The Pakistan Army's campaign against the Mahsuds in South Waziristan is "unlikely to succeed in curbing the spread of religious militancy in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), unless the Pakistan government implements political reforms in that part of the country", according to a report from the International Crisis Group.
Pakistan: Countering Militancy in FATA argues that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has gained significant power in the tribal areas by dismantling or assuming control of an already weakened tribal structure. The reason for this success lies is short-sighted military policies and laws that date back more than 100 years to the colonial era.
The report says the military continues to rely on a two-pronged approach of sporadic strikes followed by negotiations with the militants, a strategy that ensures the militants gain in strength and influence.
In the midst of the latest military campaign and others in Bajaur and Khyber agencies, around a million FATA residents (out of around 3.5 million) have been displaced, with little provision being made for those affected.
The continuing fighting and lack of rights means that there is little chance of winning FATA tribesmen and their families over to form a broad coalition against the militants.
Instead of relying on the colonial era system of patronage and collective punishment, the Pakistan government "must enact and the international community, particularly the US, should support a reform agenda that would encourage political diversity and competition, enhance economic opportunity and extend constitutionally guaranteed civil and political rights and the protection of the courts."
Although President Zardari announced reforms back in August, nothing has yet happened. Those reforms, the ICG report says, should include repeal of the hated Frontier Crimes Regulation 1901, which legitimises collective punishment. FATA should be merged with the North West Frontier Province and become subject to national laws.
None of this will be easy, as the report's authors understand: "The state’s writ in FATA is tenuous by design. The military is averse to changing FATA’s ambiguous status since it has, since Pakistan’s independence, used this strategic region as a base to promote perceived interests in neighbouring Afghanistan through local and Afghan proxies."
That is surely the most important point. FATA is in the mess it is primarily because it has been useful for other agendas. Will that change? Will Pakistan military doctrine change? Not in a hurry.
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