Though the PTI-led peace march in Waziristan is symbolic, it brings a serious humanitarian issue to the world’s attention — indiscriminate killing of local Pashtun tribesmen, women and children. We know they are not the direct target of America’s drone strikes, but the fact is that they have been killed along with suspected militants who happen to be both foreign nationals and Pakistanis. The deaths of innocent persons with no link to militants and the destruction of their homes and properties is morally abhorrent and politically counter-productive to the goal of fighting against terrorism. The abstract language of war wrapped in a single word, ‘collateral damage’, is nothing more than an insult to intelligence. It is not difficult to understand the meaning of this phrase, which implies that it is the people on the ground who have nothing to do with the two warring sides — the militants and the US and its allies, and yet are getting killed.
The world and Pakistan shouldn’t close their hearts and minds to this mindless killing for political expediency or in the false belief that drones are the only weapons of choice. Let me first make my own view clear on militancy and terrorism, so that there is no confusion about what I say about the peace march. Terrorism and militancy in any shape, under any ruse or excuse, cannot be condoned. We know that states, including Pakistan, act unjustly, do many wrongs and have many failures. A civilised way to counter this state of affairs is through political, peaceful means and through mobilising civil society.
Militancy in Fata is a highly complex problem with so many conflicting narratives — each with a constituency of supporters and followers. The issue at hand is that Imran Khan’s peace march will include hundreds of foreign nationals, including several from the United States. I believe it is late in the day, as this war has gone on for a decade and thousands have already lost their lives, but nonetheless, it is an important move, which brings two issues of national and international political discourse to the fore.
First, Pakistan has failed to provide the people of the tribal areas security of life and property. It has failed to effectively end militant strongholds that have created mini-fiefdoms holding local populations hostage. Second, it has not been effective in persuading the US to accept the fact that drone strikes hurt Pakistani interests as well and defeat the broader objectives of the war on terror.
Imran Khan is the first leader to have shown grit and courage by stepping forward and showing national solidarity with the people of Fata. By marching together to express their opposition to the drone war, the participants of the march will demonstrate that they have a common cause with the tribes.
The second issue is how to regain the trust of the people and sovereign control of these regions. The colonial approach of ruling through three sets of actors — the political agent, the maliks and the security forces — is no longer going to work. A politically integrative approach that brings them into the mainstream will work. Pakistan’s political parties are therefore the best vehicles to achieve all of this.
The peace march with tens of thousands of participants, whether they are allowed to hold the rally or not, has already got its point across — that they will not leave the tribesmen alone in their pain and suffering.
The louder the echo of this message, the broader will be the prospects of negotiating peace and stability in the troubled Fata region.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2012.