DR. AKBAR S AHMED — Amidst the continuing military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the debate about its future and a recent increase in terrorist attacks, there is a heated debate about what government policy towards FATA should be. There is talk, for example, of FATA joining the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province as part of its administration.
The scourge of terrorism widely associated with north-west Pakistan has, unfortunately, cast its Pukhtun residents in a very negative light. There are rumors and stories of Pukhtuns from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa being harassed and unnecessarily arrested in other provinces.
I speak as someone who has served in FATA with great pride and has high regard for its people, who, in spite of the acts of violence perpetrated against them by terrorists and lagging behind for decades in economic development, have maintained their integrity, compassion, courage, and good sense.
When I was in FATA, society functioned on the basis of a cooperation between three pillars of authority: tribal elders, religious leaders, and the government representative or political agent, the position I held. This structure had many problems and was dated. Features such as the office of the political agent and Frontier Crimes Regulation were colonial in origin and spirit, and needed to be reformed. But considering the geopolitical context, the structure, by and large, held until 9/11;the ensuing turmoil in the entire region since then has left the structure in tatters and created a vacuum in FATA that has been exploited by the militant groups, which have viciously attacked all three pillars.
Seeing the disruption in FATA and the unfair treatment that is being given to Pukhtuns who just want to live ordinary and decent lives, I thought to myself, how differently the Quaid had responded to the challenges of FATA.It was all the more remarkable considering the new state was overwhelmed by a near-war situation with India, turmoil in Kashmir, and the influx of millions of refugees.
In fact, the Quaid explicitly set out a policy towards FATA that we would be wise to learn from.Let me share an account from history that shows not only the Quaid’s wisdom and compassion but his very shrewd understanding of how to deal with difficult administrative problems.
In 1947, the Quaid immediately set the tone for the new nation of Pakistan’s treatment of the Pukhtun by withdrawing Pakistan army troops from FATA, which were a constant presence during British rule and were hated by the local population. Furthermore, the Quaid promised that the Pakistan government would respect the customs and traditions of the Pukhtun and would honor agreements with the tribes. Changes in the government’s relationship with the tribes, he said, would not be enacted without consulting them.
In 1948, the Quaid addressed a grand jirga from the Tribal Areas in Peshawar, and declared:“Keeping in view your loyalty, help, assurances and declarations we ordered, as you know, the withdrawal of troops from Waziristan as a concrete and definite gesture on our part—that we treat you with absolute confidence and trust you as our Muslim brethren. Pakistan has no desire to interfere with your internal freedom unduly. We want to put you on your legs as self-respecting citizens who have the opportunities of fully developing and producing what is best for you and your land. I agree with you that education is absolutely essential, and I am glad that you appreciate the value of it. It will certainly be my constant solicitude and indeed that of my Government to try to help you to educate your children, and with your co-operation and help we may very soon succeed in making great progress in this direction.”
The tribes felt the Quaid was acting honorably, and they responded very positively. The Quaid’s approach was successful, and the inhabitants of FATA became some of the most passionate and dedicated supporters of Pakistan, for example traveling to Kashmir to fight alongside the local people in 1948. It is well to recall that it was a period when Pakistan faced a dire situation on its eastern borders. Had these tribal areas erupted in revolt, the situation would have become untenable for the new state.
Unfortunately, over the decades, the area remained neglected, and in spite of the promises of education by the Quaid the state of education and economic development remain abysmal. 9/11 unleashed an adversarial new phase in Pakistan’s relationship with FATA, and the military returned to FATA for the first time since British rule. In the national and international media, the area was simplistically equated with terrorism and Waziristan became the most droned place on earth. Where there should have been colleges and schools, there was violence and loss of hope.
Much has obviously changed in Pakistan and FATA since the late 1940s. Yet, the Quaid’s approach to the region can guide us today as the government attempts to return the region to normalcy after over a decade and a half of warfare and immense suffering among the population.
Pakistan needs to be inclusive in its policies toward the minority provinces, especially those that were not as well developed or well integrated as some of the better- off areas of Pakistan. We must not forget the Quaid’s vision.
Dr. Akbar Ahmed is the IbnKhaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. and the author of The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam and the forthcoming Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity