Pakistan army ‘fully supports mainstreaming FATA for enduring peace, stability’

Irshad Salim — Twice this month Pakistan’s powerful military voiced its support for mainstreaming country’s tribal agencies (collectively called FATA) straddling restive Afghanistan’s eastern border, and called for its early implementation for insuring enduring peace and stability on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border.

The resource-rich area has been ground-zero of army’s successive battles against bad guys — they continue to operate with impunity from the Afghan side, according to Pakistan’s military.

The ISPR on Friday said that the army fully supports mainstreaming of Fata, “which is being pursued and its early implementation is essential for enduring peace and stability.”

Earlier in June, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations, army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa while on a visit 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.

M. Ziauddin, the former executive editor of Express Tribune, said this (the announcement) 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.

According to him, it was ostensibly on the insistence of the political bosses of the JUI-F and and the PkMAP that the PML-N government deferred the move. “Perhaps the two parties’ leaders had floated the rumor that the army was opposed to the mainstreaming of Fata.”

Now that the army has publicly cleared its position on the issue for the second time within a month, the government would need to follow up at the earliest as there is a lot of merit in these reforms, Ziauddin wrote. 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 (Fata has the lowest percentage of these facilities as compared to the rest of the country),” he says — a view upheld by other opinion-makers also in the country.

Successive governments in Pakistan, according to him, have miserably failed to bring the Pashtun population which lives in the immediate vicinity of the Durand line into the national mainstream.

In fact, 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 (in Afghanistan), he wrote in his recent op-ed on the matter.

Another step, according to the former executive editor of ET, would be for the defense and Foreign Office mandarins to make the Americans realize that they would neither be able to win the 16-year 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, he says, by establishing 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 wellbeing of the people straddling these borders.

The idea of ROZ was launched during Obama administration — a brainchild of AfPak-fame Richard Holbrook and his then boss Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, according to some observers. For unknown and may be for valid reasons then it was not hot pursued.

Mainstreaming FATA and establishing ROZ could enable development of a functioning core and connecting the non-integrating gaps.

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