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IN THE PICTURE ABOVE: Lieutenant Faiz Sultan from the elite Bawanja Battalion of the Piffer Regiment which is one of the finest infantry battalions of Pakistan Army, photographed here with Pakistani children in Mohmand Agency. He received 22 bullets in his chest while leading an attack on terrorists who came from Afghanistan, on 11 June 2009.
Why half a million Mehsuds were turned into refugees in their own country? Why the Wazirs were stopped from selling their fruits in the markets of their own country? Do we need to keep on killing and destroying our own people in the pursuit of this unending and unwinnable war?
Monday, 20 September 2010.
Let us take stock of the past nine years that we have been fighting the “war on terror” in Pakistan’s tribal areas and gauge what we have achieved. Have we brought peace to the area by fighting somebody else’s war? Have we made the tribal areas more developed than before? Have we made the areas safer? Have we made daily life easier and more comfortable for Fata residents since the launching of the operations? If not, then shouldn’t we reconsider our options and not insist on finding a solution through military means?
If the US is trying to put a positive gloss on its exit strategy by entering into negotiations with the Taliban, why should we not engage in dialogue with our own nationals to bring them back to the mainstream?
Enough killing and destruction have taken place in the tribal areas. The trust deficit between the government and tribesmen is widening with every passing day. Very little link is left between the state and Fata. Let us not push the people even further to the point of no return.
The federal government and the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have conducted enough unsuccessful experiments in Fata with little regard for what the local people think. The solution to the problem lies in Fata, and not in Islamabad or Peshawar. Hand over Fata’s affairs to its people and let them solve their basic problems for themselves, and the country. It is they who have everything at stake, and not those sitting in the palatial houses in these two cities.
The people of Fata have proved their loyalties on many occasions and they do not need a certificate on this from anyone. Let them solve their own problems, and help them bring prosperity to the area on their own, with the government providing them with the resources provided by the West for the development of that area. The federal government and the government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa have failed in the past and are bound to fail again, and in the process the tribesmen will suffer still more.
Do we need to keep on killing and destroying our own people in the pursuit of this unending and unwinnable war, or should we resort to negotiations through which we can bring peace and prosperity to the region and the country? There is no other solution. And every reasonable person would opt for a swift solution of the problem than for its continuation, because external forces desire that.
A full-scale military operation was launched last October against militants in the Mahsud area of South Waziristan Agency. This was not the first time that an operation was conducted in that area. At the time a similar offensive was carried out in 2007, claims were made that when it is concluded the area will have been cleansed of militants. Around half-a-million Mahsuds were turned into internally displaced people, without arrangements for provision of basic necessities to them like food or shelter. These IDPs, who were not made aware that the operation would entail death and destruction on an immense scale, braved all problems and put up with untold sufferings in the vain hope that the areas would soon be made peaceful for them to return to their homes.
Almost a year has passed since the last operation but there are no signs of the restoration of a situation where the IDPs can return home without fear. Through the Political Agent, the government tried its best to persuade the Mahsuds to return home and constitute a lashkar to deny access to the militants. This in itself is an admission of the fact that the militants have neither been defeated, let alone eliminated, as was claimed some time after the operation was launched.
Since its objective was not to be achieved, the question arises as to what was the need for such an operation. People forced to become IDPs in their own country, only to learn that the militants had not been wiped. If the operation was meant only to destroy the terrorists’ hideouts or destroy their training camps, that could have been done without havoc being wreaked on the local population.
And while the operation was conducted in the Mahsud area, the Wazirs have suffered equally. The road via Jandola, linking Wana with the rest of the country, has been closed. No alternative route was left open to them to travel to any other place, except for travel to Afghanistan via Angoor Ada or to go all the way through Balochistan to reach other parts of the country—a journey which is not only long but also dangerous.
The Wazir area in South Waziristan is well known for the cultivation of some of the best fruits and vegetables, including apples, apricots, plums and tomatoes. Because of the road closure, the locals could not transport their fruit and vegetables to the markets in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The Wazirs have suffered heavy financial losses because they could not bring their produce to the market in time.
The road from Tank via Gomal Zam has been opened for traffic to Wana, but the security checks make travel on it insufferable. Because of unnecessary checking on too many points on the road, a journey of three hours takes more than eight hours. The chief of the army staff issued instructions for corrective action, taking note of the problems faced by the people which I had mentioned in my article published in The News on May 3. However, despite his instructions the security checks remain intact. This can only contribute to the worsening of the trust deficit between the army and the local people which the army chief is trying so hard to remove.
It was heartening to hear from the new corps commander in Peshawar that his emphasis was on winning the hearts and minds of the people through development and a friendly approach towards people. I wish he travels incognito on the road as a civilian, without an army escort, to see for himself the trouble that people have to endure in travelling from and to their homes.
These frequent security checks are not restricted to Waziristan. In Mohmand Agency a few days ago, a man going to his native village was humiliated at one of the security check posts. He happened to be a retired brigadier. This could have turned into an ugly incident had he not controlled his emotions. We need to see the corps commander turning his words into deeds. Only then will the tribesmen view the soldiers as fraternal sympathizers, rather than heartless virtual adversaries.
President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani repeat time and again that no effort will be spared to develop the tribal area so that it could be brought at par with the rest of the country. When are they going to live up to their words? We have not seen them taking any practical step since their assumption of power back in 2008, although lots of funds have been provided for this purpose by foreign governments.
Instead, the government has given palatial houses in Behria Town to MNAs and Senators from the Fata areas. One wonders as to what meritorious services they have rendered to deserve this special reward. Not only are these legislators not empowered to make or amend laws for their own areas, they did not even ask for such powers under the 18th Amendment. They enjoy the same perks and privileges as representatives from other parts of the country. They enjoy touring the country as federal ministers, but what they cannot do is to visit their own areas.
This report is extracted from a column by the author originally published by The News International. The author is a former Ambassador of Pakistan. Reach him at
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