The Pashtun Tahafuz Movement and the Tribal Areas

19 May 2018

For some time now, the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) has been staging protests in various parts of Pakistan. Manzoor Pashteen, the leader of the PTM, has demanded that military checkpoints be removed from the tribal areas so that the people of the area to travel freely, without fear of harassment. The PTM is also demanding that a truth and reconciliation commission be formed to stop extrajudicial murders and to ensure the return of the people who are missing. But, why do these conditions only exist in tribal areas in the first place?

Since the inception of Pakistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have not been governed by Pakistan’s constitution or laws, but the Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR). As a consequence, it became a haven for crime. The police and other government agencies have no power in these areas.

Drugs, weapons and other goods were trafficked through these areas to get to the rest of Pakistan. Foreign actors funneled large sums of money through here, particularly during the Soviet-Afghan war. This was used to wage America’s Jihad against Russia. The lack of Pakistani laws made FATA a host to a mega-black market for weapons, drugs and other smuggled goods – destroying local industries and inflicting heavy losses on the Pakistani economy.

The smuggling and black marketeering, which many local people relied heavily on, continued unabated up until the US-Afghan War. The formation of the Taliban in the 1990s took place in these areas. The Pakistani establishment, hand-in-hand with certain Muslim countries, provided full economic and diplomatic support to the Taliban. This was the same unsettled area which Osama Bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist, went through to reach Abbottabad, where he lived without fear for years.

After the 9/11 attacks in the US, the situation changed both regionally as well as internationally. Afterwards, it was not an ideological war for Pakistan, but rather a war of competing interests. When foreign enemies realised that there was a conflict of interest between the Taliban and the Pakistani state, they immediately threw their support behind the Taliban. Enemy countries provided funds to the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Local residents provided safe shelter to the Taliban and other terrorists in exchange for huge payments. When action was taken against the terrorists hiding in these areas, stacks of foreign currency were recovered.

But, if the security forces leave the areas without the complete abolition of the FCR, the situation will regress very quickly and hard-earned gains will be lost

These sheltered terrorists would later martyr Pakistani soldiers and civilians a like. Most terrorist activities in Pakistan that took place between the years2000 and 2017 were planned in or originated from these tribal areas. In the end, it was the Pakistani Army that had to rid these areas of terrorism.

To maintain the state’s control in these areas and eliminate nefarious activities, it was necessary to establish army camps so that terrorists would not be able to regain their foothold. For this purpose, the security forces established a network of checkpoints. Now that the Pakistan Army is present in the area, the chances for the revival of smuggled goods, drugs, weapons and shelters of terrorists are bleak. While these activities are still taking place, they are nothing in comparison to the level they were at before the Pakistan Army entered. For this reason, if the total withdrawal of army is sought by the PTM, major reforms will be needed.

First of all, these are as should be merged with the settled areas of Pakistan. They should be brought under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the police force. Political party activities should be made obligatory. Similarly, all businesses in these are as should be made liable for taxes, as are all other cities in Pakistan. Tribal citizens should pay their electricity bills and other utility bills as do their fellow Pakistanis. Investment should be encouraged so investors feel that there is no difference between Lahore and any part of the tribal areas.

But, if the security forces leave the areas without the complete abolition of the FCR, the situation will regress very quickly and hard-earned gains will be lost. The area will once again turn into safe haven for smugglers and terrorism, which could pose serious economic, defense, and social threats to Pakistan. Therefore it is important to bring FATA under the Constitution as soon as possible, so the military’s withdrawal from the area could be facilitated.

Published in Daily Times, May 19th 2018.

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