Jirga: An Exercise In Futility?

This Article appeared in DAWN on August 19, 2007

TO say that the situation in Afghanistan is grave would be an understatement. Every passing day sees the US becoming mired ever deeper in Afghanistan à la Iraq, because of its faulty strategy. In its desperation, it is looking for supporting planks and is leaning more and more on Pakistan. Thus the mantra of “do more”.

Meanwhile, Kabul, the proverbial capital of intrigues, is bustling with renewed activities. People are talking about a new great game related to the oil and gas reserves of the Central Asian Republics and trade opportunities that mask the ambitions of the US and the new emerging superpowers. It is in the backdrop of this environment that Pakistan is getting sucked into the situation in the name of the peace jirga.

This writer participated in the Pak Afghan Joint Peace Jirga in Kabul held from Aug 9 to Aug 12, 2007 with the aim of being useful, despite many people questioning the wisdom of such a jirga. Will the latter be able to achieve results or will it lead to Pakistan getting further sucked into a situation from which extrication would be difficult.

In its 60 years, Pakistan has suffered for 30 mainly because of the fallout from the situation inside Afghanistan. In this peace jirga, one saw the same old players with suspect loyalties and ambitions occupying front seats in new roles. They are the same Ustad Rabbani, Ustad Rasool Sayaf, Pir Sayyed Ahmad Gillani, Ismail Khan Toran, Rasheed Dostum and Pir Sayyed Mujadadi. Of course, the late Ahmad Shah Masud has been succeeded by Ameen Faheem and Younas Qanooni.

The main spokesman Abdullah Abdullah was co-chairing the jirga with Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao from Pakistan’s side. All the main Afghan speakers, well-prepared unlike their Pakistani counterparts, carried venom in their hearts against Pakistan ” in spite of the lip service paid to long historical linkages and the hospitality of the Pakistani people towards five million Afghan refugees.Afghanistan’s hostile attitude towards Pakistan since its inception is not a new phenomenon. The attacks on Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul and its consulates in Jalalabad on the slight pretext are well known and common.

Thus those who understand Pakistan-Afghan relations are justified in wondering as to who conceived this novel idea of the peace jirga and for what purpose. The men behind this are those who authored and brokered the infamous North Waziristan agreement.In an effort to sell the North Waziristan agreement, the role of the peace jirgas was overstated, and George Bush was prompt in observing that if these could resolve issues, why not have them between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We had to agree.

Pakistan realised the disastrous effects of the North Waziristan agreement after 10 months, after considerable damage to its writ and the resultant spread of the menace of Talibanisation to settled areas, right up to Islamabad.

Let us hope that our journey to this jirga does not land us into further trouble.

Talibanisation is an ideology and US operations in Afghanistan, instead of dealing with the threat posed by this ideology, are focused solely on getting hold of Osama Bin Laden, Ayman-al-Zawahiri, Mulla Omar etc. The stabilisation of society in Afghanistan does not seem to be high on their list of priorities. Thus the common man in Afghanistan, particularly in the Pashtun-dominated southern and eastern provinces, faces lack of security and the absence of service delivery.

The rank and file of the Taliban in Afghanistan is not only swelling but the effects of this phenomenon are spreading towards the adjoining tribal areas of Pakistan.

Owing to the Pakistani government’s inconsistent tribal policy that changes with the appointment of each new governor, the menace is spreading to the settled areas of Pakistan on hand and to the crossing of some Taliban into Afghanistan on the other, thus giving enough reason to Kabul to blame Pakistan for all its troubles.

Was the Pak Afghan Joint Peace Jirga beneficial to Pakistan? For an answer, it is imperative that the dynamics of the jirga system be clearly understood. The jirga is a formal forum to resolve issues in Pashtun tradition but it has certain prerequisites. First is the precise definition of the issue or issues that can be equated with terms of reference for the jirga.

Second is the nomination of the parties involved in the conflict and their willingness to submit to the jirga. This is known as wak or ikhtiar. These aspects were missing in this jirga.

The present issue is between Al Qaeda and the Taliban on the one side and the Afghan government and Nato forces on the other. Since neither side is willing to negotiate, one is at a loss to understand as to how a peace jirga between the people of the NWFP and Balochistan and the people of Afghanistan can resolve the issue, especially when the main contenders are not represented.

Whether non-state actors should be represented is an altogether different question. There are those who contend that this jirga would at least bring the two people together to get to know each other more. Do the people of the NWFP and Balochistan and the Afghans require further introduction?

Some nationalist elements in Balochistan and the NWFP and on the Afghan side question the validity of the Durand Line, the international border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The government should be aware that such frequent meetings could give impetus to this dormant issue.

There are those who think that the new game is to “pretend” that there are issues between Afghanistan and Pakistan that need to be resolved. Such issues would subsequently be used as a pretext to involve Pakistan in the war in Afghanistan, thus paving the way for joint operations involving Pakistani territory.

All such theories need to be given due consideration by Pakistan before the government haphazardly peruses processes which have not been thought through.

As already mentioned, the Afghan side had prepared very well for this jirga, with the aim of putting the whole blame on Pakistan for the present situation in Afghanistan. They wanted the delegates from Pakistan to believe that all Taliban under Mulla Omar are Pakistanis or have been trained by Pakistan and are being financed and directed by it.

The speakers had been well selected and had prepared with proper speeches. On the Pakistan side, such preparations were hardly visible. The participants consisted of three main strands: nationalist parties like the ANP and Pashtun Khwa Milli Awami Party with their own ideologies, traders who wanted to establish/refresh links with their counterparts in Afghanistan, and simple tribesmen who did not know what to do and what to say.

It was said that the Afghan delegates had more than 60 meetings to prepare for this jirga. On Pakistan’s side, there were hardly any preparations. Everyone was on his own, creating an embarrassing situation for the Pakistani delegation despite some last-minute efforts by Mr Sherpao to bring some sanity to the proceedings.

To quote just one example, the Afghan side was so consistent in its efforts that Abdullah Abdullah, known for his anti-Pakistan stance, was monitoring the progress of each subcommittee personally.

The attorney-general of Afghanistan, with a full team of lawyers, was the member of the first committee which was to deal with the main issue of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. This equated to allegations against Pakistan and the propaganda which the Afghan government carries out against it.

The proceedings of this committee started from 8am on Aug 11 and continued until 4am on Aug 12. The Pakistan side had no qualified person to draft the recommendations. The result was a diluted version of the recommendations which assumed the form of a trade agreement. These recommendations were never placed before the committee and were announced in the morning in a hurry.

The jirga also witnessed some ugly moments. At one point, the tribal leaders wanted to walk out and address a press conference on the plea that if the Pakistani delegation accepted the whole blame for the situation in Afghanistan, they would be the ones that would have to take action.

In fact, they would be required to stop cross-border incursions and that would mean the complete consent of their tribes which would be a tall order, particularly when they had not discussed the issue with them beforehand.

On another occasion, Hazrat Pir Sayyed Mujadadi, not satisfied with the venom that he had spewed against Pakistan from the rostrum in the main jirga hall, while leading the Friday prayers started talking against Pakistan in the khutba.

Some of the tribal elders from Pakistan stood up and refused to offer prayers behind him and forced him down from the pulpit.

In spite of all this, one must accept that the way the Afghan government and the people treated the guests from Pakistan was really praiseworthy. They had put in much effort to arrange accommodation, transportation and food, and their movements appeared to have been well coordinated and they remained very courteous in spite of provocations.

The British, after three costly wars, learnt that the best way to deal with Afghanistan was to leave it to its own fate and concentrate on controlling the borders between Afghanistan and the territories now representing Pakistan. This is the lesson available to the rulers of Pakistan. One wishes they would understand this plain logic. But then a wish is not a fish that one can fry and enjoy.

The writer is former secretary, home & tribal affairs, NWFP, and secretary Fata (Security).

Gathering Storm On The Western Frontier

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.

FATA’s The Present Imbroglio

The Bajaur incident will cast its shadow not only on the future of the Federal Administrated Tribal Area (FATA) but also on the politics of NWFP in particular and the rest of the country in general. The political price the Government will pay for this misadventure notwithstanding, its impact on the relationship and interaction of the people vis-à-vis the national army seems ominous. The resultant Dargai incident is a case in point. What effect this has on the rank and file of the army, its internal discipline and morale needs careful consideration and delicate handling.

This incident has dealt a major blow to the credibility of the Government. In days to come the law and order situation in the province is likely to deteriorate and sense of insecurity will increase many folds. The politico-religious parties will take definite advantage of this incident and the resultant increased anti American sentiments.

It is time the Government goes back to the drawing board and rechecks its policy on the war on terror as a so-called frontline state for USA. The Government has to see whether it will continue to fight this war on terror on its soil as dictated by the US as is the case at present, or on its own terms and conditions, keeping in view the internal situation.

Pakistan has a fair share of responsibility in creating this jehadi culture, but others like US have contributed considerably too. Now that this “genie” of jehadism is out of the bottle it has to be put back in. This is a tall order and not an easy task. Pakistan must do all to fight religious extremism very deliberately and carefully keeping in view the religious sensitivities of this issue in our country.

Only when Pakistan really takes on religious extremism in its own interest and convinces its people of the same rather than at the behest of the Americans (a task it has failed in as of now), it can plan and execute various options keeping in view its own strengths and weaknesses. It will then not only find local support but also active cooperation from its populace. The people in Washington may not understand this but we in Pakistan cannot afford to be fool hardy and careless as we have demonstrated in Bajaur.

Basically North Waziristan pact is defective from the point of view that the Government has conceded too much to the militants/religious extremists. The two operative clauses of the agreement are that the militants would not attack the security forces and the security forces would not carry out any operations against the militants. Thus being at peace vis-à-vis the government, the so called Pakistani Talibans are running a parallel government, collecting taxes and dispensing justice. People are killed on charges of being government and US spies. The pro government maliks are being intimidated and killed. People including government servants are being kidnapped.

The fact that the US/Afghan Government does not like this pact is irrelevant. The government of Pakistan must consider that whether such an agreement for a temporary peace is in the long term interest of Pakistan. Is it not the responsibility of the Government of Pakistan to find solutions to its own problems? The explanation to US government and convincing them on the merits is secondary. The futility of this agreement is evident from the fact that militants in Bajaur still want to have a similar agreement even after Bajaur incident because it will give them a free license. The American ire and pre emption to sabotage this agreement in Bajaur further proves the point.

It is unbelievable that the Government of Pakistan who conceded so much to religious extremist in one agency and had started negotiating in another agency on similar lines, suddenly let hell loose on a madrassa and killed 83 people without confirming the intelligence on ground. Pakistan army is not a high tech army where it only acts on aerial photography on its own soil without confirming this technical information on ground. The strong point of Pakistan army vis-à-vis US army in Afghanistan is that Pakistan army has huge human intelligence organizations and the people on ground are its own people. The US army can afford to bomb and rocket wedding ceremonies in Afghanistan whereas Pakistan army cannot afford to do so. Mentioning correct ages to the parents of those who were killed amounts to rubbing salt over their wounds. If the Government cannot apologize to these people out of hubris, then at least they should keep quiet. Bajaur agency is the softest agency in the tribal areas. The people no longer carry arms and regular traffic plies between Swat, Dir and Peshawar via Minchin, Ghalanai, Mohammad Ghat, Khar, and Chakdara instead of the main artery of Peshawar, Mardan, and Chakdara due to the good condition of the road. This ill fated madrassa is 1or 2 km off this road.

Since the government was already negotiating a deal with militants on the lines of Waziristan and a ceremony was scheduled next day therefore the people find it hard to believe that the Government would bomb this madrassa suddenly. People no longer trust that the government is calling the shots and believe that it has compromised on its sovereignty over the tribal areas.

Negotiations and the use of force do not go together. Use of force is desirable only when negotiations fail and negotiators feel that such use of force would help in reaching a desired goal. The Government needs to demonstrate that we make our own decisions and implement them. We don’t have to be apologetic either towards US or the militants. That means we have to get tough both with US and the extremists in our own national interest if we have to survive as a nation.

US may be the sole super power but Pakistan with its military and nuclear arsenal should also be not considered a push over. We should not be so scared of the US might. Our lack of faith in Allah and our abilities has to account for it in a large way. The government just needs to have support of its own people and that support is either lacking or fast diminishing with Bajaur like incidents. Gone are the days of the Armitage warning of bombing us into the stone age. US ability to expand this war is now limited. The policies of Iran and Syria, brinkmanship of North Korea and the ensuing American responses, defeat of Republicans and the falling from grace of neo cons are all relevant in this regard.

This of course does not mean that we should wage a war against America but the least we can do is some straight talking. The Coalition has to take the blame for its own flawed policies. Instead of concentrating on their fight inside Afghanistan they find an easy scapegoat in Pakistan. Hamid Karzai will always see Mullah Umar in Quetta and Osama bin Laden in North Waziristan or Bajaur Agency. Wait for his next statement.

Last but not the least the Government of Pakistan need to have better coordination amongst its various agencies like the political administration, Army, ISI, MI and IB. The Government has no option other than working under the present administrative dispensation to work with political administration in the lead. All other agencies must be subordinated to the political administration which has not happened on ground as yet despite verbal claims to the contrary. At the same time it must continue to reform the present administrative structure as per reform agenda worked out.

Asserting Control

This interview appeared in “The News” on August 6, 2006.

In South Waziristan, due to the flawed strategy by the government in the last one and a half year, (local militants) have organised themselves into a Taliban-style system of governance. They have established a parallel sort of administration.

By Raza Rahman Khan

Brigadier (Retired) Mahmood Shah hails from Hoti village in Mardan district. He received his education in Mardan and Karachi before joining the army.

During his army career, he has mostly worked in Balochistan and Azad Kashmir. After his retirement, he was offered to become the home secretary of Balochistan but he refused because he wanted to serve in his home province, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). In 2000, his wish was granted and he became the Secretary for Home and Tribal Affairs in NWFP.
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