Peace, prosperity and progress for tribal people — by Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed

What is utterly disgraceful is the fact that women have been effectively and comprehensively denied their right to education by both commission and omission. Nowhere is this fact more glaringly manifest than in FATA

My recent discussion of tribal society and culture in the Daily Times evoked several e-mail responses by people curious to know what can be done to prevent that region and its people being drawn into the midst of violent conflicts.

Most immediately the thing that comes to mind is to see to it that peace is established. That is easier said than done but it is a precondition for other things to happen. The militant madrassas must be dismantled, all foreigners hiding there expelled, and terrorist activities brought to an end. South Waziristan has already been pacified but North Waziristan remains volatile. The general understanding that if the groups there do not attack Pakistan then they are some sort of strategic asset — a strange term really because time and again it has been proved that extremism and terrorism can never be contained and used with impunity. In the short run, yes, but ultimately the chickens come home to roost.

Along with the establishment of peace in the tribal areas, drastic measures need to be taken to end their isolation from the rest of the country. I would say, abolish the so-called Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), integrate them in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and extend the constitution and laws of Pakistan to them. The difference between the people of the settled areas and those who continue to live in the hilly areas is quite noticeable. FATA is anything but a region that the central government directly administers in an active sense with a view to rectifying its backwardness and underdevelopment. The contrary is true. Since 1849, this region and its people have been a pawn in the power games first played between Imperial Britain and Afghanistan and later between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It has been a region of sublime neglect though nothing has been sublime about it except the neglect, which left the people far behind the rest of the Pakistani population.

If we just look at literacy rates then in 2003 the overall literacy for both sexes for Pakistan was 43.92 percent, for males 35.41 percent and for females 17.42 percent. For males only for the whole of Pakistan it was 54.81 percent, for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 51.39 percent and for FATA 29.51 percent. With regard to females, the figures are really shocking at all levels. At the all-Pakistan level it was 32.0 percent, for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa 18.82 percent and for FATA merely three percent. Pakistani literacy figures are generally misleading because the criterion has not changed in any meaningful sense from the beginning — anyone who can read and write his/her name is recorded as literate. What is utterly disgraceful is the fact that women have been effectively and comprehensively denied their right to education by both commission and omission. Nowhere is this fact more glaringly manifest than in FATA.

In contemporary society, the level of education is a good indicator of the overall socioeconomic development in a country. Those who are denied education are more likely to be poor and at the bottom of the social stratification obtaining in a society. Such people are more likely to succumb to nihilistic worldviews and ideologies. Why I say more likely and not certainly is because human behaviour continues to baffle us both in terms of its constancies as well as deviations.

After all, the al Qaeda volunteers who carried out the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were all educated. Education by itself is no magic pill against extremism; in fact it can sometimes create highly motivated terrorists. Sri Lanka had amazingly high literacy rates — 90 percent — and yet that island witnessed one of the bloodiest ethnic wars. Similarly, the bloody civil war that took place in the former Yugoslavia took place in the background of nearly 100 percent literacy. Other examples can also be given.

Provision of education has to be part of a larger package that brings about all round economic development, modernisation of social values and a feeling that the government is fair and just. It is now established beyond any reasonable doubt that a social-democratic model, even for poor, resource-deficient societies, is the best way to ensure peaceful resolution of conflicts and create enough incentive to make most citizens shun extremism. Raw capitalism can never be the basis of social and political stability though the market is the best medium to generate wealth.

While the government certainly has the ultimate responsibility to ensure the welfare and well-being of its people, Pakhtun intellectuals have to play their historic role in creating a democratic culture that does away with those features of Pakhtunwali that militate against the equality of men and women and which primarily reproduce social inequalities. The government alone will never accomplish much if the Pakhtuns themselves continue to romanticise outmoded and rotten traditions and practices.

Although Punjab continues to receive the blame for all that went wrong in Pakistan, at least since the 1960s the Pakhtun share in the civil bureaucracy, military and industry has been rising. Therefore, it would not be right to assert that the Pakhtuns as a whole have been exploited by the Punjabis. Such an allegation is probably true for the way we have handled the Baloch though even there I would dare say that the Baloch tribal leaders could have demonstrated that they cared for their own people. This is done by providing them education and bringing women into the political movement.

Elsewhere in the world, liberation movements have increasingly combined the social and political questions. The Nepalese Maoists played an important role in liberating women by letting them join the struggle. Nepalese women in large numbers joined the guerrilla movement primarily to break out of the shackles of poverty and conservative culture. Similarly, Latin American and Indochinese revolutionaries have always given priority to the spread of literacy and the emancipation of women.

The tribal people have had enough of reactionary ideology and a moribund culture that always hold them back. Therefore, once peace is secured, economic, educational and cultural inputs would be needed to transform the tribal areas into zones of peace, prosperity and progress.

Ishtiaq Ahmed is a Visiting Research Professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) and the South Asian Studies Programme at the National University of Singapore. He is also Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Stockholm University. He has published extensively on South Asian politics. At ISAS, he is currently working on a book, Is Pakistan a Garrison State? He can be reached at

Source: Daily Times



Latest Comments
  1. Mansoor Khalid
  2. Zainab Ali