There is a disconnect between the people of FATA and the state. The suspicions of the locals and their lack of trust in the state make winning hearts and minds difficult. The state looks towards the nonexistent traditional tribal elders, or maliks, to reach out to the people. Political parties, which are the main vehicle of connecting people with each other and the state, have been permitted to operate but are still too weak to assert themselves. That is why the state’s policies and actions – military, administrative and political – are not based on ground realities, but on a mistaken reading of the situation.
It needs to be understood that the people of FATA have not risen in any sort of a revolt or insurgency. It is a territory under the effective occupation, or if that word is too strong, effective control of forces inimical to the state and society of Pakistan, including the tribal areas. Therefore, the aim of all policies and actions should be to free that territory and stop these enemy forces from using it against Pakistan and other countries. The challenge in FATA is part of the challenge of terrorism and extremism all over Pakistan. Punishing the common people for being unable to fight these occupiers is bad policy.
Military action cannot succeed if it does not differentiate between civilians and occupiers, and if it continues to differentiate between good Taliban and bad Taliban. It is also vital to educate the security personnel that their job, especially in territory under their control, is not securing an occupied enemy territory but securing a freed territory. The people of these territories are your people, not civilians of an enemy territory under your occupation. Reports from Swat as well as FATA show Pakistani armed forces are behaving like an army of occupation or at least some locals view them as such.
Negotiations with the opponents are not unusual in a war, but you only negotiate with the enemy when you or the other side are ready to surrender. And the opponents are not the common people of FATA, therefore tribal jirgas and other such means are irrelevant.
A political resolution of the conflict does not mean negotiations with the occupiers, but engaging the people in a way that denies political space to the terrorists. Political parties and elected parliamentarians from FATA need to be part of all deliberations, gradually replacing the malik. A policy that aims at the impossible task of reversing social change and reviving the outdated tribal system will not work. It is not a question of whether that system was good or bad, but simply of accepting irreversible socioeconomic evolution. Development work in FATA should be owned by the people, and not seen as a bribe being from outsiders.
To conclude, the problem in FATA is one of the many manifestations of the fundamental problem with the state of Pakistan. That problem is a consequence of the undemocratic basis and development of the state and society of Pakistan. Counteractive measures must begin with correcting the relations between Islamabad and Rawalpindi and between the provinces and Islamabad. The responsibility of saving Pakistan lies with all the people inhabiting all its territories with all their diversities, and not with the self-chosen few sitting pretty in the corridors of power.
The author is associated with the Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar