Pakistan’s Tribal Areas: Appeasing the Militants
Pakistan’s Tribal Areas: Appeasing the Militants
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Keeping Turmoil at Bay in Pakistan’s Polarised Polity
Keeping Turmoil at Bay in Pakistan’s Polarised Polity
Report 125 / Asia

Pakistan’s Tribal Areas: Appeasing the Militants

Taliban and other foreign militants, including al-Qaeda sympathisers, have sheltered since 2001 in Pakistan’s Pashtun-majority Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), seven administrative districts bordering on south eastern Afghanistan.

Executive Summary

Taliban and other foreign militants, including al-Qaeda sympathisers, have sheltered since 2001 in Pakistan’s Pashtun-majority Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), seven administrative districts bordering on south eastern Afghanistan. Using the region to regroup, reorganise and rearm, they are launching increasingly severe cross-border attacks on Afghan and international military personnel, with the support and active involvement of Pakistani militants. The Musharraf government’s ambivalent approach and failure to take effective action is destabilising Afghanistan; Kabul’s allies, particularly the U.S. and NATO, which is now responsible for security in the bordering areas, should apply greater pressure on it to clamp down on the pro-Taliban militants. But the international community, too, bears responsibility by failing to support democratic governance in Pakistan, including within its troubled tribal belt.

The military operations Pakistan has launched since 2004 in South and North Waziristan Agencies to deny al-Qaeda and the Taliban safe haven and curb cross-border militancy have failed, largely due to an approach alternating between excessive force and appeasement. When force has resulted in major military losses, the government has amnestied pro-Taliban militants in return for verbal commitments to end attacks on Pakistani security forces and empty pledges to cease cross-border militancy and curb foreign terrorists.

The government reached accords with pro-Taliban militants in April 2004 in South Waziristan and on 5 September 2006 in North Waziristan. These were brokered by the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), the largest component of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), the ruling six-party religious alliance in Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Musharraf’s coalition partner in the Balochistan provincial government. Following the September accord, the government released militants, returned their weapons, disbanded security check posts and agreed to allow foreign terrorists to stay if they gave up violence. While the army has virtually retreated to barracks, this accommodation facilitates the growth of militancy and attacks in Afghanistan by giving pro-Taliban elements a free hand to recruit, train and arm.

Badly planned, poorly conducted military operations are also responsible for the rise of militancy in the tribal belt, where the loss of lives and property and displacement of thousands of civilians have alienated the population. The state’s failure to extend its control over and provide good governance to its citizens in FATA is equally responsible for empowering the radicals. The only sustainable way of dealing with the challenges of militancy, governance and extremism in FATA is through the rule of law and an extension of civil and political rights. Instead, the government has reinforced administrative and legal structures that undermine the state and spur anarchy.

FATA is tenuously governed because of deliberate policy, not Pashtun tribal traditions or resistance. Since 1947, Pakistan has ruled it by retaining colonial-era administrative and judicial systems unsuited to modern governance. Repressive structures and denial of political representation have generated resentment. To deflect external pressure to curb radicalism, the Musharraf government talks about reforms in FATA but does not follow through. Instead, appeasement has allowed local militants to establish parallel, Taliban-style policing and court systems in the Waziristans, while Talibanisation also spreads into other FATA agencies and even the NWFP’s settled districts.

It is equally important to generate broad-based economic development. Neglected for decades, FATA is one of Pakistan’s poorest regions, with high poverty and unemployment and badly under-developed infrastructure. Located astride the Afghanistan border and a major regional transit route, its economy is dependent on smuggling. Since the outbreak of the Afghan civil war, there has been enormous growth in drugs and weapons trafficking. Militancy and extremism in tribal agencies cannot be tackled without firm action against criminality. But for this, economic grievances must be addressed and the law of the land extended over and enforced in FATA.

Islamabad/Brussels, 11 December 2006

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