"I've been to Waziristan. I can see how tough that terrain is. It's ruled by a handful of tribes", said Senator John S. McCain in a recent presidential debate
referring to Waziristan "agency" in Pakistan's FATA region.
Often described in the world media as "lawless" and "a terrorists sanctuary", Pakistan's FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) region, particularly Waziristan, has been the topic of news, discussions and presidential debates
in the United State this year. There are reports that President Bush has authorized US special ops covert strikes inside FATA. US presidential candidate Barack Obama has openly advocated US ground troops incursions and air strikes in FATA. While many Americans, including several prominent politicians and candidates for high offices, have heard about FATA, their knowledge appears to be very sketchy and completely inadequate for making potentially dangerous policy toward Pakistan. Even the "experts" and Washington think tanks do not fully understand or appreciate the consequences of FATA incursions by the US military. So what is FATA? What is its history? Who lives there? How is it governed or not governed? Can it turn into another Vietnam for the US troops? Let's try and discuss answers to these important questions.
What is FATA?
FATA is Pakistan's federally administrated tribal area. It is bordered by Afghanistan to the west with the border marked by the Durand Line, the North-West Frontier Province and the Punjab to the east, and Balochistan to the south. It is considered Pakistan's "wild west" where the inhabitants have always loved their guns and their freedom. The region, with its gun-loving culture, fierce independence and religious zealotry, was instrumental in Afghan Mujahedeen's successful resistance against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and the region contributed to the defeat and eventual fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. It became home to millions of Afghan refugees in the 1980s, many of whom grew up there. The region's seminaries (also called madrassahs) are believed to have given birth to the Taliban (literally meaning "students") who ruled Afghanistan until the US invasion of 2001.
The total population of the FATA is estimated at 3m Pashto-speaking people (Pashtoons or Pathans), or roughly 2% of Pakistan's population. The people of the region share common language, culture and tribal traditions with their kin across the border in Afghanistan. Region's inhabitants' tribal ties are stronger than their national identities. In many cases, the Pakistan-Afghan border (called the Durand line, drawn by the British colonial officials) divides the tribes between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Only 3.1% of the population resides in established townships. It is the most rural administrative unit in Pakistan.
FATA consists of seven "agencies", each nominally managed by Pakistan government's "political agents". The agencies are named Khyber, Kurram, Bajaur, Mohmand, Orakzai, North and South areas of Waziristan and six FRs (Frontier Regions) namely FR Peshawar, FR Kohat, FR Tank, FR Banuu, FR Lakki and FR Dera Ismail Khan. The main towns include Miranshah, Razmak, Bajaur, Darra Bazzar, Ghalanai as Head Quareters of Mohmand Agency and Wana .
FATA Governance Model:
FATA is constitutionally part of Pakistan, but the Pakistani constitution says that the country's laws do not apply there- unless the president of Pakistan specifically decrees otherwise in certain circumstances. The tribes rule by the age-old jirga system that makes rules and dispenses justice. This governance model was developed by the British colonial government based on treaties with the Pushtoon tribes, and continued unchanged after Pakistan's independence. It relies on Political Agents (PAs), appointed by the governor of NWFP (North West Frontier Province) on behalf of Pakistan's president. The PAs are the highest officials of the state of Pakistan in tribal agencies. They do not directly rule or administer, but they work with the tribal chiefs (maliks)
using carrots and sticks to influence the tribes' behavior. The PAs provide money, infrastructure support and other incentives to the maliks in exchange for cooperation. When such cooperation is not forthcoming, the PAs withhold funds, levy fines and, in rare circumstances, threaten the use of military force to bring them in line. The bottom line is that the system relies on the PAs cooperation with the maliks. Without it, the governance model falls apart. After repeatedly trying and failing to establish control, this system was codified by the British in Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) in 1901 and remains in force today. Like the colonial Britsh rulers of the past, no government in Pakistan has managed to take full control of FATA since the country's independence in 1947.
The American "Jihad" and FATA governance:
The joint American-Pakistani-Saudi inspired "Jihad" against the Soviet Union in the 1980s has fundamentally altered the power structure and governance in FATA. During this period, two new groups emerged to subvert the the traditional model: Military commanders and Mullahs. The military commanders who led the fight against the Soviets became increasingly powerful and influential because of their leadership abilities and competence as fighters and organizers. The mullahs, who were marginalized and ridiculed before the "Jihad", rose in status and influence because of the religious inspiration they provided for "Jihad". The power of the commanders and the mullahs was also bolstered by the large amount of funding from US, Saudi and Pakistani sources that they received and controlled in this period. The PAs and the maliks are no longer unchallenged as the de facto power brokers in FATA. The power is now more diffused.
Historically, the army only entered FATA at the invitation of the tribal leaders. More recently, however, the traditional tribal power structure has suffered powerful blows as the Pakistani military forcibly entered the tribal areas upon the urging of the Americans. These operations by Pakistani military have had very limited success at the cost of more than two thousand Pakistani soldiers' lives. The FATA tribesmen, familiar with the difficult terrain (rough and barren jagged hills, deep valleys, thousands of caves and mazes of tunnels) and having been well trained and equipped by the US and Pakistani special ops in the 1980s, have demonstrated their upper hand repeatedly in many encounters with Pakistani and US military along the Pakistan-Afghan border. According to various investigators and the press, most of the "militant" casualties claimed by US and Pakistani militaries have turned out to be non-combatants, often women and children, further fueling the anger and resentment of the locals.
US and Pakistani Options:
Clearly, the situation in FATA and Afghanistan must be dealt with to stop the Talibanization of the entire region with all its terrible consequences for the world. But the available options are not good. The use of raw, naked military power will not work. Turning this into a war between the US and Pakistan will only help Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Though long-term and difficult, the only viable and durable option for US and Pakistan is to try and restore the traditional role of the PAs and the maliks by strengthening their power and authority over their respective regions. This option will require a combination of lots of carrots and a few big sticks, with tremendous patience to achieve a lasting solution to one of the most difficult problems in the world. The FATA problems have developed in over two decades as unintended consequence of US-Pak-Saudi intervention in the Afghan "Jihad" of the 1980s. Quick and dirty solutions relying on powerful military force alone will quickly make the situation a lot worse than it is now.
Full-Scale US-Pakistan War:
Initially brief missions by US commandos in FATA will turn into a full-scale US invasion and war with Pakistan, leading to the US getting bogged down in a situation worse than Vietnam. Although it is a remote possibility, resort to tactical nuclear weapons by either Pakistan or the US or both sides can not be completely ruled out if the war gets very protracted and frustrating for all parties involved. Indian or Chinese intervention is also possible, even probable, if a large number of refugees start to pour out of Afghanistan and Pakistan into India and China. The law of unintended consequences
will prevail, unless we learn from our past mistakes.
Plea for Sanity:
With Pakistani and US media scrutinizing every US incursion into Pakistani territory, this dangerous game can easily unleash pent-up anger on both sides. For the sake of world peace and security in South Asia, I hope and pray that sanity will prevail in Washington and Islamabad before the US goes too far with its limited, covert commando raids into FATA.
Violence, Governance and Islam in Pakistan by Jochen Hippler
Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan
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