Success in the Pakistani tribal belt can offer an incentive to the Afghan Pashtun tribes and could go a long way towards making the Afghanistan effort a success
A couple of months ago at a conference in Berlin, it was decided that Pakistan’s tribal belt (FATA) needed massive investment to bring peace to this region. The monies under consideration will primarily be provided by the EU and Saudi Arabia, supplemented by other Middle Eastern countries; a sum of nine billion Euros over a period of five years has been proposed. A team of experts has arrived in Pakistan for working out modalities and requirements.
There is no debating the urgent necessity for such a venture, nor the fact that this, coupled with the use of force to eliminate leaders of the terrorist groups in FATA, is the only strategy to bring peace to this area; and the same applies to Afghanistan. It is important to state at the outset that FATA cannot be peaceful without a peaceful Afghanistan; though a more complicated strategy will be required to achieve success for such a reconstruction plan in Afghanistan.
I do not doubt the sincerity behind the proposed effort to help reconstruct FATA but I gravely apprehend that if the effort is misdirected, it might turn out to be a very expensive exercise in futility.
Any educated outsider viewing the FATA situation with the intention of investing monies to rectify it usually arrives at three areas for priority: education, the lack of which is generally considered the root cause of extremism (which does not necessarily imply that educated people are not extremists, bigots, or terrorists), but there is no debating that education is the only route to ‘enlightened moderation’, health care, and gender discrimination, though not necessarily always in that order.
However, it never ceases to amaze me that so many of our own analysts, even Pashtun tribesmen, accept, even support these conclusions; people who should really know better, accept conclusions far divorced from ground realities and the social psyche of the tribals. Any effort that frontally assaults centuries-old traditions and customs of these tribes is doomed to failure at the outset.
These are people bred in a harsh, sparsely populated region, who live by their traditional code; a land with very little water, where the wealthy have large land holdings and some agriculture, but earn mostly from governmental grants and smuggling, while the poor generally breed a handful of goats and need every available hand to survive; and where women have never enjoyed any rights.
The concept of male superiority is as old as evolution and for people seeped in traditions and who are burning or bombing girls’ schools in their area, any direct attack on their customs and traditions through education will be resisted tooth and nail. It might sound blasphemous to the educated mind, but the truth is that it will take a generation of education for gender issues to be debated and, at least another generation before they can be genuinely implemented. Even in the UK, the pillar of democracy, women’s suffrage was established as recently as 1933.
This, of course reconfirms the priority of education. However, government-sponsored schools have always been suspect and, during the Musharraf regime, which was considered an extension of the Bush regime, even more so.
What is more, no poor family can afford the luxury of having a child ‘waste time’ on education that does not assure a better future, particularly when every hand is needed to help put food on the table. Education, no doubt a necessity, will have to be broached differently, and patiently.
As far as health care is concerned, let us not forget that an anti-polio drive in 2006 was effectively scuttled with the rumour that it was being undertaken at American behest to render children impotent and thus eradicate these tribes!
Any successful effort at reconstructing this region must begin by providing economic opportunities. Due to the paucity of water, the first need is to construct hundreds of small dams, enabling the poor to till their small land holdings and improve their economy. Small industries dealing in leather or other by-products of slaughtered livestock will provide employment opportunities. This can, subsequently be built upon to provide a sustainable economic structure
Both education and health care will have to be ‘tailored’, syllabi temporarily modified, so as not to confront tradition directly. Education, including Islamic, will have to flow like water, along the path of least resistance, avoiding a direct confrontation with the boulders of tradition; akin to Sun Tzu’s (also known as Wu Ch’I and Sun Wu) concepts of sub-conventional warfare, until it becomes an inexorable force which no boulder or obstacle can resist.
Once the minds begin to become aware, tradition will automatically begin to be questioned. Thus the interval of a generation before addressing gender issues meaningfully.
To begin with, all students may even need to be given a stipend for their ‘wasted time’ at school; to be continued or increased, depending on their performance. While scholarships for the more talented will be necessary, there will also be the need for a concurrent vocational training program to cater to others.
Obviously, therefore, this is not a five-year programme. If it is to succeed, at least one generation will have to be ‘corrupted’ by education and its advantages before this ‘disease’ can become sufficiently contagious to last. It would be far better to make haste slowly.
This does not necessarily imply that donor involvement need do more than get such a plan underway; after which, with some help, the Pakistan government can take it to its logical conclusion. It will, however, all depend on eliminating the leaders of the terrorists and extremists.
Needless to say, success in the Pakistani tribal belt can offer an incentive to the Afghan Pashtun tribes and could go a long way towards making the Afghanistan effort a success.
The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). This article is a modified version of one originally written for The National
Courtesy: Daily Times, 2/8/2008