Letting someone else rule the Tribal Areas

As Mr Shaukat Tareen, the finance advisor, makes his last-ditch efforts to arrange a $4.5 billion short-term bailout for the economy, PMLN leaders Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Raja Zafarul Haq have spoken at a press conference in Islamabad asking the government to set up a committee to implement the “consensual” resolution on national security. On the economic front, none of our “friends” has so far declared up front that it will bail out Pakistan with a bilateral loan. All aid is linked to Pakistan’s ability and willingness to fight its own war in the Tribal Areas to its logical conclusion. Therefore one hopes that the PMLN leaders have interpreted the National Security resolution in a broad sense and don’t simply insist on the cessation of military operations. The opposition leader in the National Assembly, Mr Nisar Ali Khan, has demanded a permanent “monitoring” committee of the parliament that should ensure the implementation of the resolution “in 48 hours”. He referred to a recent case of investigation of an engineering student and asked the government to stop victimising innocent people in the name of the war against terrorism. But Mr Khan’s reference to “two earlier occasions” when signed agreements were not implemented means that he fears that his party’s interpretation of the national security resolution may not be accepted by the government. This time, however, the text of the resolution is so broad and inclusive that the government can remain embarked on its current policy of giving full backing to the army in its operations in the Tribal Areas without being accused fairly of violating it. The “enemy” is watching the scene very carefully to see whether its position continues to be eroded because of the operations in Bajaur and Swat or dissension in Islamabad loads the dice in its favour once again.

The assumption behind support for the policy of cessation of operations — followed by negotiations with the Taliban-Al Qaeda combine — is that the Tribal Areas have become occupied by rebellious elements because of Pakistan’s unfair linkage with the American war in Afghanistan, and that a delinking from the Americans and Europeans in Afghanistan will at once pacify the territory east of the Durand Line and relocate the war inside Afghanistan once again with Pakistan sitting back comfortably and watching the show as it did in the 1990s. But nothing of this sort is going to happen.

The fundamental question here is whether Pakistan will allow its territory to be occupied and increasingly controlled by the rebels or militants or terrorists or try to do what all states must do: regain the writ of the state in the said region before force of practice over time gives the Taliban and Al Qaeda elements the right to retain control and negotiate an actual informal separation of the region from the rest of Pakistan. In other words, Pakistan is faced with the possibility of tacitly agreeing — through negotiation from a position of weakness — to allow someone else to rule the Tribal Areas under an agreement. But since Pakistan has kept the Tribal Areas in a kind of administrative limbo, the negotiators may be inclined to let “the local people run their territory” if they would leave the rest of Pakistan alone. This kind of arrangement will be based only after first assuming that the Taliban are our own people enraged by our change of policy in Afghanistan and that Al Qaeda actually does not exist. But the consequences of thus buying security for the rest of Pakistan by letting the Emirate of South Waziristan rule the Tribal Areas will be disastrous. The ideology under which the Tribal Areas will be ruled in such a situation will always be unsettling for the rest of Pakistan living under the 1973 Constitution and its Federal Shariat Court amendment that makes all laws Islamic. Indeed, in such a situation the “leakage” from the more stringent ideology of the Taliban would continue because of the presence of tens of thousands of madrassas in Pakistan and the dominance of the religious parties in the big cities. The MMA government in the NWFP had tried to but failed to import the Taliban brand of Islam through its Hasba Bill but today some parts of the province are under the de facto control of that law.

The consequences of “separating” the Tribal Areas in the hope that the war will shift into Afghanistan would be terminally damaging for Pakistan. The neighbours of Afghanistan will not allow a repeat of the 1997 and 1998 massacres of Mazar-e-Sharif when the Pashtun Taliban tried to complete their conquest of the non-Pashtun north. If the Tribal Areas of Pakistan continue to be used as a kind of “strategic depth” for war in Afghanistan, the rest of Pakistan will succumb to the school-burning and citizen-beheading ideology of the terrorists waiting to “negotiate” with us. (Daily Times)