Solving the FATA Crisis
Daile Times, May 3, 2008
The Chief Minister of the NWFP, Mr Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, claims he will unveil a $4 billion peace plan for the province that envisages a “30 per cent reduction in militancy within three years”, retrieval of the areas lost to militants and improvement in the writ of the state. The press has picked up a Task Force report ordered by the chief minister which targets the problem of extremism and terrorism in the province. Prepared by a former chief secretary Mr Khalid Aziz, an expert on the subject, the reported project will not only invest money into a shockingly deficit province but also beef up its capacity to come to the defence of the exposed citizens with an additional 8,000 policemen and 6,000 Frontier Constabulary personnel.
The idea is to buy the writ of the state by bringing in economic and social development with a massive injection of money coming from grateful states in the West such as the United States, the European Union, the Scandinavian states, Saudi Arabia and China. With $4 billion on the table, the project looks easy of execution. But the fact is that the provincial administration is not used to spending such an amount of money on anything. The report says the peace plan envisages the creation of 7,000 jobs annually for the three-year period and 10,000 daily-wage jobs annually through public works. But going by past standards, we know that the province has the know-how and capacity to spend only a billion dollars, the rest going waste and into the wrong pockets.
The report highlights the central problem for all those intending to work through financially leveraged peace plans in the NWFP and in the federally administered tribal areas (FATA). In fact, there is little chance of getting the NWFP to quieten down without taking similar reforms to FATA. The province may be legally separated from the Tribal Areas but on the ground its demography is seamless. The unpalatable truth is that the old NWFP is fading away and re-emerging as a re-tribalised region responding to the new Al Qaeda-Taliban paradigm in FATA. A stone’s throw away from Peshawar’s locality of Hayatabad, a clutch of warlords is vying for the attention of Al Qaeda in the Khyber Agency. The report is aware of this and makes a reference to the importance of integrating the project with a similar programme for FATA. The cost of that, of course, will go beyond the present $4 billion envisaged for the Frontier “peace plan”.
Chief Minister Hoti has responded to the challenge in the right manner. His task force will be in a better position than the province’s tired and rather “aroused” bureaucracy to move towards capacity-building after years of being controlled by the centre and feeling that it has got a raw deal. His decision to tackle the issue scientifically will remove the ambiguity of the Pakhtun mind when it comes to thinking of terrorism coming from Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and the Pakhtun bureaucrat’s natural tendency to be sharper in his criticism of Islamabad and Punjab than of the terrorists. The ANP-led government has all the right credentials to break free from the ethnic nexus as well as the jihad tradition of Sheikh Ahmad, Shah Waliullah, Syed Ahmad Shaheed and Shah Ismail Shaheed that has been revived by the state-backed jihad of the past years.
The NWFP is dangerously tilted towards poverty in many ways more dangerous than the poverty at the national level. And that is because, compared to Punjab and Sindh, its agricultural sector is in a state of collapse. When Pakistan says its GDP growth rate has touched 7 percent, the numbers are mostly coming from Punjab. The NWFP is in the process of becoming “re-tribalised”, which means receding to a pre-agrarian state because it suits Al Qaeda and its warlords. When the peace plan is put down on the ground it will face resistance from forces mostly located outside the jurisdiction of the province but with profound ideological control over the minds of its population. And with the warlords will come a conservative brand of faith with all its tools of intimidation to keep the trend going towards re-tribalisation.
The peace plan being prepared in Peshawar will have to be integrated with the peace plan being put together in Islamabad. There is a lot of money lying idle in Islamabad because its investment in the FATA areas has not been possible owing to attacks. The main problem in FATA and in Afghanistan, as faced by ISAF-NATO forces, is that unless you control the territory you cannot put down the infrastructure that builds up the outreach of the state. And control is achieved by a correct strategy of military deployment as a means of political negotiation and a facilitator of economic development. The political administration in the Tribal Areas is being revived and the special laws for FATA are being revised too. The real battle is for territorial control. All reforms will follow when that is achieved.