Someone needs to sing paeans to the glory of a nation caught up in the tumult of a long war. For far too long the blighted nation has suffered the pains of paritcularisms and irredentisms of every hue, threatening to rip apart the binding glue of its nationhood. A nationhood weaned on the esoteric ideals of religious unity and forged in the smithy of a violent birth always struggled to exorcise the ghosts of proximate identities like ethnicity, social class, and provincialism with varying degrees of success. The nation lost half of the country alongwith a fair bit of ideological leaven binding its fabric in 1971, but failed to learn the relevant lessons. Pluralism, inclusivity, egalitariansm, and human security were desultorily sacrificed at the altar of gods of mammon, class interests, and national security. The result was a social segmentation and deprivation that the social scientists would fail to measure by such quantitative research tools like ER Index and Gini coefficient.
The national security that due to our threat matrix had trumped human security led us into military and political alliances that have taken a heavy toll on our national integration and human development. The list of disaffected and estranged communities has continually expanded to the accompaniment of our geo-strategic experiments where we happily privileged geopolitics over geo -economics. Some say that was necessary due to our security needs as the young nation encountered a clear and present danger to its existence at the hands of an aggressive neighbour in 1947. Partly right but mostly wrong our insistence on a security centered diplomacy drained the resources away from development leaving little to ameliorate the lot of common citizen. The public goods like water, air, health, and security progressively deteriorated leading to social segmentation, political alienation, and economic deprivation. The bad governance in a system grafted on Westminster polity yet based on a centuries old system of spoils further contributed towards a public alienation.
Our security imperatives and a proclivity to indulge religious extremism in deference to the services rendered by the religious outfits in the cause of strategic alliances with foreign powers led towards conflict commitments in our restive FATA region. The conflictual concomitant of our India policy was a hybrid war imposed upon us leading towards unrest in Balochistan, FATA, Karachi, and KP. As a small subset of the conflict matrix FATA and Swat exemplified the policy failures, state abetted militancy (MMA’s Swat policy) and a failure of socio-political plank of national security strategy. The military, one of the last remaining functional institutions of the country rose up to challenge the spectre of violence stalking once peaceful Swat Valley. The battle was long and bloody exacting a heavy toll in terms of precious civil and military lives.
Swat and the contiguous FATA districts were sanitized of the militant presence when the army and FC troops combined to undertake clear, hold, and build operations. The collateral damage like in all wars was the disruption of the routine civilian life. A large number of refugees streamed into army run IDP camps where they were given shelter and livelihood support. Malala Yusufzai cut her intellectual teeth under one such camp where a local army formation took special care of her education. Several of her written drafts were corrected in the camp under army’s tutelage. There were several Malalas however who benefitted from this sheltered existence amidst the tumult of war all around. It was a war born of a compulsion and had the full backing of the locals of the area whose lives had been taken over by a reign of terror spawned by the local blackguards in the garb of Islamic evangelists.
The army soon found another bloody avocation. This time it was the fearsome Waziri and Mehsud land about which Winston Churchill had remarked,“The Pashtun tribes are always engaged in private or public war. Every man is a warrior, a politician and a theologian. Every large house is a real feudal fortress….Every family cultivates its vendetta; every clan, its feud. Nothing is ever forgotten and very few debts are left unpaid.” After much dithering and policy reversals finally army overcame its ambivalence while a timorous civilian leadership looked askance. Zarb-e-Azb that was launched with such elan and panache by the brave young men against feral TTP militants was the defining moment when army stepped in to sanitize the area of militant presence under popular public demand in FATA.
Not many in Pakistan know or care to remember that the militants had virtually taken over the state functions in most of the FATA where Islamic emirate of Pakistani Taliban had established itself under the brand name of TTP. These Taliban were mostly the locals with a smattering of the new kids on the militancy block representing Afghanistan, Punjab, violent sectarianism, and plain crime. Religion was used as a justification for the violent acts when TTP ousted the state functionaries from region’s administrative scheme. The old institution of “Maliks” or the tribal elders was deprived of its strength due to predation of the new TTP power elite. The carefully crafted administrative system that relied on a triad of Pakhtunwali, Rewaj, and Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR) was unraveled while the government writ progressively waned.
Now when the army entered the fray the population hailed them as saviours. Those who welcomed army included the fathers and mothers of the present day “Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement” (PTM) activists. Why did this change of heart take place amongst those who once hailed army as a deus ex machina? The answer lies in the reality of war and the slothful government response. All wars are a national endeavor. Shorn of civilian government’s support every military operation would degenerate into mindless blood fest. All wars lead to destruction and disturbance of civilian infrastructure. FATA operations were no exception. Where the whole concept went awry was the lack of integrated national planning and execution of FATA operation. An army that had jumped into fray under popular demand after APS tragedy had left the civilian component too far behind.
After war in FATA turned like all other wars with destruction of public property and disruption of normal lives, the pain was felt mostly by the affectees of the war. The destroyed homes, shops, clinics, and schools took inordinately long to rebuild despite valiant efforts by one institution. Soon the initial welcoming attitude turned sour as the long war in FATA wore on interminably. A new generation grew up smarting under the pains of refugee camp lifestyle and the restricted liberties. Checkpoints, searching of women, and lack of livelihood opportunities further alienated the young generation tired of the perpetual war in FATA. PTM emerged as an embodiment of the politico-economic grievances of the angry young generation of Pakhtuns. Protection of Pakhtun lives and civil liberties emerged as the clarion call by a nondescript group of political activists wearing red and black PTM caps. Manzur Pashteen, a young activist from South Waziristan emerged as a poster boy of PTM.
PTM’s narrative however soon lost its lustre when people realized that he was harping on themes of grievances with an ulterior motive under foreign dictation. During the latest South Waziristan anti-terrorist operation in which three hard core TTP militants were killed after a pitched battle of four hours, the security forces found written evidence and dress code items belonging to PTM. The linkage therefore is clear. RAW and NDS are openly supporting PTM through their spy network. The time has come to counter PTM’s narrative through a Pakistan Tahaffuz Movement. This movement should be aimed at strengthening national integration, improving human security, and taking control of the parched earth left undeveloped after the war on terror. It is time the civilian component jumped in to relieve army from governance and routine law enforcement duties in FATA.
Development should be the new norm in erstwhile war torn FATA with a very robust presence of civil administration, police/FC, and health institutions. The antediluvian tribal laws should be replaced by state laws applicable in the rest of the country. Educating this new generation about the true history of the country and exposing them to the real narratives rooted in patriotism and Pakistani nationhood should be accorded priority. For protection of Pakistan the civilian component of the state should take the lead now. The civil administration and police should be allowed to establish the writ of the government in FATA while army concentrates on the borders. The civilian administrators’ role should be critical in establishing a network of educational institutions that expose the FATA students to real geostrategic realities and regional politics.
It is time PTM got subsumed in a Pakistan Tahaffuz Movement. The end of tribal feuds and concomitant vendetta politics is something the government needs to focus on. For far too long people of FATA have endured the hardships of a war imposed upon them. It is time the state picked up the gumption to protect Pakistan from the depredations of internal as well external destabilizing agents.
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