The following article by Jan Assakzai appeared in The Frontier Post on 19 June.
It is so weired for many that that most of the people in Pakistan now care for the problems of Gaza but they did not feel any indigestion over the plight of the people of FATA — their own citizens in Pakistan which the Amnesty International likened with living in a hell. Why? The main reason Pakistan’s mainstream right and left intellectuals’ widespread adherence to the myth that explanation for the rise of Taliban in Pakhtun areas is their (Pakhtuns) alienation. They simply believe the myth that Pakhtuns are expressing extremism in form of Taliban as a reaction to West’s policy. However, these intellectuals are misguiding people by stereotyping Pakhtuns.
They have even confused the people to the point where Taliban’s extremism and terrorism is now seen as anti-imperialism. As a result the gross human rights violation by the Taliban in FATA and Pakistan’s silence do not elicit the mass protests and righteous indignation in the same degree as does the case of Israeli aggression against Gaza. It does not mean that one should not protest the Israeli aggression, but it means when there is another humanitarian disaster unfolding on the doorstep in your neighbourhood, it does not help to sweep under the carpet.
But Pakhtuns of FATA feel alienated because they have been let down by its own county, its own countrymen and above all by these high minded thinkers. One would like to remind these intellectuals that the rise and sustenance of Taliban in Pakhtun areas is not the reflection of Pakhtuns’ alienation or representation of their non-violent culture and allegiance to religion. Rather these Taliban and the current situation is the product of Pakistan’s continuous cold war policies towards Pakhtuns of FATA and Afghanistan: to counter balance Pakhtun nationalism with extremism thus by extensive use of the extremist elements of Pakhtuns as foreign policy tool in Afghanistan. (The present example Molavi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur is a case in point).
More importantly, why FATA is under the control of Taliban warlords is because the state gave them sole monopoly to influence and hold a tight grip on the people. The current situation is the outcome of years of neglect: yes, in the early years of Pakistan, the FCR had an even broader sweep, governing much of the settled areas of the NWFP until 1963, and Balochistan until 1977. Until 1996, when the government of Benazir Bhutto granted universal adult suffrage, FATA tribal elders “selected” their own representatives to parliament with the advice of their political agents. Why FATA is a black hole. Because even after 1996, FATA remained a backwater, as under the FCR, political parties were banned from operating in the area, thereby giving the mullahs and religious parties a monopoly of influence under the guise of religion. In other words the FCR gave no constitutional, civic, or political rights to the people of FATA, and they could not claim the protection of the Pakistani courts.
FATA has become a disgrace world partly because it has been deliberately kept underdeveloped: development, literacy, and health facilities in FATA remained at a minimum. FATA desperately needed development. Annual per capita income there is just five hundred dollars, or half that of the rest of the country. Even after 62 years, the literacy rate is 17 per cent, with just 3 percent women literacy, as compared with a nationwide literacy rate of 56 per cent. There are few functioning hospitals and just 524 doctors for the entire population. In such a situation, the madrassas are the only means of an education and remain immensely popular.
These intellectuals better ask themselves who is responsible for the indoctrination. Now look at the budget. Before 9/11, FATA received just $16.5 million in development funds from the federal government’s budget. In 2002 the government promised $160 million, but the money was absorbed in military costs and the same more or less continued over the next eight years. This year nearly $170 million have been allocated. Even if this is actually spent it is not going to cater for the needs of FATA.
These intellectuals may have the answer as to where billions of dollars from Washington on the name of FATA have ended up. Is $170 million good enough to end the suffering of Pakhtuns in FATA? And does this not prove cynic’s point that FATA has only one utility to be used as a strategic outpost — a buffer between the “chaos” in Afghanistan and “civilisation” in the plains of Indus basin? Why these intellectuals are spreading myths because they have never been to FATA, may be not even once in their life. Because, FATA was and is no go area for journalists, NGOs, human rights organizations, and political parties.
The political agents traditionally had sweeping punitive powers, such as imposing collective punishments on an entire tribe, levying fines, and demolishing the homes of wrongdoers. They know that the traditionally handpicked jirgas were used by English and later by Pakistan to sustain the oppressive FCR. Then civil and criminal cases were judged by a Jirga of handpicked elders whom the political agent paid off from a secret government slush fund. The political agent was one of the most powerful civil servants in the world controlling the lives of people — a direct hangover from the colonial era, rendering the autonomy myth a charade.
These intellectuals are dishonest in not admitting that since 9/11, new and even larger madrassas have been built with donations from al Qaeda and wealthy traders. In reality what has kept the people marginalized has been the lack of political choices or freedoms. Meaningful development could only follow a change in the political status of FATA, more political freedom for its people, and FATA’s entry into the Pakistani mainstream — all of which the army refused to contemplate.
Instead, al-Qaeda and the Taliban were carrying out political changes by renaming the region as the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan and implementing their brutal code of behaviour. Even today Pakistan’s strategic bargaining chips Molavi Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, are sustaining the militant landscape led by the al-Qaeda and its allies, yet it is these intellectuals who have coined the words “friendly” and “unfriendly” Taliban and are advising the army not to launch operation against the militants in North Waziristan. Thus the right and the left intellectuals do not find it attractive to write on the suffering of a marginalised political constituency of the country – FATA’s Pakhtuns, while on Gaza they do not want to be seen to be out of fashion.
Will their conscience awake vis a vis the people of FATA? I wouldn’t bet a dime.