Sunday, February 24, 2008

Opportunity for Pakistan

The Pakistani people—including those of FATA—have just called with a striking degree of unanimity for moderate, just, democratic government. This presents Pakistan with an opportunity to deepen national unity that must be seized with alacrity. This raises the obvious—and urgent—question of what the particular concerns of the people of FATA are and how best to address them.

Certain general points can be assumed from the start:

  • The people of FATA want justice;

  • The people of FATA want respect;

  • The people of FATA want security;

  • The people of FATA want economic opportunity.

It is shocking how often policymakers ignore such basic demands that are almost always at the core of popular dissatisfaction. Pakistan needs immediately to make a concerted and visible effort to address these concerns. Badrakumar's essay on Pakistani party politics suggests some of the problems that may soon upset the consensus of the moment.

From this follow two questions that are somewhat more difficult:

1) How do the above points translate into specific issues in FATA?
2) What can the new Pakistani government--and its foreign friends--do to address these concerns?

If Pakistan is not starting a national debate to answer these questions, then it certainly should be. The post-electoral sense of national unity and purpose is not a door that will remain open for long.

Pakistani media provide some clues about how the nice concepts “justice,” “respect,” “security,” and “economic opportunity” translate into the real world of FATA.

Justice for the populace of FATA:
A senior government official said, “You can only convert the sympathies of the public from these guerrillas by providing what the government should be providing: justice, security, clean hospitals.” (Daily Times, Feb 4)

Zanroor Afridi, JI deputy secretary general of NWFP accused the government of “gross violation of human rights in the tribal areas” according to Frontier Post, Feb 9.

Respect toward the populace of FATA:
In the words of Islamabad lawyer Babar Sattar -

The tribes inhabiting Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas are fiercely
protective of their autonomy. Their violent response to foreign invasion -- be
it Punjabi or American -- cannot be subdued by greater violence. The US strategy
vis-a-vis the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas is as blemished as
the one in Iraq. No amount of spin and PR can change the underlying reality that
western forces continue to be viewed as occupation forces in Afghanistan. The
claim that foreign forces are actually welcomed by the tortured and suffering
local populations is predicated on the argument that peace is all that people of
a war-ravaged country want. This belief is mistaken as most people do wish for
peace and economic prosperity, but not at the cost of dignity. And it is dignity
and national pride that continues to evade a nation under the siege of a foreign
army, irrespective of how noble the intentions of such 'peacekeeping' force.
(The News, Feb 9)

Security for the populace of FATA:
Rahimullah Yousafzai, a Peshawar-based Afghan affairs expert and journalist, noted in Daily Times on Feb 20 that “Musharraf’s response to the new government would be most important in determining whether militancy could subside after the mullahs electoral defeat. “’Militants have hatred for Musharraf and it depends whether he stays there.’”

Amplifying on Yousafzai’s observation two days later in the same paper, just elected parliamentary representative Shaukatullah Khan said the “use of force” had proved a failed solution to the crisis. “In tribal dynamics, the use of force pays little dividends. In our society, all disputes are solved through jirgas at the end of the day.” Daily Times also reported “consensus among the tribal people Daily Times spoke to” that the military should only provide a backup to the political process, to disassociate the local population from Al Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants.”

Underscoring this point, Asfandyar Wali Khan, chief of the newly victorious Awami National Party (ANP), said “economic assistance and political reconciliation were the key to success in a region where Al Qaeda and Taliban militants were holed up.” He added, “The voters have made it clear that they do not want wars and militancy.” (Daily Times, Feb 22)

Economic opportunity for the populace of FATA:
According to Asfandyar Wali Khan, “Our people have given their verdict and now the ball is in the court of the international community to support us in our quest to give our children books and pens instead of Kalashnikovs and suicide jackets.” (Daily Times, Feb 22)

If the hopes of the Pakistani people are to be realized, their government must develop a plan that will substantively address the concerns of FATA people for justice, respect, security, and economic opportunity. Pakistani media commentary is providing valuable clues about what such a plan should incorporate.


Here’s an opportunity for bloggers concerned with the future of Pakistan to make a contribution:

put substance into this discussion.

What are the specific actions the government should take?
Which are most feasible?
What are the priorities?
How might action on one issue impact another?

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