This Article appeared in DAWN on March 11, 2007.

American intrusions into Pakistan from Afghanistan, which until now have been occasional, are about to become frequent territorial violations. These inroads, be they in the form of targeted missile/air strikes or “enter-operate-leave” incursions are a rapidly approaching reality. What this entails for Pakistan is worth some thoughts.

All signals emanating from American centres of influence indicate a perception that Pakistan lacks the will or capability or both to prevent militants based inside its territorial jurisdiction from aiding the Taliban in their attacks against US/Afghan troops in Afghanistan. The US and the Karzai government are failing in their stated mission and American domestic and international opinion requires a scapegoat to justify this protracted conflict. The most conveniently available scapegoat is Pakistan.

The US cannot afford escalation of hostilities and its troops being bogged down in Afghanistan. This would be disastrous for its global strategy in terms of prestige, authority and supremacy. It is poised to take direct action and seems to be contemplating a “spring offensive” of its own inside Pakistan.

The militants would welcome such an escalation. The more Americans enlarge their area of operations, the more they would expose themselves to militant attacks. If it becomes unbearable for the militants in FATA, they would shift their bases and operations down country to the NWFP, thereby drawing in more US-led counter-insurgency measures.

Already we are witnessing Talibanisation in most of the southern districts of the NWFP and even up north. If latest trends are anything to go by, the days to come would show deeper cooperation and coordination among pro-Taliban militants, pro-Kashmiri and other jihadi groups and sectarian outfits. The statistics and analyses of recent suicide attacks in Pakistan show that there has been some interaction amongst the groups. This, coupled with political unrest in Balochistan, would have more than a destabilising effect throughout the country.

The army in FATA cannot afford to assume the role of a silent spectator. With local public opinion being what it is, neither can it fight alongside American troops against its own people. Having entered the tribal belt and taken over administrative command for all practical purposes, it cannot simply pack up and leave. It has to show a modicum of success vis-à-vis its goals.

A way out from this gathering storm can be found based on a relevant analysis of how and why we have managed to land ourselves in this situation.

It seems that the army entered the tribal areas for the first time since independence without realising the intensity of the problem and, therefore, lacking any tangible short-, mid- or long-term plan. Its action at the time was meant to show the world that the government was serious about tackling terrorism.

The history of the area repeated itself. Every operation mired the military forces deeper into the quagmire that is Waziristan. With US pressure building and militants unrelenting, the army realised that the task was not simple. It, therefore, embarked on a simultaneous policy of negotiations with the tribal populace and the use of force, but with a disjointed approach.

There was complete lack of coordination and trust amongst those responsible for negotiations (political authorities), the users of force (military authorities) and those dealing with information (intelligence agencies). It was simply not realised that the use of force is always subservient and not parallel to the negotiation process. It frequently happened that while the political authorities were negotiating a deal, simultaneous military operations were taking place without the knowledge of the political authorities.

Military authorities acting against the advice of the political administration opted for negotiated settlements with militants through the clergy and retired army officers, bypassing the tribal elders. This was done at a time when in the public view the militants had the upper hand.

In the tribal belt, where perceptions carry more weight than reality, while the government was perceived to have negotiated a settlement from a position of weakness, the militants went about creating a parallel administration and eliminating pro-government tribal leaders (more than 100).

When such ill-conceived agreements (Wana and Baitullah Mehsud etc) unravelled, the military went for indiscriminate use of force in North Waziristan alienating the local population further. Daily attacks on government and military installations/personnel became the order of the day and parallel administration by the militants started functioning in North Waziristan too.

The government faced with the loss of writ in Waziristan opted for the North Waziristan peace agreement brokered by the new governor. This agreement gave de jure authentication to the de facto situation in the area, its basic flaw being that while the responsibilities assigned to the government were tangibly verifiable (dismantling of check posts, no operations etc), those assigned to militants were not (expulsion of foreigners, no cross border attacks etc).

The US/Afghans are perturbed and continue to tell Pakistan “to do more”. To pacify them and fearing direct American intervention the military either went for or owned up to the indiscriminate use of force in South Waziristan and Bajaur. The militants retaliated and the result was a spate of suicide attacks not only in FATA, but also in the NWFP and even in Islamabad.

The solution lies in revisiting both the Pak-US understanding on the extent of cooperation keeping in view the national ethos and peace agreements with the militants. The government should put in all its efforts to convince the Americans that although their mutual strategic understanding (anti-Taliban drive) would stay as it is in the individual interest of both countries, tactics to achieve this objective would differ. Each country, be it Pakistan, Afghanistan or the US, would have to devise and implement tactics keeping its own internal situation and national ethos in mind. Once the US elephant is off our backs, we can start handling the issue from the viewpoint of our own interest.

The tactics that Pakistan needs to curb pro-Taliban militancy must be based on the realisation that a fast-track approach under US pressure won’t work. The militancy problem is a complex multi-dimensional issue dating back nearly four decades to the US-sponsored jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Any long-term solution would need to take into account this factor in conjunction with the dynamics of the area and its people.

Foremost would be winning over FATA again by ensuring that that the people see tangible benefits in the desired objective. Our policies in the area should be devised and adapted to the goal of what the Americans term as “winning hearts and minds”. This would require a delicate balancing act aiming at giving a stake to the people without weakening the current administrative system in FATA in the short- and mid-term.

Having extended adult franchise to the people of FATA in 1997 thereby diluting the hold of the tribal maliks, it is unrealistic to expect the same elders to have a hold over the people of their respective tribes vis-à-vis implementing government policies. Neither would it be wise to extend the civil/criminal procedural laws of the settled areas to FATA because the working of our courts, police and patwar systems are nothing to be proud of.

In this scenario what needs to be done can only be mentioned briefly here.

1. Relevant provisions of FCR be made appealable to a special bench of the high court constituted for the purpose.

2. Political parties be allowed to operate in FATA to counter the ideological thrust of pro-Taliban elements.

3. In order to ensure that only those maliks who have confidence of their respective tribes are assigned responsibilities, the institution of malak be made elected. An elected judicial jirga and an elected development jirga would be formed of such maliks. Elections to these bodies would be for a period of two years on the basis of adult franchise while distribution of seats would be according to “nikaat” (system of inter/intra tribal shares). The political agent would have the prerogative to distribute the quantum of funds amongst the tribes keeping in view their level of cooperation with the government. Funds utilisation once assigned to a particular tribe would be the prerogative of the development jirga. This would give internal autonomy and a participatory role to the elected people at the micro level and keep a leverage of the administration over the tribes at the macro level.

4. Levies as opposed to khasadars be raised in the Waziristans, thereby not only generating employment but also creating a disciplined force with roots amongst the tribes.

5. Operationally countering current militant tactics (especially the suicide bombers) is mainly the domain of intelligence agencies. Their efforts need to be coordinated at the field level with them giving real time information to the political authorities to devise plans.

6. A system of regional coordination between the tribal belt and adjacent settled districts needs to be put in place as both these areas have interlinked issues. At present, no such linkage is available between their respective law enforcement and intelligence networks. Previously, the regional commissioners and home secretaries performed this role.

7. Its time the main clauses of the North Waziristan peace agreement were revisited with the consent of the people. Checkposts to be manned jointly by the military, paramilitary and tribal representatives should be re-established at crucial points. The army has to take a backseat, while giving effective back-up to the political authorities as and when required. The use of force and cordon and search operations under the political authorities and tribal elders may not achieve the desired results in one go, but would keep the militants on the run.

8. The most effective check against the setting up of parallel administrations is service delivery by the government in terms of justice, fair play, development, security and giving a sense of identification, ownership and tangible benefits to the people. Government representatives need to reach out to the people on these terms.

Any strategic idea needs deliberate and diligent tactical implementation based on conviction, motivation and drive of the man behind the gun. Halfhearted measures by self-serving people would not do in these crucial times.