As the active military operation in the tribal belt is nearing completion, the focus of all involved stakeholders is shifting to sustainability. Maintaining stability and following up military actions with rehabilitative and inclusive policies has been at the forefront of recent statements from the top brass. Revitalised dialogue between Islamabad and Kabul reiterates this objective, as well as the strategic talks with the US. How feasible are these ambitions, and have they moved beyond platitudes into the realm of actionable policies?

Military offensives drive out the immediate threat, but they also drive out the existing population, and the attendant social order. This power vacuum needs to be filled with more than just boots on the ground. The US learned this the hard way; in Iraq it relied on its military’s strength to insure order, and once it retreated, it substituted it with a much inferior fighting force in the makeshift Iraqi army, which imploded like a house of cards. Pakistan’s ‘most successful’ counter insurgency in Swat has bought peace for the past five years, but only by maintaining a heavy military presence to date, with little evolution of civilian institutions. Clearly a vast military deployment would be unsustainable, which is why it must address the vacuum that exist in the war-ravaged valleys of FATA.

For its part the state is on the right track; it is engaging with the local tribes to solve the problem of extremism inside-out. It brought tribal leaders on board for the polio campaign, and employing the Momand tribe in Bajaur and Kunar to combat militants. On Friday, a grand jirga of elders of the Mamond tribe from both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border decided to curb border incursions by militants. While the exact ambit of this agreement is unclear, it can be observed that tribal cross border links, which served as an effective conduit for militant attacks, can be turned into an information network which monitors and roots out extremist elements better than the military ever could. It holds its next meeting in Afghanistan to symbolise the dual nature of this agreement. These actions, though highly commendable, throw the question of the Durand line into sharp relief.

The Pashtun and Baloch tribes that straddle the line have always treated it as an open border. Any attempt to physically demarcate the border has been met with resistance from the tribes and the afghan government, which has never accepted the boundary. Can the Momand tribe’s commitment to curb cross border incursion be indicative of acceptance?