Fata: a litmus test - Ayaz Wazir - Thursday, April 28, 2011

The writer is a former ambassador who belongs to Fata.

The tribal areas of Pakistan will be the litmus test for what the prime minister said during his recent visit to Afghanistan. Although the winds of change have been blowing in Afghanistan for the last 40 years, there has been no change in the adjoining tribal areas of Pakistan. Let us be optimistic, even at the cost of deceiving ourselves - let’s believe that this time, the government is serious about bringing change in its policy towards Afghanistan which will have a direct bearing on Fata.

This visit being the second in four months is in itself an indicator of the importance that the government attaches to its relations with Afghanistan. Inclusion of the army chief and DG ISI in the prime minister’s delegation has demonstrated the fact that the civil and military establishment are now on the same page in terms of dealing with the situation in Afghanistan.

The visit could be ground-breaking in view of what the prime minister said in his press conference at Kabul. It should be an Afghan-led solution, a home-based solution and no outside formula, he said while talking about the problems in Afghanistan. It appeared as though, for the first time, each side’s concerns were being addressed and a new chapter was being written in the history of relations between the two countries. Those who keep a close eye on development in the areas knew that the civil and military authorities were not on the same page, but what the prime minister said negated this impression.

Both countries have a long history of mutual distrust, suspecting interference by each other’s intelligence agencies in their internal affairs. The Afghans have been more vocal in expressing these reservations accusing the ISI of being responsible for the fast deteriorating situation in their country. This was evident in a meeting recently held in Islamabad between members of parliaments of the two countries. The emphasis of the Afghan side was on the need for close cooperation between intelligence agencies which they thought would lead to improvement of relations between the two governments. It is interesting to note that while people to people contacts have always remained excellent, relations between the two governments have not been free of acrimony.

Another factor contributing to this distrust has been Pakistan’s reservation over the increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan. During his visit to Islamabad, President Karzai tried to assuage this concern through a statement terming Pakistan and Afghanistan as conjoined twins, not separable from each other, whereas India was declared just a friend.

The prime minister reciprocated in a befitting manner in his recent visit to Kabul and his utterances of an Afghan-led solution free of an outside formula must have sounded like music to Karzai’s ears. The timing of the visit was perfect for such a gesture, as relations between the ISI and the CIA have taken a new turn and are no longer as trouble-free as before, or as they should have been after the Raymond Davis episode, and also considering the cold shoulder given to the DG ISI in Washington.

Leon Panetta, director CIA, had told Gen Pasha that it was his fundamental responsibility to protect the American people, and he would not halt operations that supported that objective. I wish our rulers had felt similar emotions when deciding to fight somebody else’s war on our own soil. We still have time to demonstrate that resolve, and steer toward a path independent of foreign influence.

The propping up of India by the US while dealing with the situation in Afghanistan and in countering influence of China and Russia in the region may have been another factor influencing Islamabad’s decision to revisit its policy – if it can be called so at this stage – towards Afghanistan.

The policy that Pakistan has followed so far has neither enabled Islamabad to achieve its objectives nor has it benefited the country politically or economically in terms of its foreign relations. Pakistan instead witnessed political isolation and economic sanctions encouraging its financial dependence upon powers that it joined as a front line ally in the war on terror but who keep repeating the “do more” mantra without any understanding or regard for our constraints or interests.

Peace will not return to the area nor will prosperity visit the region without close cooperation between Kabul and Islamabad. Gwadar will not become a hub of economic activity unless Afghanistan is in peace. Only a peaceful Afghanistan can make our dream of having a reliable overland link with the Central Asian Republics come true. It would thus be appropriate only if the policy line, as indicated by the prime minister, is put into practice without further delay.

The tribal areas, as we all know, share many similarities with Afghanistan. In addition to historical, religious, ethnic and cultural links, the two have a unique relationship in the sense that a situation in one affects the other immediately. It will thus be prudent on the part of the government to reconsider its policy towards Fata, of which there are no signs, and to agree to the demands of the tribesmen of having a person amongst them as governor who should have a council of two elected/selected tribesmen from each tribal agency (to give representation to each tribe) to run the day to day affairs. It should also amend the FCR forthwith and initiate, at the same time, mega developmental projects in the area. The governor and his council must not be impeded in their function by the army or else that will be another exercise in futility.

If the government is serious about what our prime minister said in Kabul, and so far we have no reason to suspect otherwise, then it should take the first steps in Fata by decolonising it, giving its people the right to manage their own affairs. This will send positive signals to the people across the Durand line that Islamabad is serious this time about winning the hearts and minds of the people across the border. This in turn may also lead to permanent friendship between the two people, a desire of which the COAS made mention in his address at Nato’s headquarters in Brussels.

Once friendship is established and confidence built, it will pave the way for peaceful resolution of the problem on a permanent footing. Only then can Gwadar port be linked with the riches of the Central Asian Republics and turn the area into a trade centre of the world.

Acting upon what the prime minister articulated in Kabul would be a win-win situation for all. Fata will have self-rule like other provinces in the country, Afghanistan will have peace, Pakistan will have strategic friendship instead of non-existent “strategic depth”, and the US with its other allies in Nato, will have reasons to begin the long awaited withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

Email address: waziruk@hotmail.com

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=43937&Cat=9

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