VIEW : FATA cleanup: now or never — Muhammad Zubair
Pakistan has almost completely surrendered its control over FATA, especially the two Waziristans, to the militants of all brands and nationalities from all around the world
The US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta has once again demanded from Pakistan to take necessary steps for dismantling the safe havens of militants in FATA who are frustrating stabilisation efforts in Afghanistan. The Secretary has also indicated that the US is losing patience over Pakistan’s unwillingness to clean the tribal areas and went so far as to say, “We are fighting a war in the FATA, we are fighting a war against terrorism.” These remarks are very unusual in diplomatic parlance and show that the boiling water is now pouring out of the pot. No doubt, the US has remained busy in fighting a war against al Qaeda and other militants in FATA through its drones for quite some time, but saying it explicitly in so many words is a clear departure from the past.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry has responded by issuing a statement that is completely out of touch with reality. It has reiterated the same old script: “Pakistan has repeatedly said it will not allow its territory to be used against any country, nor will it allow any safe havens on its territory.” It has further added that Islamabad will “follow its own timeline” and strategy on operations against militants.
The fact of the matter is that Pakistan has almost completely surrendered its control over FATA, especially the two Waziristans, to the militants of all brands and nationalities from all around the world. Pakistan’s military presence in the two Waziristans is possible only due to the agreements with local Taliban commanders: Hafiz Gulbahadar in the Utmanzai Wazir area of North Waziristan and Mullah Nazir in the Ahmadzai Wazir area of South Waziristan, especially the Wana valley. Army personnel have to seek permission from the local Taliban for fetching water from the nearby streams for use of the troops and for movement of army convoys from place A to B in these areas. Due to heavy bombing on and complete destruction of infrastructure in the Mehsud areas of South Waziristan in the October 2009 army operation and resultant displacement of people of the area to settled districts, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has also relocated to North Waziristan.
North Waziristan now houses the TTP, al Qaeda, Haqqani network, south Punjab-based militant organisations of all brands, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Mujahideen-e-Khorasan and other international organisations and militants. All these militant organisations are involved in carrying out cross-border attacks on NATO, American and Afghan forces in Afghanistan. Some of them, like the TTP and Punjab-based militant organisations, have also been attacking Pakistani troops and innocent local tribal civilians in almost daily bombings in FATA and the rest of Pakistan. It is a regular and normal feature of daily life for people in the two Waziristans to keep on observing dead bodies of the shaheeds (martyrs), arriving for burial, killed in cross-border terror attacks in Afghanistan.
Under the agreements between the Pakistan army and Hafiz Gulbahadar and Mullah Nazir, the latter are given carte blanche authority to recruit militants, give them training, harbour all the above-named militant organisations and send their fighters into Afghanistan as long as they do not attack the Pakistan army, its convoys and installations in return. Hafiz Gulbahadar of North Waziristan has given shelter even to those organisations like the TTP and others that have been and still are involved in attacking the armed forces and innocent Pakistanis. This has not affected the terms of his agreement with the Pakistan army.
In the given situation, the statement of the foreign ministry is nothing but a mockery of the facts on the ground when it asserts Pakistan would not allow its territory to be used against any country or allow it to be used as safe havens by terrorists. The fact is Pakistan does not have a writ over FATA and whatever control it has has been granted to it by the Taliban in lieu of allowing, rather assisting, them in cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s statement that it would follow its own timeline and strategy on operations against the militants is nothing but reiteration of its long held position, which would of course be interpreted as its refusal to do anything about North Waziristan and let the status quo continue. It will inevitably lead to continuation and intensification of drone attacks, as we are already witnessing.
Pakistan as a state appears to be acting like a suicide bomber who is on the course of killing himself as well as causing maximum damage to others. The military establishment needs to do some soul searching and revisit its policy towards the militants for its own sake, if not for others. Cleaning of the tribal areas of the militants is mandatory not only for bringing peace to the said areas and stability to Afghanistan, but also Pakistan as a whole. Pakistan cannot continue hunting with the hounds and running with the hare anymore. Enough of it has been done for the last decade and the international community is not ready to tolerate it any further. The secrecy of double-crossing the US stands busted. The world is indeed losing its patience with Pakistan. Imagine what will happen if another 9/11 or 7/7 happens and it is traced to FATA. Who will be responsible for the unimaginable miseries and destruction that will follow? It is high time for unemotional introspection, soul searching and reconsideration.
By not cleaning up the tribal areas, Pakistan has not only isolated itself from the international community but is also alienating its all-weather friend like China. China has also recently urged Pakistan to take effective measures to stop the activities of East Turkistan Islamic Movement militants present in FATA.
Pakistani strategists must not look at the post-US withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan with the spectacles of 1989. The recent long-term strategic partnership agreement between the US and Afghanistan should be an eye-opener. It should be clear that the stakes of the United States, China and India in Afghanistan are also against a Taliban takeover. In fact, China has also signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan. Pakistan, therefore, should not put all its eggs in the Taliban basket on the basis of strategic miscalculation. It must act now or be ready for international isolation.
The writer is an assistant professor of Law at the University of Peshawar, Pakistan. Presently, he is a PhD scholar at the Maurer School of Law, Indiana University, Indiana, USA and can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org