23 February, 2011
By Ayaz Wazir
Possessing rich but untapped mineral wealth and having a 450-km-long border with Afghanistan, this strategically located area of Pakistan is still the most backward part of the country. With a population of over 10 million people it is undergoing the worst experience in its history. Economically neglected for centuries, with 90 per cent of its population living below poverty line, Fata is, once again, in the eye of the storm.
Having closely witnessed the moves of the two superpowers in the Great Game in its vicinity, the area remained peaceful. Even the Soviet invasion of bordering Afghanistan and the subsequent American occupation of that country did not disturb its peace and tranquillity. It was only in December 2003 when, at the behest of others, we decided to deploy troops in the tribal areas that peace was shattered and Fata set ablaze. Since then the area is in flames and peace became a dream of yesteryear.
There is no doubt that the main reason of the unrest in Fata is the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. But why has this kind of unrest affected only the tribal areas and not, say, Chitral and Balochistan, despite the fact that the latter has an even longer border with Afghanistan? The reason is obvious; Fata is governed through the infamous FCR (Frontier Crimes Regulations), whereas other areas in Pakistan are governed by the normal law of the land. The FCR puts a lot of restrictions on people and keeps Fata totally isolated from the outside world, whereas in the other areas people are free to interact with their fellow citizens for the safeguard of their collective interests. Fata is deprived of that privilege.
The people of Fata have no desire to continue being governed through the draconian laws of the FCR and thereby remain backward. It is because of the government functionaries who, wanting to rule Fata with impunity, recommend the continuation of this rotten system.
While we blame the people of Fata for providing shelter to the militants we forget to look into the role played by the system of the Political Agent. It kept the area backward, and over a period of time, turned it into a fertile ground for militants to operate from. Had they done their homework as their erstwhile colonial masters had done, they would have turned the area into an economic hub for the country. Even the provision of basic facilities to Fata’s residents would have been a big deterrence against the rise of militancy in that area.
As usual, our rulers did not learn any lessons from the past. They turned a blind eye to the rise of militancy in the area. This situation was fully exploited by militants and intelligence agencies of countries interested in the destabilisation of Pakistan. They found fertile ground in Fata to work in. The army reacted by launching operations, but very late in the day. By then the cancer has spread. It affected the whole body of the tribal areas and Fata soon became the epicentre of militancy.
The people of Fata are tired. After having rendered many sacrifices for Pakistan, right from the 1947 fighting for the liberation of Kashmir, they have IDPs in their own country. What have they received in return? They want change. They want education for their children and more accessible health facilities, but nobody listens.
The only change in Fata since the creation of the country has been the introduction of adult franchise in 1997, but without political parties being permitted. I believe this is the only place on the planet where adult franchise is allowed but political parties are banned. Elections without political parties never bring any change, of which Fata is a living example. Persons elected without a political platform or party manifesto do not feel responsible to anybody. They are not obliged to work under any parameters or rules. They are there only to explore every avenue to line their own pockets and derive the maximum benefits for themselves and their families. That is why Fata today suffers even more at the hands of elected representatives.
In a recent TV talk show, parliamentarians from Fata were confronted with the fact that they did nothing for the development of their areas. They blamed “those who matter,” including the president and prime minister, for Fata’s underdevelopment. It was a carefully planned policy, they said, to keep the tribal areas backward. While they blamed the president and the prime minister, they were reluctance to name the “forces” that were responsible for Fata being kept underdeveloped.
They had no convincing argument in answer to the question that while other parties (the JUI, the MQM, the Muslim League-N and the ANP) did get their demands accepted by the government as a quid pro quo for supporting the ruling party on any important issue, why were Fata members’ demands for the development of the tribal areas not fulfilled? And yet they kept on supporting the government and voting for it on critical issues?
After eight years of military operations in Fata, peace still remains elusive. No one’s life, property and honour is safe. Anything can happen to anyone at any time. The people there have hardly anything left to them. They have lost everything. They are tired of this situation. They want peace. They want facilities that are available to other citizens of the country. The tribal people – parliamentarians, intellectuals, retired and working civil and military government servants, the business community there, members of civil society and students – all want a change. They want to have a separate province where they can look after themselves like their brothers in other provinces of the country.
They want this change because people ruling them from outside Fata have completely failed to develop the area, and will not make that effort in the next 100 years. The people of Fata have no more patience, and are tired of the false promises of the government. It is not worth reminding the prime minister and the president of their promises to make changes in the FCR and to extend a political and economic reform package to Fata.
Islamabad and Rawalpindi have failed in resolving the problem of the people of Fata. The civilian leaders in Islamabad seem to be scared of visiting the area to interact with people so that the right solution can be worked out. Meanwhile, Rawalpindi is bent upon finding a solution only through the barrel of the gun. Neither attitude will ever lead to a solution of this protracted problem. It is high time that they listened to the people of Fata and gave them their due rights, to enable them to solve their problems themselves. This is the only option which will eventually lead to success and restore peace in the area.