In today’s world, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is often cited as a region rife with militants, and as such the area is seen as a center for militancy and a global source of terrorism. However , besides having certain administrative and political problems, the region has overall been one of the most peaceful areas of Pakistan, until the Russian aggression in 1979, since 1947. However , due to political difficulties that have been present since Pakistan’s independence, combined with the absence of credible political leadership and a renewing of conflicts on its borders in post 9/11 scenario (with the US invasion of Afghanistan), FATA’s largely administrative issues have succumbed to pressure, resulting in violent conflict in the region. Armed conflict not only takes many lives in the region, but it also destroys the region’s physical and economic infrastructure, which has a direct impact on the environment and political stability in the region. Despite the loss of life and the destruction of many socio-economic development efforts, there has been very little research or analysis attempting to understand the true nature of the conflict in the region and its effects on its people.
In the first six months of year 2013security situation in FATA was found turbulent. The nature of attacks that were recorded in the first six months included operational attacks (military operations, search operations), clashes between security forces and militants, cross border attack, terrorist attacks, bomb blast, kidnapping, drone attacks, target killing, suicide attacks and clashes between militant groups. A total of 212 incidents were recorded in first six months resulting in 1231 killings and 691 injuries. The year 2012 alone recorded 4052 casualties in 570 violent incidents with 1880 militant casualties, 1634 civilian casualties, 468 security forces casualties, and 70 peace forces( Aman Lashkar) casualties. This signifies the nature of security situation in FATA.
Recently the Government of Pakistan gathered the mainstream political parties from all the four provinces and agreed to hold dialogue with the Taliban. There is a wide range of debate in the media about what should have been included in terms of preconditions, whether it’s a failure on government part to ignore the thousands of casualties on part of security forces and civilians etc however the debate in FATA is of different nature. It is widely believed that the peace talk omen is good but will have to go through its natural process with ground realities. On the other hand, it is also important to understand the agency dynamics. Like in South Waziristan there are three administrative sub divisions namely Sarwakai, Ladha and Wana. There are five main tribes in these areas namely the Mehsud, the Ahmadzai Wazir, the Bhittani of Jandola, Burki of the Kaniguram area and the Dotani (Suleman Khel) of Toe Khwalah area near the border of Zhob. TTP and the Mullah Nazir group of Wana are the main local militant groups active in South Waziristan Agency, though there is a presence of some foreign elements in the area. Apart from Mehsud and Ahmadzai Wazir the rest of the tribes have small groups which are not that much influential. So in the peace process two groups will have significance, the TTP in Mehsud areas and Mullah Nazir group in Wazir areas. TTP has a weak position as most of the tribes from Mehsud areas are living as IDPs outside of SWA. However, Khan Saeed the successor of Wali ur Rehman who was killed in a drone attack recently is considered moderate and pro peace. While Wazir have presence in their areas. The Mullah Nazir group has a peace agreement with Government of Paksitan and also has a working relationship with the ‘120 Member Committee’ which comprises of Elders and Maliks of almost all tribes of Ahmadzai Wazir while TTP is just occupying the areas with no community engagement or representation. So engaging Nazir group will be productive as it has the backing of the community with ownership attached to it. While TTP as represented by Khan Saeed may resort to peace in SWA beside the fact that it has militants including from Tajik, Uzbik and Turk lineage.
While NWA is a bit more complex. It consists of three subdivisions and nine Tehsils. The estimated population is around 840,000. It is an extremely conservative area socially and religiously. Major tribes in the agency include the Wazir (Utmanzai) tribe and the Dawar tribe. There are dozens of militant groups operating in the area. Major militant groups include the Gul Bahadar group, the TTP (Mehsud group), the Haqqani Network, the Islamic Movement of Uzbikistan (IMU), the Islamic Jihad group (IJG), Asmat Mavia group, the Punjabi Taliban and the Abu Akasha Iraqi group. However, like SWA in NWA the Gulbahadur group is also at peace with the Government and has working relationship with a ‘Grand Wazir Shura’ known as Waziristan Shura , it also consist of Ulemas, Elders and Maliks from communities (Qaum) that could be instrumental in heading with dialogues. The progress of talk in these two agencies will determine the fate of the militancy in other agencies. The government should be very clear about its objectives this time and may not resort to tactics that may further lead to divisions in the groups. Though Mullah Nazir and Gulbahadur are the two main militant groups in NWA and SWA but overall TTP lead by Hakimullah Mehsud has its presence all over FATA i.e Bajaur with Mullah Faqir, Mohmand with Abdul Wali, Khyber with Mangal Bagh, Orakzai with Mullah Tufaan, and Kurram with Fazal Saeed Haqqani. TTP is highly decentralized and the individual commanders in each agency have their own plan of action. Their agreement on a single stance will be a matter of great concern. So, in all these three militant groups will play a crucial role in future peace talk provided they take this as an opportunity for them.
Overall it is important to note that FATA comprises of different agencies that have different security dynamics. Each agency has its own complex set of issues and different threat perception. Even within agency the dynamics is different e.g areas with foreign militants have a different approach vs Punjabi and local militants. So that has to be kept in mind. This shows that FATA has no single straight forward solution to its security situation. Although the current state of affairs is bleak, it is important to identify areas of change and give credit to efforts by different stakeholders to stabilize the region. A more secure FATA is only possible if the people of FATA are given development opportunities. Inappropriate law and order, poor security, bad governance, ill infrastructure and an environment of fear and threats provide breeding ground for the terrorism and extremism. The new federal government under the leadership of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in partnership with the new KPK Government lead by Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, should aim not only to prevent extremism from flourishing but give a chance to peaceful means. Use of force should be the last resort. With the emerging situation in the context of US withdrawal, new KPK government has a magnitude of challenges to overcome.
(The article first appeared in The Frontier Post dated 15/09/2013) The Frontier Post.
The Writer is a PhD Scholar and Programme Manager at FATA Research Centre (FRC) Islamabad.