The Afghan Government finds Pakistan a convenient scapegoat for its failure to extend its fiat over rebellious warlords like Ismail Khan in Herat and Dostum in Mazar-I-Sharif, it uses Talibaan and Al-Qaeda hostiles using the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) as sanctuaries as an excuse for its own shortcomings. Explicit threats of “hot pursuit” across the Durand Line are frequent, most recently by the US Ambassador (and Viceroy in all but name) to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad (who has no love lost for Pakistan due to being largely ignored during the Afghan War). Ambassador Khalilzad has since denied this but such remarks are cause for considerable annoyance in Pakistan, which despite limited resources and political compulsions has been heavily engaged in trying to deny hostiles using our tribal areas as a sanctuary. The present military operations in South Waziristan is the fourth after 9/11.
Unfortunately what is patently a security matter is being portrayed as a war between infidels and muslims by our domestic opposition, the political parties, deliberately exploiting this explosive emotional issue to achieve their vested interests i.e. destabilizing the government and derailing the present democratic process in the country. The component parties of MMA, with their religious influence and sympathies for the Talibaan, have been opposing military operations. They hold that Osama Bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri and other Al-Qaeda leaders are innocent of the charges of terrorism, this in the face of the Al-Qaeda’s own public acknowledgement! The religious parties have been spreading propaganda that the operations in Wana have been launched under American dictates, their plea is that we are fighting a proxy war for the US on our soil.
Successful operations in Wana are extremely vital for Pakistan in the face of a severe credibility problem about the seriousness of our purpose with respect to terrorism, highlighted recently by the testimony of US National Security Advisor Condeleeza Rice before the 9/11 Commission. We need to be very concerned about our image as a responsible and a civilized entity among the comity of world nations. Not directed against the local population, the Wana operation is meant to drive out armed foreign elements involved in acts which are detrimental to our national interests. All tribals resent any external presence in their domain but in the prevailing circumstances, the majority of local population in the tribal areas are grudgingly assisting the Government in its efforts to eliminate the Arabs, Chechen, Uzbek and Tajik presence on our soil. In any case except for the Arabs, did the others take part in the Afghan War as the MMA leaders now claim? Keeping the tribal sensibilities in view, the political process involves holding Jirgas of tribal leaders, recently the Governor has given a deadline of April 24, 2004, to resolve the issue politically. Failure of our military operations to wipe out terrorists/foreign militants could give reason to US and Coalition forces to launch operations against these elements inside Pakistan, this intrusion will be disastrous for our national sovereignty. The Armed Forces have certainly paid a price for the ongoing operations, losing several dozen personnel but they have also been successful in (1) arresting 163 wanted terrorists (among them 103 foreigners), including those involved in the attempted assassination of President Musharraf (2) eliminating about 60 foreign terrorists, including some local collaborators (3) bringing about a change in the attitude of the tribals who are now supporting the government campaign in large numbers, this includes committed assurances from tribals for handing over the terrorists to the government and (4) putting a stop to RAW involvement in sending foreign terrorists from the adjoining border areas into Pakistan to create a gulf between the tribals and the Government of Pakistan, and at the same time defame Pakistan.
Military operations have always to be a short term measure and have to be followed quickly by innovative long-term solutions, invariably these have to be economy-related. I have repeatedly been proposing for some time that the Afghan Transit Trade be abolished and the whole of FATA be immediately turned into a Federally Administered Special Tribal Economic Zone (STEZ), giving a legitimate long term and permanent economic means of livelihood to the locals. At the moment they live in the twilight zone between legality and illegality, we are such hypocrites that we accept this anomaly. Most smuggled goods pass through these areas, why not make businessmen out of smugglers, using economic activity to eliminate social frustration? Afghanistan and the whole of Central Asia can turn to STEZ as a legitimate logistics base instead of the warehouses of Jebel Ali. Goods from all over the world would flow directly through Karachi, and later Gwadar, instead of going first to Dubai and then smuggled in. Any child can understand the advantage of such logistics! The tribals must be drawn into 20th Century civilization, most tribal areas are still deprived of electricity, people being forced to burn good quality wood for heat and energy because of ignorance, poverty, illiteracy and lack of means of firewood. Taking the lead Pakistan Army undertook surveys to determine other available energy resources. Installation of windmill, small hydel power station for power generation, provision of natural gas and use of solar energy were found feasible by Army’s technical experts to meet the energy requirements of the area. A China-made windmill capable of producing 2000 watts electricity at Shagai Fort in Khyber Agency has been initiated as a pilot project. Installation of such like windmills may help resolve the energy crisis. Two small hydel power stations have also been constructed on a small tributaries of Bana River in Khyber Agency. Recently some high gas reservoirs have been discovered in parts of NWFP, in the interim while a pipeline is laid feasibly a bottled gas supplier is maintaining sufficient supply of bottled gas to FATA. 20 solar geysers were installed at different places in Khyber, Mohmand, Kurram, Orakzai, North Waziristan and South Waziristan Agencies so that tribes are introduced to this system. Provision of renewable energy resource will not only help reduce deforestation in the area but also help improve the quality of life of the tribesmen.
Water related projects undertaken by the Army include the installation of tube wells, provision of deep wells, installing of hundreds of hand-pumps and construction of water supply dams. The geological survey being conducted by experts to identify the water sources and also to identify mineral deposits in the area is revealing encouraging results, hydrological data being prepared will go a long way in developing the water sector in FATA, with plans to initiate other projects water-related on allocation of additional funds. PTCL is undertaking major telecommunications development in FATA, setting aside the commercial aspects, these include expansion and conversion of existing lines. At present there are only about 35,000 telephones for a population of approximately 3.1 million, the lowest telephone ratio (0.1%) of any region in the country.
The Army’s presence in South Waziristan has two-fold objectives, viz (1) for social uplift, economic development, poverty alleviation and civic amelioration of a long neglected area and (2) tracking terrorists and making them surrender voluntarily or by force. The terrorists were given ample time to surrender voluntarily, both the President and the Governor NWFP committing publicly that if they surrender they will not be handed over, be dealt with dignity and given safe passage to wherever they want to go. While the tribals accept that there is a problem and we need to solve it. Al-Qaeda, almost all foreigners, are fomenting trouble between the Army and the tribals. Unless we eliminate the Al-Qaeda presence in FATA we will continue to be labelled by the world as being sponsors of terrorism.
Our political leaders need to rise above their petty political interests to assist the present Government in its war against international terrorism. We need to enroll the help of politicos like the FATA senators and tribal elders consistently, and not rely on Political Agents alone. On the other hand, the Government should also actively seek their assistance. Elimination of terrorism will bring stability in the country, a necessary ingredient for economic activity so vital for our survival, progress and prosperity. Terrorism can only be engaged positively in FATA if we inculcate long term economic activity by launching STEZ, a radical but pragmatic way to ensure that the tribals achieve economic emancipation.