The decision-cum-promise by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan to lead a procession of his party and civil society to the most troubled part of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and apparently of Pakistan, Waziristan, is a significant development as far as resolving the decade-long conflict in the region is concerned. This is a significant declaration from one of the most important political leader of contemporary Pakistan.
FATA and Waziristan became the most troubled part of the Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) region when in the wake of 9/11 incidents the United States led international coalition forces overthrown the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the Al Qaeda and other international so-called Jihadist organizations that were being protected and hosted by the Taliban regime shifted to FATA.
The procession of PTI, if it is able to reach Waziristan, would throw open the region to the entire World. This would also give a very strong message to the World that there is nothing surprising about Waziristan. In this context the decision of PTI is quite significant.
One hopes PTI head would be able to transform Khan’s vow into reality. There is nothing strange about Waziristan, however, due to incessant World media attention depicting it the most dangerous place in the World, a perception has been created among the countrymen and people in the foreign countries that Waziristan is some kind of place on another planet where aliens live.
It is heartening to note that in the mainstream political parties there are some persons who know the very peculiar situation in FATA particularly Waziristan and are ready to address the situation through affirmative action. Otherwise all the mainstream political parties have been found wanting as far as the question of FATA is concerned. The Pakhtoon nationalist Awami National Party (ANP), which has also started calling itself a party of the national stream, even, has been no exception in this regard. For last many years the key issues about FATA particularly Waziristan have been terrorism emanating from there in the name of Islam; Pakistani military operations to eliminate terrorist networks; US drone attacks and legal political and development related issues. However, none of the mainstream political parties seem to have a core group that could focus on these issues and give recommendations to their respective parties to adopt them as party lines and transform the same into policies in case of the ruling parties. This complete indifference within the political parties towards FATA rendered the military and civilian bureaucracy to deal with the conflict and other matters in the region on their own and in their way. The consequences of military and civilian official dealing solely with the situation in FATA are out there for everyone to see. All the issues relating the tribal areas and FATA are fundamentally political issues and ought to be addressed politically by the parliament and politicians and political parties instead of by the ‘political agent’ (the top civilian bureaucrat heading administration in every tribal agency or district). Even the use of military in the tribal areas must be a politically decision, which has not been the case. In particular when the use of force has not delivered in FATA it is important that the military must absolve itself of the responsibility and handed it to the civilian leadership and concentrate itself on professional matters.
Another important aspect of the PTI vow to lead a huge procession into Waziristan is that Imran Khan has been consistently opposing the use of military force in the tribal areas and has been demanding holding peace talks with the insurgents. Therefore, the PTI would-be march towards Waziristan would be a test-case for any prospects of peace talks with the insurgents specifically Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The core leadership of TTP is still believed to be hiding in both Waziristans particularly the Mehsud part of the South Waziristan. A month back the TTP through locally distributed pamphlets warned the inhabitants of the Mehsud area, presently living outside as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), to desist from repatriating to their abodes as the war with the security forces had not ended. Thus it would be interesting to see how the TTP respond to the PTI’s promised march.
Most likely the TTP would oppose such a decision and may term it as a misadventure. In this case Imran Khan would have to change his stance of insisting on talks with the insurgents. This would be good for the party as many within the country’s political circles and the civil society have been strong detractors of Imran’s misperceived pro-Taliban posture. This has also kept many among the educated and liberal sections of society from joining the PTI despite of having a considerate feeling for the Khan due to his unmatchable philanthropic services in the field of health and education besides his clean political career.
On the other hand if the TTP and its affiliates decide to welcome the decision of Imran Khan, of which there is little possibility, this still would go a long way in bringing the insurgents to the negotiating table. Obviously for any insurgency to be amicably solved there is a need of a certain high-profile personalities to facilitate and guarantee the process of negotiations. Imran could be the right choice keeping in view his Pathan background and maternal links to Barki tribe of Waziristan besides he being the only reliable person among the available lot of mainstream Pakistani politicians.
Another important dimension of the PTI procession to Waziristan would be if it even partially succeeds this would result in politicization of FATA in a meaningful manner. Because even after the last year extension of the Political Parties Act by President Asif Ali Zardari to FATA hardly there have had any political activity worth its name in FATA. Only the religious parties including JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islamic since then have organized rallies and political meetings in FATA but the other rather mainstream and real political entities like the PPP, PML-N, PML-Q etc dare not to. Therefore, the PTI march to Waziristan if able to enter the district and culminate in a political meeting would set an example for the secular and mainstream political parties to follow suit. Although they may not be able to get so much success as the difference would be the person of the Khan. One doubts that Nawaz Sharif and any of the PPP central leaders have the heart to set about the adventure of visiting Waziristan. President Zardari, Ex-Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani and the present Prime Minister Pervez Ashraf have even failed to visit FATA once in almost five years of their party, PPP, rule let alone Waziristan despite of all the official protection and security cover.
(The writer is a political analyst and researcher: email@example.com)