While the Pakistan Government-appointed committee will meet with the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) shura soon, speakers at a seminar on Monday on the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) called for the future of the region to be spelt out as part of the ongoing peace dialogue.
FATA, a group of seven tribal agencies with a population of over seven lakh, was described as once being a peaceful region, which underwent vast changes after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It comes under the direct authority of the Pakistan President.
Author and analyst Ahmed Rashid said, "We are suffering a blowback from FATA of extremism and terrorism and it is unfortunate that the current debate is centred around whether to send the army or not instead of talking about bringing FATA into the fold of the state and making its people citizens. The issue of the status of FATA has disappeared from the Pakistan agenda." He said border management with Afghanistan cannot be done without a political settlement in FATA.
Organised by The Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) and the Danish Institute for International Studies, "FATA - in the shadow of the military pullout from Afghanistan," brought speakers and experts from diverse forums to debate the future of this critical segment of Pakistan.
Mr. Rashid said that it was a sad reflection on the attitude of both the government and international community that it was not discussing the future of FATA and how it can take part in the political history of Pakistan. Mr. Rashid asked, "When are we going to stop treating them as second class citizens in the battle of Afghanistan?"
FATA in the 1980s was a dumping ground for the mujahideen and roads were built to the border for supplies to be sent to fight the Soviets, he said. That also opened up the drug trade and after the Soviet withdrawal, Pakistan was on the verge of being declared as a state sponsoring terrorism because it was training Kashmiri militants openly.
These camps were moved to FATA, he pointed out and it became a place to enlist fighters to oppose the Northern Alliance. The Afghan Taliban was relaunched in 2003 and many of the fighters were based in FATA, he said.
He regretted the lack of political effort to bring FATA intro the mainstream by the military establishment and a dangerous fallout was that Afghanistan was paying Pakistan back by keeping TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah, Pakistan Taliban fighters and Central Asian terrorist groups in Kunar and Nuristan. FATA had become a holding ground for extremist groups and once the US leaves, they could re-penetrate into Pakistan, he warned.
A military operation in North Waziristan ran the risk of pushing militants back into Afghanistan and the prospect of border clashes with the Afghan army, he said adding that the recognition of the Durand Line as a border cannot be expected as long as FATA was hanging over Afghanistan's neck. For this reason, FATA has to be made stable politically and within the ambit of the Constitution. It is not possible to stabilize Pakistan-Afghanistan relations without changing the policy on FATA he said, as it is remains the biggest threat to peace and security not only for Pakistan but for the whole world. He asked if it was the people of FATA's fault that most terrorist attacks were planned there.
Rasul Baksh Rais, director of ISSI, said FATA was impacted by three cycles of war and there is negligible scholarly research on the area.
President Mamnoon Hussain, who was the chief guest, said for decades after independence, FATA was a peaceful region of Pakistan. He said the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 and subsequent conflict in Afghanistan also had negative consequences for FATA, resulting in inflows of Afghan refugees, the illegal transfer of weapons, and the evolution of drug trade.
He called for greater international cooperation in this regard even as a FATA Youth Commission is being set up to create synergy, harmony and increased coordination in programs of various institutions.