in FATA, maintains that state authority keeps on fluctuating in the tribal areas. The political agent can expand or shrink the area under the jurisdiction of state by declaring it so.
Ironically, state weakness in FATA is enshrined by the law, Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The state has ceded ground to non-state entities to perform state like functions. In the non-protected area, jirga adjudicates criminal and civil cases or disputes.
In order to implement the verdict of a jirga, a tribal force called lashkar is raised to carry out the decision such as demolishing of houses of the culprits. In other words, arbitration and execution, the core responsibilities of a state, are carried out by non-state actors.
In the wake of the US’s attack of Afghanistan post 9/11, Taliban along with al Qaeda and Islamist militants were flushed out of Afghanistan to end up across Pakistan side of the Durand Line. Taliban, capitalising on power vacuum, started to replicate their Afghan experience in Pakistan’s tribal areas. In the initial days, they dealt with criminality head on. Resultantly, some tribesmen were won over and others were terrorised to keep silence.
Someone may ask as to why there has been a significant improvement in the law and order situation in the tribal areas for the last couple of years despite the fact that FCR is still operational there. Post Zarb-i-Azb and military operations before it, the ubiquitous presence of army personnel and paramilitary troopers serve as deterrent to militant activities. Put differently, the state capacity has been strengthened and improved. A strong state denies militants the space to carry out violence. Of course, the permanent presence of army is not the long term solution.
Civil administration has to take the responsibility for administration in the tribal areas. Status quo in the form of running FATA’s administration according to FCR is the problem and not the solution. As stated above, FCR enshrines loose administration, which is a recipe for the rise of militant outfits in the tribal areas. Seen this way, FCR must be replaced with a law or another arrangement that envisages strong state.
The creation of a new province, FATA Elected Council and the integration of FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are all wise options though the last mentioned is the most pragmatic solution for all practical reasons. Not only is there almost unanimity on the merger option from all stakeholders -- except Mehmood Khan Achakzai and Maulana Fazlur Rehman -- integration is also a geographical compulsion. As a tribal commentator, aware of the tribal geography, remarked, "Almost no two tribal agencies are interlinked without going through a settled area." Nevertheless, not all are convinced that strengthening the administration will overcome militant violence.
Some Pashtun nationalists, especially from the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), question the validity of the argument that militancy will cease to exist in the wake of mainstreaming of FATA. The PkMAP’s provincial president from Balochistan and the party’s senator, Usman Kakar, in a latest interview with the scribe, asked: "Why terrorists were able to strike in Peshawar, Islamabad and Lahore and other cities as these cities were well integrated with the state. Why did Taliban rise in Swat despite the fact that it is part of Pakhtunkhwa province? Why won’t Taliban emerge in FATA even if it was merged into Pakhtunkhwa," Kakar wondered.
True, weak state condition is not always the necessary condition for the emergence of violent non-state actors. Put differently, terrorist organisations even operate in areas where state is strong. The 9/11 terrorist attacks were executed in the US that is militarily the most powerful state. In our case, the occurrence of terror beyond FATA needs serious consideration.
As a matter of fact, government policies override even strong state conditions. They have an overarching influence. They affect each and every aspect of the society. No matter how much the state authority is strong in Pakistani cities, the continuity of the deadly legacies of Zia’s era militates against state’s authority. The use of proxies hasn’t made us stronger; it has only made us vulnerable to violence orchestrated by neighbouring states in tit for tat. The remedy lies in putting an end to the consideration of good and bad Taliban.
Additionally, the presence of local support and facilitation network for militants in the urban centres is another worry. The Punjab government needs to act against the bastions of ‘Punjabi Taliban’ without any exception. The launching of counterterrorism operation codenamed Raddul Fassad, in the wake of recent wave of terror attacks, should be extended to include operations against banned outfits too.
Reportedly, due to the reservation from the Punjab government, the latest counterterrorism operation will only target terrorist organisations. Externalising the blame hasn’t worked. Putting our own house in order is our best defence against self-destruction!