Back in 1968, while Dictator Ayub Khan and his courtiers celebrated what they called the Decade of Development, students and outraged citizens erupted into agitation over much of the country. East Pakistan (as it then was), Karachi, interior Sind, parts of former NWFP… but not, as it seemed, the Punjab. This enormous region remained silent, even complacent.
One weekend, a group of Rawalpindi students visited Landi Kotal, in FATA’s Khyber Agency. Heading back, they were stopped at a Customs checkpoint near Attock and the smuggled cigarettes, socks, shirts and bolts of cloth they had bought in Landi Kotal Bazaar were confiscated. Worse, in the process, they were badly roughed up by the police guards of the Customs officials. One of these youngsters was a student leader, who had recently joined the newly formed Pakistan People’s Party. Arriving back in Rawalpindi, they staged a protest against the treatment they had received. The protest swelled to a sizable agitation against police heavy-handedness. The police tried to quell the agitation. Shots were fired. A youngster fell dead.
[quote]There was honour, even in the Thieves’ Bazaar in those days![/quote]
The rest is history. The hitherto somnolent masses of Punjab now also rose, alongside other regions, in the mass uprisings that constituted the near-Revolution of 1968-69. But that near-Revolution is not the subject here. My point of departure is the “duty free shopping” these students had enjoyed in Landi Kotal. Foreign cloth, cigarettes, garments and consumer durables were easily and relatively cheaply available, in a time of strict import controls, to the ladies and gents from around the country who travelled to Landi Kotal, Bara and other proximate portions of the Tribal Areas. On one particular visit to Bara, a colleague of this correspondent bought an air-conditioner and a refrigerator. Nor did he have to carry them back, as they were discreetly delivered to his home in Karachi a week later. A certain Karachi businessman claimed that all the household items in his daughter’s prodigious jahez were so acquired and delivered. There was honour, even in the Thieves’ Bazaar in those days!
The Tribal Areas of FATA and PATA were originally constructed by the British Raj as a kind of political moat between their recently annexed province of Punjab and the political wilderness of Afghanistan, itself a buffer between the Tsarist and British empires. The British had signed agreements with each tribe independently, recognizing tribal areas as zones where the tribes would ostensibly live their lives according to their own customs, but in fact under the “guidance” of a political agent. My grandfather was one such political agent, through whom the Raj pursued a clandestine forward policy against the progressive Afghan ruler Shah Amanullah – a process in which Shah Amanullah lost his throne to the bandit Bacha Sakka and my grandfather lost his life.
[quote]They collected taxes with greater effectiveness than the FBR has ever managed in Karachi or Lahore[/quote]
The point being asserted is that these areas were not merely “ungoverned spaces”, but regions meant to be used for specific imperial strategies. As a successor state to the Raj, Pakistan did not automatically inherit this relationship with the tribes, since the Indian Independence Act provided: “There lapse also any treaties or agreements in force at the date of the passing of this Act”. However, the founding fathers of Pakistan, perhaps believing that the tribes should not be dragged unprepared into the modern nation-state, sought a path of gradualism.
It is widely believed that Mr Jinnah himself gave a solemn pledge to the tribes not to interfere in their internal affairs in exchange for their joining Pakistan. In fact, the Agreements with the tribes were signed piecemeal from November 15th to 22nd, 1947, by the political secretary Colonel ASB Shah on behalf of Mr Jinnah. The Maliks promised allegiance to Pakistan in return for specified allowances and benefits.
Thus, there came into existence these odd administrative entities, whose initial claim to fame, in the eyes of most Pakistanis, was as conduits for petty smuggling and car theft. The point is that the agreements negotiated by Colonel Shah were never intended to be permanent – or perhaps even long term – but would and should have evolved towards more normal governmental structures. This did not happen.
Came the regime of the satanic usurper Ziaul Haq and a darker side of the tribal areas emerged. On a trip to Bara market in the early 1980s, I personally observed a large shop with counters on two opposite sides. One counter retailed firearms, including automatic weapons, ammunition and hand-grenades. The other counter displayed deadly polythene packets of heroin. “He profits from selling two kinds of death,” I recall thinking, as the bearded shop-keeper left his establishment at the afternoon call to prayer, “How dares he to face his Maker?”
These dark trades were a by-product of the fact that the tribal areas were now being used, as in my grandfather’s time, for intervention in Afghanistan – this time by the US-Saudi-Pakistani so-called Jehad. Tribal leaderships de facto passed from the Maliks to the Mullahs whom the government armed for its Afghan adventure. Whatever little authority the Pakistan state possessed here disappeared.
Coming into the present century, General Musharraf and his provincial creature, the MMA, struck major deals with the militant Mullahs, effectively granting them control over much of FATA. The leaders and warriors of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, including Ayman al-Zwahiri and Mullah Omar, driven from Afghanistan by the NATO forces in 2002, established new operating bases in Pakistan. In 2003, the Egyptian cleric Sheikh Essa relocated to Mirali in North Waziristan and inspired the emergence of Takfiri militancy, which considers all ‘non-practicing Muslims’ to be infidels. This of course includes most Pakistanis. The venom spewed by Sheikh Essa has galvanised extremist forces that seek to militarily carve out ‘Islamic Emirates’ in Pakistan’s north-west. The militant Mullahs, established primitive courts and a crude police service. They collected taxes with greater effectiveness than the FBR has ever managed in Karachi or Lahore.
It is an unstated assumption of the present Negotiations that the TTP enjoys near-sovereign status in important parts of FATA. One highly undesirable consequence (there are many others also) will be to hasten the conversion of this de facto effectiveness into de jure sovereignty.
The point is that the FATA entity has been allowed to persist for too long and perhaps for the most dubious of reasons. It must be wound up as a separate political and administrative entity, for the sake of its own unhappy inhabitants and the rest of the country. But what is to take its place and under which legal-constitutional framework? One has not yet heard any authoritative pronouncements on these questions; indeed, even the questions themselves have not been articulated.
Clearly, we need a vision and a holistic process, comprising a mix of military, political, administrative and ideological initiatives. Does this involve Negotiations? Certainly, but not this feeble ‘bargaining’, born of a peace-at-any-price mentality.