Deprived of their basic human rights, the people of Fata have suffered for a long time and continue to be punished for sins they have not committed. The semi-independent status of the area ended with the events of 9/11. The army was deployed without consulting the tribesmen and in total disregard of the commitment of the Quaid which he had made in his address to them in Peshawar. Today, Fata which presents a grim look and has become more destitute than it was before. Every corner in every street and village bears the brunt of the operations which has brought barely any change in the safety and security dynamics for which the troops were deployed — except for clearing, albeit temporarily, some areas and denial of training camps to unwanted elements.
Those associated closely with the army, in one form or the other; support its deployment and subsequent operations in the area on flimsy grounds. One such argument that I heard was that the tribesmen not only welcomed deployment of the army but garlanded its officers upon arrival in the areas. What a naive way of looking at things indeed. They forget that in the past the colonial masters who entered the area bearing cannons were also greeted and garlanded on arrival. But what happened thereafter? Did that prevent the tribesmen from firing upon them in the dead of the night? Did that subjugate the tribesmen? Did the roads, bridges, hospitals and schools that they built change the hatred of the people for them? If not, then let us look afresh at the situation and take steps which can reverse the tide.
Let us examine the nine years of war to assess as to whether it has made the lot of the common man better or not. Everybody acknowledges that life in Fata was much better before the war on terror than it is today. It has made things difficult on all counts. The area has been turned into a war zone where death and destruction is everywhere.
The entire infrastructure for sustaining life including supply of daily provisions and communications is in shambles. Even the civil armed forces which used to mingle and interact freely with the people cannot do so anymore. The army was deployed in Fata mainly to stop infiltration of militants from across the western border. In the process it got entangled with its own people.
Another group associated with the political agent system in Fata views return of peace through revival/strengthening of that system. It’s yet another naïve way of looking at the problem. They easily forget the role played by that system in keeping Fata totally isolated from the rest of the country. We hardly see any civil servant leave a significant impact by undertaking projects of public interest. All of them had their own personal interests which they have looked after very well.The people of Fata have lived under the political agent system for more than a century and the army for almost a decade now. They are not happy with either since neither has done anything for their welfare.
The government needs to set its house in order and take charge of affairs in Fata. The army is neither trained nor has the capacity or acumen to bring in political and economic reforms. It should go back to the barracks and leave the matter to the civil government to interact with people, restore their confidence and undertake developmental projects in the area at lightning speed. Short of this nothing will restore trust and confidence of the tribesmen in the government which is handling the situation through remote control from Peshawar/Islamabad.