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FATA IS BLEEDING
Ihsan | January 19, 2009 at 03:17 amby
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On the night of June 25, 2002, Pakistan army launched its first ever military offensive, “Operation Kazha Punga” after the name of the remote village, in Azam Warsak area of South Waziristan Agency sited some 25 km away from agency headquarter Wana, in order to flush out commander Naik Muhammad Wazir led small group of Both local and foreign militants who had taken refuge there after the demise of Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001. At that time, no one in our military establishment could assume that one day it would turned into a full fledge insurgency which has presently become a vital threat to our national security and territorial integrity.
Prior to this military adventure, FATA was relatively peaceful having minimum level of crime rate. Tribal disputes were normally being settled through traditional Jirga system. Even during the decade long Soviet-Afghan war, the area remained calm. But the situation became drastically changed when Perviz Mushraf led Pakistani government decided to deploy over 80,000 regular Pakistani troops in various parts of tribal belt against the inspirations and consent of its inhabitants and addition to that they launched an indiscriminate military operation at the behest of Washington. Since centuries the area has been remained autonomous due to the intense warring nature of its people who never accepted external intervention in their domestic affairs. British despite their decades long struggle and utilizing all sorts of resources to subdue them bitterly failed and introduced nominal administrative system run by political agents under Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR).
People of FATA never turned against <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Pakistan in its entire history and always proved unpaid defenders of its western borders. There is a popular quote about Tribals, “Give them honor, they will die for you”. The fact realized by founder of the nation Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, as soon after creation of Pakistan in 1947, he ordered the withdrawal of newly formed Pakistan army’s contingents from the region as he knew the great potential and gallant character of its inhabitants and declared them natural army of Pakistan at its Northern borders. The tribesmen proved their commitment and pledge to Pakistan during the first Indo-Pak war of 1948. On the call of their great Quaid, thousands of tribal volunteers bravely fought side by side with Pak Army against much superior Indian Army in Kashmir. They suffered heavy causalities but remained victorious in capturing huge piece of land. This war also proved the only war in which Pakistan actually retained some territory.
But the blind persuasion of US dictation by Mushraf regime developed a strong sense of alienation and frustration among the common tribesmen that finally led them to join Taliban ranks for self defense. Majority of these Taliban are son of the same soil. So, it would be greatly irrational to consider them foes of Pakistan. Traditionally, force is always used as last resort to settle disputes. The reality Americans ignored in Afghanistan prior to their attack in 2001 despite Taliban readiness for negotiation and now after eight years they came to conclusion that through military means war against Taliban cannot be won. Unfortunately, our military strategists also moved on the same track and opted for military option in FATA to curb militancy instead of finding out its solution through dialogue and political means which was quite feasible due to the limited nature of the threat. It is evident that the use of force may or may not defeat the enemy but will certainly affect the local civilian population whose support are considered vital for any intra-state conflict.
The growing incidents of collateral damage in the ongoing military operation in Bajur and Swat including those which were conducted earlier in different parts of FATA against so called militants, made the life of a common tribesman miserable. In past eight years, FATA has witnessed nothing but destruction. So far, thousands of innocent tribesmen have lost their lives; million of them have been displaced, living in dire conditions in different parts of NWFP. Their homes have been razed to ground and property destroyed. The frequent imposition of curfew in war torn areas further contributes in creating serious shortage of food and fuel. On October 4, 2008, the International Committee for Red Cross (ICRC) declared Pakistan the "New War Zone" of the world due to ongoing wave of fatal bombings across the country and the fierce armed clashes taking place in restive northern Pakistan.
On the other hand our western border has continuously been invaded by US and NATO forces in the name of hot pursuit which results in creating serious outrage and resentments of the local tribesmen against Pakistani government because of its failure to protect them against foreign aggression; the prime responsibility owned by every state in the world. Further it seriously undermines Pakistan’s principle stance of fighting its own war not the American's. Also, as a sovereign state, how can we allow foreign troops to operate on our land? The strong Syrian reaction over recent US attack on its village must be an eye-opening account for a nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Mushraf has gone but his ill-devised anti-terror policies are still being zealously chased by the present democratically elected PPP led coalition government despite passing of a unanimous resolution by the parliament in its week long in-camera session for bringing shift in the policies of national security and curbing extremism. Whatever action the government has taken so far in the tribal areas has proved counter productive. In the on-going military operation in Bajur and Swat, so far no major objective has been achieved by the security forces. Despite using all sorts of weaponry including jetfighters, gunship helicopters and heavy artillery at both fronts against its own citizens, still they are facing strong resistance from the militants. No major militant leader has been arrested or killed so far. The militants lost just 30% of their controlled area to security forces in months long intense military operation.
The US advised Al-Anbar experiment to raise armed tribal mercenaries from local tribes against the Taliban would definitely produced disastrous results and bring schism in tribal society, where majority of people has strong religious sentiments and affiliations and consider Pakistani supported US waged global war on terror as a war against Muslim and Islam. As far as tribal Maliks are concerned they have lost their credibility and influence due to their past injustices with tribesmen and have been replaced by local Mullas who openly support Taliban led insurgency in FATA. These poorly-armed and un-organized Lashkars whose leadership has brutally been killed are unable to confront well-equipped, well-organized and ideologically motivated Taliban.
The present menace of insurgency in FATA and Swat needs extra-careful handling and comprehensive strategy as it has great resemblance with Mukti Bahni led rebellion of 1971 in East Pakistan which resulted in the disintegration of Pakistan into two parts. Our own wrong policies have provided a fair opportunity to our birth rival India to play its sinister game against Pakistan. Its support to these elements has no more remained a secret issue. India has remained highly successful in shifting battle ground from Kashmir to FATA.
The government should accept the militants’ call for negotiations. But this time the government should involve all stakeholders e.g. politicians: both ruling and opposition, bureaucrats: especially those who served in tribal area, Ulemas: JUI (F), Jamat Islami and JUI (S), social activists, local tribal elders and media persons in order to take all segments of society into confidence. One of the main causes of the previous peace treaties failure was their mysterious nature in where the agreed draft was deliberately kept secret. Consequently the general public could not blame either of the two conflicting parties for the violation.
The government stance of disarming the militants before entering into any kind of peace talks is unrealistic as keeping of arms has been a part of tribal culture where they consider it as ornaments for men.
In the failure of all these treaties the American’s cross border raids also played vital role. It is also surprising that US is targeting only those Taliban who have signed peace accords with government and never waged war against Pakistan. The US attacks not only undermine our national sovereignty but also boosting up militancy in the area.
The new government must bring FATA into country’s mainstream in order to abolition its people sense of isolation and alienation. Immediate steps must be taken to restore tribal’s lost trust over the state institutions particularly, Pakistan Army.
(The writer is Defense Analyst based in Rawalpindi)