WASHINGTON DC, Oct 9, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Body searches of tribesmen in progress: A failing approach

Pakistan Army's Tribal Policy is Not Working

By Wajahat Latif

LAHORE, October 9: The army operation in Waziristan has taken a turn for the worse. More troops, more arms and ammunition, jet aircraft and gun ship helicopters have been brought into the conflict, raising the number of casualties.

A major of the Pakistan Army, six soldiers and one Frontier Corps sepoy were killed on the second day of the operation. The Corps HQ in Peshawar is playing it close to the chest, declining to say anything about this casualty report.

But the Interior Minister told the BBC that the security forces had 11 casualties on Thursday and Friday (29thth and 30th Sept). Nine of these 11 casualties, he said, including the Major, were from the army and two from the Frontier Corps. The ethnic description of the casualties is not given. The operation goes on and the number of casualties is rising.

Be that as it may, the Minister has also said that 25 to 30 militants have been killed. Slowly the phrase "militant" is ringing a nasty bell from East Pakistan in 1970, when "miscreant" was also used to describe those who opposed the army.

Regardless of the name given to them, those who are resisting the armed forces in Waziristan have sympathy at the grassroots level in the tribal area and the NWFP. The fighting tribesmen are targeting tribal leaders who side with the government.

There are a few features of management of the tribal area, which are time tested and reliable but apparently they have been shelved. What about the Aitchison Treaties concluded with the tribes a long time ago? They and the Manuals have guided the administration of the tribal area smoothly for nearly two centuries now.

What has now happened that we have an army led campaign in Waziristan? If the problem is about "foreigners", have all the powers of the Political Agent to ensure good order in the tribes been exhausted?

Every tribe has a treaty with the Government of Pakistan under which the tribe has tribal and territorial responsibilities. The Political Administration has sufficient power under law and tradition to ensure compliance. Historically, army action has always been a last ditch measure, and worked only when used in aid to civil power on the specific demand of the Political Agent and guided by the political officers who had intimate knowledge of the people and the area.

In the present case, it seems to have been taken as the first rather than the last step. Tribal management has a long history and the lessons learnt are copiously recorded in official documents, manuals, campaign accounts, local records and notes. There is a significant amount of institutional memory of those who served in the area in the 1950s and 1960s.

Is the present operation the result of an informed policy based on these valuable sources on the subject? That is unlikely, because those who have deep knowledge of the tribes are alarmed at the government policy in that area and worried about the long-term repercussions.

They believe that the government policy ignores the laid down procedures of ensuring good order in the tribal area, which has been enforced on the tribes for generations. The same results can be achieved through these procedures without such heavy cost of the operation and casualties and long-term hatred, albeit without the drama of a military operation.

In the old days, even when the conflicts were bad the battles were never set piece. The tribesmen were traditionally snipers who used to hit and run. The present war-like situation shows deep roots.

Indeed, the war on terrorism has created new compulsions, mostly in terms of international pressure to get rid of the extremists. By all means, the writ of the administration on this issue must prevail. But the results will be more lasting and less expensive if the problem is approached politically (which does not exclude military action) rather than through a military led campaign with the political administration completely ignored.

This policy will fetch us nothing but there is a serious risk of the army getting bogged down in the tribal area, the tall claims of the government notwithstanding. The nagging question of credibility of the government in general and the army in particular does not go away.

The Peshawar Corps Commander had told us many weeks ago that he had managed to clear all militants and the area was now quiet. In that case, what is the army doing there now and why do they continue to cause and take casualties? News from the area is that the casualties inflicted by them include women and children.

The outgoing Corps Commander accused MNA Maulvi Nek Zaman of backing militancy not so long ago. The MNA is now on an official committee negotiating ceasefire. What do we and what do we not believe? The deadlines for surrender are extended ever so often, a disaster for tribal management.

Lack of credibility is at all levels. The Governor suggested renegotiation of Durand Line to the Afghans the other day. Later he denied having said it. The President denies comments on rape victims in his interview to The Washington Post. The Post posts them on a web site verbatim and the entire Pakistani nation is humiliated. What do we believe? Ziaul Haq was always going back on his statements, finally reducing the acronym CMLA to "Cancel My Last Announcement" in the popular lexicon.

The gentlemen mentioned above are/have been commissioned officers. Obviously, the Psych Officer, the Group Testing Officer (GTO) and the Presiding Officer failed to see potential infirmity of character in them in the Inter Services Selection Board (ISSB).

Credibility of administrators has been a pivotal point of tribal administration. The British had set high standards for it. Early last century, a Political Agent in South Waziristan managed to negotiate his own release from Mahsud kidnappers on his word that there would be no punishment for the tribe. Ignoring his word, the Government of India sent RAF to bomb the area. The Political Agent, a British officer, shot himself.

Why are we fighting in the tribal area with our own people? They have been a part of this country through thick and thin. Much is owed to them before and after partition. We should recall that their Afghan cousins assured us to not worry about our western borders and lived up to it when we were at war with our eastern neighbor.

Before it is too late, the level of this conflict must be brought down if not ceased. Immediate measures are necessary to contain the conflict. Let the political officers take out the manuals and treaties and sit with the tribes to find a mutually agreeable solution of issues, including terrorism, according to the established rules of the game.

The international community should appreciate this approach if they understand the danger this veritable war poses for this country. This battle in the tribal area is going to prove very costly for Pakistan. The hatred for the President for having provided the US forces the vital logistic support against Afghanistan is still seething.

What is being added to it is the rising fire in the bellies of the youth of Waziristan who are unlikely to forget what is being done to them. General Musharraf has sown seeds of long-term hatred in the tribal area. When the results of this policy do come out, we will live to regret it.

The writer is a retired Inspector General of Police of Pakistan. This comment first appeared in The Nation, Lahore

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