As Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s ex-Foreign Minister, I was tasked to present to her an alternative foreign and security policy for Pakistan as and when the PPP came into government. Last summer, she summoned me to Dubai where, after an extensive brainstorming session, she approved my comprehensive report with many amendments. This foreign policy report lies in her personal secretariat in Zardari House in Islamabad. I hope it will provide guidance to the government now.
The report recognized candidly that the war in Afghanistan will have a spill over effect into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). It would be unrealistic to expect that Pakistan could be insulated from the effects of war in Afghanistan. It would be equally unrealistic to expect that the member-states of the ISAF would alter course to seek inclusion of Taliban into the Afghan power structure. Consequently, the new policy was to do with FATA only.
Shaheed Benazir Bhutto felt disturbed that faulted policies of the last government had destabilised the FATA region, through the use of excessive force with no countervailing peace initiatives. The ones that were taken were based on flimsy assurances on both sides. She agreed with me that the armed forces of Pakistan should never have been deployed in FATA just to convince the former government’s foreign sponsors that Pakistan was a pro-active partner in the war on terror.
It is morally wrong and politically dangerous to condemn a region equal to, if not larger than, Belgium and Holland, to a perpetual state of medieval existence. This twilight zone in the 21st century is unacceptable. It has only one law: the Frontier Crimes Regulation (the FCR), no court of appeal, no fundamental rights, no constitutional status worth mentioning, no proper administrative structure, no viable mechanism for socio-economic progress, no political parties. Over the last sixty years, Darwinian arguments have been advanced to keep the status quo. Tribal chieftains and urban romantics would rather keep the social habitat of the “Noble Savage” as if FATA were a zoological preserve of a rare and near-extinct species.
Probably these outlandish views reflect a deep-seated vested interest of the tribal Maliks, the political agents and the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON). Many billions of un-audited accounts are cozily consumed without accountability. So why would anyone who’s got a stake in this bottomless pit want to change the status quo? The problem is that practically nothing reaches the bottom of the heap. What does however reach the common people is utter poverty, lack of proper education and jobs, lack of health-care, lack of justice etc. And so, they take to tribal justice, smuggling, narcotics, arms, feuding, jirgas and kidnappings. Mix tribal Islam with all this with a war next door and you have a recipe for disaster.
The time has come to change all that. With a truly democratic government built on consensus, Pakistan would need to make a radical break with the past and follow a policy of inclusion and not exclusion. It’s time we ask the tribals of FATA what they want. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed’s feed-back from the region was that an over-whelming number of ordinary people from FATA aspire for being part of the main-stream Pakistan rather than in an outmoded anachronism of socio-economic decay. She was determined to give them a referendum whereby they would be given a choice either to merge with the North West Frontier Province or to have their own province.
Upon the outcome of the referendum, the federal Government and the Parliament would be expected to enable and facilitate this process of absorption. Constitutional changes would be enacted and suitable financial resources provided for a five-year transformation period. In return, the tribals and the Taliban would be required to say farewell to arms and give water-tight guarantees not to violate the Durand Line nor to practise and spread militancy inside or outside the province.
I believe this is an enlightened course to follow, the portents are promising. We should welcome Baitullah Mahsud’s peace offer and not worry too much about what Washington likes or doesn’t like. I wonder what would they think if their backyard was burning. They can sink another billion dollars there, yet no peace will ever come. Let them fend the other side of the Durand Line more effectively. America should do more.
To boot, since they spend $40 Billion on the war in Afghanistan, they ought to be spending $5-6 Billion a year to strengthen democracy and economy of Pakistan. Instead of making friends with an individual, they ought to make friends with the people of Pakistan. Instead of turning Pakistan into a whimpering client state, bereft of sovereignty, they ought to learn to respect a proud country. Moderation has won over extremism in Pakistan. Show to the people of Pakistan there are dividends in democracy, in moderation.
The people of Pakistan have spoken, hear them, before the sand in the hour-glass drains out. This was the vision of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto for Pakistan. I hope the government of consensus will live up to it.
Source: The Nation, 4/5/2008