The draconian laws of the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) have kept Fata totally isolated from the outside world. It is unfortunate that after independence different governments decided to continue with the laws (if they can be called laws) imposed on us by the colonialist British, instead of scrapping them. The outside world has changed but that has hardly affected Fata. The area is still out of bounds for outsiders.
It is hard to believe that in this modern age where chains of slavery have been broken all over the world, we still have areas in Pakistan where people are denied their basic rights. They are governed under laws which have been declared unconstitutional and un-Islamic by the courts. Why parliament has not challenged these laws is beyond my comprehension. The political agent of South Waziristan is reported to have demanded that the Wazir tribe immediately eject foreign militants from their areas or else face the consequences under the FCR. What he is demanding of them is something which even the state, with all the resources at its disposal, has been unable to do. I wish he would first secure roads and buildings belonging to the government and then look around for innocent people to punish. It is a known fact that the tribesmen are helpless and cannot eject those who came to the area and live there against their wishes. It is the job of the government to throw them out not that of the local residents.
It was reported on Samaa TV on July 8 that Major General Rizwan Akhtar said that security personnel have “won the hearts and minds” (a hackneyed phrase used by the Americans in Afghanistan) of the Wazir tribe in South Waziristan. He seems to be unaware of the troubles that the tribesmen face and the resentment generated by restrictions imposed on them on travelling within the agency. They are treated like prisoners, not allowed to travel on roads they had been using for decades whilst civil and military officers travel in helicopters or under special escort and protocol not enjoyed even by the president. If this is what they call winning of hearts and minds then yes they have won everything, including the war on terror. But this is not the case. It will be a long time before the locals forget the burning of their buses on flimsy charges. This is not done even in the most uncivilised of societies. Not in a million years can they win hearts and minds in this way.
The civilian leadership that came into power after the elections of February 2008 should have taken bold decisions in accordance with the wishes of the public but it decided to continue with the dictator’s policies it had inherited, using force to conduct military operations. They live in the bunkered city of Islamabad and when unavoidable they travel in bullet-proof cars with heavy police escorts or in chartered aircrafts. They have not taken the trouble of visiting strife-torn areas to lend moral support to troops engaged in combat operations let alone acquaint themselves with the hell unleashed upon the locals living in those areas.
What has the government done to reverse the situation? Nothing except using brutal force, which is not the remedy. The remedy lies somewhere else. The government needs to shoulder its responsibilities if it is serious in eradicating the menace of militancy from the area. It needs to amend the FCR and extend the Political Parties Act to Fata without further loss of time. This will, in some way, rekindle hope and confidence in the minds of the tribesmen and bridge the wide trust deficit that currently exists.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2010.