Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has termed the Federally Administered Tribal Areas’ mainstreaming essential for durable peace in the region. According to the Inter-Services Public Relations, Gen Qamar while on a visit the other day to the Peshawar Corps headquarters had said that the army’s focus now was on transforming its operational achievements in Fata into enduring peace and stability — a goal that requires early mainstreaming of Fata through reforms.
This renders as false the suggestion voiced by some quarters that it was the army that was behind the government’s decision to defer at the last minute the tabling of the Fata reforms bill in the National Assembly.
It was ostensibly on the insistence of the political bosses of the JUI-F and and the PkMAP that the government deferred the move. Perhaps the two parties’ leaders had floated the rumour that the army was opposed to the mainstreaming of Fata.
Now that the army has publicly cleared its position on the issue, the government would need to follow up at the earliest as there is a lot of merit in these reforms. Perhaps by launching these reforms along with the merger of the region with the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province the people of Fata would acquire a semblance of human dignity, gain access to the law of the land as well as educational and health facilities.
It is clear that the mainstreaming of the Fata region would be able to help in settling the long-standing dispute over the Durand Line. Pashtuns make up the majority of the population that live in the immediate vicinity on the two sides of the Durand Line. Islam is the religion of almost 100 per cent of this ethnic Pashtun population. Culturally, too, the two are identical. But ironically that is the main reason why the Afghans find it impossible to recognise the line dividing supposedly one people. This is not unique to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Many countries are afflicted by this kind of dispute across their borders.
But the fact of the matter is the Pashtun population that lives on our side of line is made up of Pakistanis, different in national terms from those who live across on the other side and call themselves Afghans. While the two belong to the same sub-nationality, they are divided by the line on the basis of their respective nationalities.
However, the ambiguity has continued to exist because successive governments in Pakistan have miserably failed to bring the Pashtun population which lives in the immediate vicinity of our side of the line into our national mainstream.
In fact, our tribal Pashtuns have been denied and deprived all these 70 years since independence of what is called the Pakistani persona that would have set them socially and politically apart from the Pashtun population on the other side. And once the mainstreaming of the people of Fata is completed and the tribal people become Pakistani nationals in letter and in spirit, Pakistan could agree to accept the irrelevancy of the Durand Line while Afghanistan, in return, agrees to accept its internationally recognised status.
The next step to clinch a border deal would be for our defence and Foreign Office mandarins to make the Americans realise that they would neither be able to win the war in Afghanistan nor would they be able to reduce the financial burden of the war on its treasury until they actually implement the original anvil and hammer strategy to bottle up the militants by moving the joint US-Afghan troops to the Durand Line immediately across the border check posts that had been established by the Pakistan Army.
This can be followed up by establishing what are called Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) facilitating joint Pakistan-Afghanistan manufacturing units in the private sector for producing goods for the US markets as is being done between Jordan and Israel as well as between Egypt and Israel to establish lasting peace and improve the socio-economic well- being of the people straddling these borders.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2017.