We’re hearing great things these days. The sort that we long to hear but are seldom said. And even when these right words are spoken, there is usually not much truth or meaning behind them. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said that the state will enforce its writ in tribal areas. His government plans to start working on development once the ongoing operation has been successfully completed. On the other hand, DG ISPR has assured everyone that the ongoing operation will be indiscriminate and those who manage to escape will be tracked and eliminated later. So, what do we get when we put these two statements together? Something too good to be true.
Let’s start with Nawaz. What does he really mean when he talks about enforcing the writ of the state and ‘development’? Does it simply entail the military sweeping the entire area and the government rebuilding damaged houses and roads? That sounds awfully similar to what we’ve been doing till now, and failing. Writ of the state can only be enforced if it remains present. What other options, apart from heavy bombardment, are available for the state to make its presence felt? There is a need to redefine the broken relationship between the people of FATA and the state. You cannot abandon an entire region in the name of tribal culture and autonomy, leaving its people uneducated and deprived, and vulnerable to exploitation from outsiders as well as the state itself. Does the population of FATA hold a stake in the system like the rest of the country? It doesn’t, never has. The government will have to introduce legislation, which abolishes the FCR, paves the way for the necessary establishment of a new administration structure across FATA including courts and law enforcement, and brings the autonomous region into the fold of the constitution making it subject to its laws. Development should be guided by the long-term objective of integrating the tribal population into the mainstream which should include education, health services, employment, and not just a few new houses.
The military’s reassurances do not satisfy either. If the action is in fact indiscriminate and the objective really is to rid Pakistan’s territory of all terrorists, then why is the peace deal with Hafiz Gul Bahadur and co still intact? How come the Haqqanis haven’t said a single word when apparently, we’re going after them too? The military wants Afghanistan to hand over or act against Fazlullah who is allegedly residing in Khost province. Perhaps its time for the two neighbours to engage in a little give and take. Proxy wars aren’t in anyone’s interest, that much should be clear by now. Operation Zarb-e-Azb will end one day. Everyone will learn about its truth. It is hoped that it won’t be much different than what is being claimed by those calling the shots.