Where does the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) of Pakistan stand today in the ongoing talks and violence led by the Taliban and the State? What does the FATA want, in terms of the ongoing war against terrorism across the Durand Line? Do they support the Taliban, al Qaeda and the Teherik-e-Taliban Pakistan? Are the voices of common men in the tribal agencies being heard and discussed? Or the ongoing violence led by the Taliban and its franchisees have super-imposed a different debate over what the people in FATA want?
While the State and TTP are represented by the two Committees in the negotiations between the two sides, the wishes of common tribes in FATA seem to be ignored. With TTP and its sympathizers projecting themselves as the voice of local people in the region, it appears evident that the TTP has monopolized the debate in the FATA. And in this process, tribal institutions are either being undermined or completely broken by new actors.
Traditionally and historically, the Pashtun society of FATA has always been led by its elders and jirgas to settle issues – from personal to collective. From Alexander the Great to the British Empire, successive governments and rulers dealt with the Pashtun societies through the jirgas and elders. Decisions to fight, cease fire, provide protection to individuals and groups, and revoke them – until now have been collectively taken by the tribal multiple societies within the FATA. While personal issues within were debated by the concerned tribe, inter-tribal issues and conflicts were settled through the elders from both sides discussing through the jirgas. The same was applied to the discussions between the tribes and the State. Elders and Jirgas have remained the bedrock of conflict management and resolution within and between the tribes in FATA and between them and the State. Until now.
The tribal society how much ever violent and fiercely independent they remained throughout the history, decisions were collectively made through jirgas, with so much respect for the elders. Battles and truces – individual and collective, were primarily made by the Pashtun society, again through the above two institutions. In fact, this has been very much a part of their pashtunwali, which the entire society takes pride in.
Unfortunately, these two institutions seem to be fast losing their relevance today, in the ongoing conflict and violence between the Taliban and the State. Besides the destruction of these two institutions, the aspirations of majority in the FATA is being sidelined and usurped by a small minority, using guns and violence.
True, the tribal Pashtun society in FATA and across the Durand Line has their own version of customs and practices, which may not be justifiable in contemporary world. Certain practices pursued even today may look beyond reasoning. The truth also is a section amongst the rest, starting from British military historians, have projected the society as primitive and savage, as if they are only buoyed by violence and jihad. This is an incomplete picture of any anthropological and historical study of the Pashtun society.
Today, a substantial section within the FATA has been fighting for reforms – from education to administration, bringing the tribal society on part with the rest. From the demand to repeal the archaic Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and the Malik System established by the British and continued by the federal government in Islamabad, to the conversion of FATA into a province, the local civil society has been pleading for political reforms.
Subsequent governments in Islamabad and Peshawar failed to address this increasing demand, and allowed the existing institutions to rot and abuse. Much before the Taliban and the Mujahideen questioning the writ, the State itself was only happy to abdicate the same. Perhaps, it was too convenient for the State to do so, than to establish its own writ, thereby an effective administration in the FATA. The former needs a proactive strategy to bring the tribal society at par with the rest; while the latter needs nothing. The State can sit back, relax and do nothing; and all in the name of protecting age old traditions! Perhaps, it was also easier for the military and its ISI to let this space be ungoverned, so that it could be abused to achieve Islamabad and Rawalpindi’s objectives in Kabul.
Taliban, al Qaeda and the numerous foreign fighters then, and the TTP today is only making use of this failure of State to enforce its own writ. The TTP has made itself the sole spokesman of the FATA and the usurped of all the local debates through brute force. In fact, more than the American drones and Pakistani military operations, numerous innocent lives have been lost to the violence led by TTP. The suicide bombings that the Taliban carried out on funerals and tribal jirgas have not only killed numerous civilians, but also brutalized the tribal society.
More than the demand from the TTP, what is likely to prove crucial will be the State’s response. How far will the State go in yielding to TTP’s demands, especially relating to military operations, removal of security check posts and the imposition of Shariah?
The State has already yielded too much space to the TTP in the FATA. First and foremost, the State’s efforts to reach multiple deals with the Taliban during the last decade have made the militants a stakeholder in the tribal society. Until then, the State – from the British days, used to deal collectively with the tribal society led by the elders and jirgas, and impose order or demand punishment. Second, the State repeatedly failed to apply adequate military pressure on the militants, that too more because of the American intransigence. Otherwise, the military operations were selective and only for a short period. Operations in Swat were the only exception to the above trend. Worse, the State has turned a blind eye to the multiple killings and suicide bombings of innocent civilians by the Taliban in FATA.
If the ongoing talks today would end up in releasing the prisoners, and closure of military operations, that would be a huge victory for the Taliban in FATA and adjoining areas in KP. Worse, as a bargain and compromise, if the State agrees to the Taliban to a limited imposition of Shariah in the FATA, as the previous government did in Swat, it would be the most inhumane damage that the government could inflict on the tribal Agencies and its people. As if the people in FATA only deserve the Taliban and its dictates.
The State’s weakness, rather than TTP’s strength would start the unraveling of FATA. Perhaps, the process has already begun.
By arrangement with Rising Kashmir