Stop blaming FATA and take responsibility for the IDPs, Pakistan

Published: June 26, 2014

The recent developments have intensified feelings alienation among the people of FATA and reinforced the popular impression that the ruling party only caters to the needs of its dominant Punjabi constituency. PHOTO: REUTERS

A displaced Pakistani man plays with his baby in Chota Lahore camp at Swabi district. PHOTO: AFP The recent developments have intensified feelings alienation among the people of FATA and reinforced the popular impression that the ruling party only caters to the needs of its dominant Punjabi constituency. PHOTO: REUTERS The recent developments have intensified feelings alienation among the people of FATA and reinforced the popular impression that the ruling party only caters to the needs of its dominant Punjabi constituency. PHOTO: REUTERS The recent developments have intensified feelings alienation among the people of FATA and reinforced the popular impression that the ruling party only caters to the needs of its dominant Punjabi constituency. PHOTO: FILE The recent developments have intensified feelings alienation among the people of FATA and reinforced the popular impression that the ruling party only caters to the needs of its dominant Punjabi constituency. PHOTO: AFP

After months of dithering, the Pakistani government finally approved the long-awaited offensive against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) last week. The decision came in the wake of the audacious terrorist attack on the country’s largest airport that reportedly killed at least 29 people.

While the decision is a welcome move, the way it was arrived at revealed the ‘reactive’ nature of and the laxity and arbitrariness associated with the country’s policy-making process. Given the existential threat it poses, terrorism should have been the foremost priority of the new government and therefore must have been dealt with in a more pro-active and robust way. Unfortunately, the imperatives of civil-military relations and the fear of backlash in the ruling party’s political constituency prevented it from adopting any concrete and decisive policy. The on again, off again peace talks with the Taliban stumbled in the face of resurgent violence and excessive media coverage. The government’s half-heartedness and indecisiveness became palpably evident when it authorised limited surgical strikes against militant hideouts while the so-called negotiations were going on.

Due to the absence of prior warning to civilians, these strikes resulted in the alleged killing of innocent people including women and children. The subsequent Taliban infighting that virtually brought the peace process to a halt created a misplaced euphoria in Islamabad. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) seized the opportunity to claim credit for creating divisions within the ranks of the Taliban. Ironically, they did not realise that the infighting over the leadership of the Taliban was triggered primarily by the drone that ‘martyred’ the Taliban Chief Hakimullah Mehsud.

Anyhow, the euphemism about Taliban’s weakness fizzled out with the deadly attack on Karachi airport.

The subsequent decision to launch military offensive in North Waziristan was impetuous. The local people were not given ample time to evacuate. No prior arrangements were made for accommodating the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Both the federal and the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) are acting as if they never expected the IDPs.

As if it was not enough, the governments of Sindh and Punjab have unabashedly refused to allow in any IDPs. No wonder the IDPs are migrating to Afghanistan where they are warmly welcomed and taken care of. This attitude is but a minor reflection of the broader national apathy towards the problems of the people of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The developments of the last few months have intensified feelings of marginalisation and alienation among the people of FATA and reinforced the popular impression that the ruling party only caters to the needs of its dominant Punjabi constituency.

Notwithstanding the above reservations, it is high time to support the military operation and boost the morale of the soldiers. Instead of opposing the military operation, the critics and civil society should press for more transparency in the way the operation is conducted and the relief work for the IDPs is carried out.

Sceptics are right in that the operation would not eliminate terrorism. Eradicating terrorism, instead, requires a holistic long-term counter-extremism strategy. This military operation should just be the beginning of that larger struggle. Other measures shall include, but not be limited to, facilitating an open and informed public debate on the issue of religious extremism, reviewing our regional policy and revisiting the ideological paradigm of the state.

To begin with, initiating an open and informed dialogue is very important to understand and appreciate the nuances of the phenomenon of religious extremism. Unfortunately, the public debate about terrorism in Pakistan has been hijacked by those who view it in the ‘dialogue versus military operation’ binary. This approach has not only deeply polarised the public opinion but also fostered a delusional, misleading and grossly over-simplified narrative.

For instance, a recent blog by a resident of FATA evoked interesting responses from readers. While a few readers did share his concern, there were others who, in a rather condescending tone, were criticising the ‘ignorant’ people of FATA for ‘hosting and supporting the killers of thousands of Pakistanis’. As much as they reeked of snobbishness and elitism, these comments also alluded to the ignorance of the educated urban Pakistanis about the peripheral areas of the country in general and the issue of terrorism in particular.

It is in this mainland Pakistan that the real battle against extremism has to be fought. These ‘educated’ and ‘patriotic’ citizens of the mainland Pakistan need to be provided with an honest and objective account of the rise and growth of terrorism in Pakistan. They should be taught that the people of FATA did not engender terrorism. Instead, it was the state’s exploitation of the Pashtun cultural code of hospitality, their affinity for religion and the establishment of massive jihadi infrastructure in the tribal belt that made Fata the place it is today.

Secondly, terrorism in Pakistan cannot be curbed without bringing a strategic shift in foreign policy. Owing to the complex regional security terrain, Pakistan cannot establish internal peace unless it contributes to peace in the neighbouring countries. Our efforts for internal peace, therefore, must coincide with initiatives for regional peace. This would entail, inter alia, abandoning the policy of using Islamic extremism as a tool of foreign policy once and for all.

In other words, Pakistan has to, and should, abolish the distinction between good and bad militants.

It should go all out against militants including the Haqqani network, the sectarian and anti-Indian jihadi groups. Durable peace can be achieved only if the current offensive is followed up by a crackdown against the Punjab-based Sunni militants and extremist groups. Such measures will help Islamabad mend its strained ties with Kabul, New Delhi and Washington and seek their support in rooting out terrorism. The current regional geo-political environment is conducive for such an initiative.

On the eastern border, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-government’s desire to revive economic growth converges with PML-N’s own focus on growth and its desire to promote trade and economic ties with India. However, this goal can only be achieved if Pakistan reins in its anti-Indian jihadi groups. Any repeat of the Mumbai style terror attacks would roll back the reconciliation process and plunge the region into a potentially disastrous crisis.

Similarly, despite misgivings, Washington and Kabul more than ever desire Islamabad to facilitate the Afghan peace process. By playing a constructive role in the impending end game, Pakistan can dissuade Kabul from giving support and sanctuary to the Pakistani Taliban. Finally, action against the sectarian outfits would help Islamabad improve ties with Iran.

Will Islamabad capitalise on this opportunity to repair its strained regional ties and improve its international image and credibility? Only time will tell. For now, let’s focus on the humanitarian fall out of the North Waziristan offensive. Heart-rending stories and photos of internally displaced children and women making rounds on social media do not augur well for national unity. The people of FATA have suffered the most in the war on terror. Now is the time to own the fall out of the operation and share the burden of internal displacement with the people of FATA.

An effective national response to the issue should entail the following principles:

  • Give a time frame for the return of the IDPs
  • Adopt a community-based approach both for coordinating relief efforts and for identifying militants while preventing them from infiltrating the IDP camps. It would entail engaging the representatives from the IDP community as reliable and trustworthy partners.
  • Allocate adequate resources for IDP relief efforts. This might include diverting resources from projects such as the laptop schemes, festivals etcetera
  • Create a legal framework upholding the rights of IDPs
  • Establish a cell for collecting data on the number, needs and conditions of IDPs
  • Designate an institutional focal point for coordinating relief efforts
  • Seek support of and cooperate with international community and the non-governmental sector to compensate for the government’s capacity and resource constraints

Rafiullah Kakar

Rafiullah Kakar

A student of Masters of Public Policy (MPP) at the University of Oxford. He is also a Rhodes Scholar. Hailing from Balochistan, he was a member of the Youth Parliament Pakistan last year who occasionally writes for magazines and newspapers. He tweets as @rafiullahkakar (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Feroz

    Your take is that the Pakistan government or military used FATA to host the terrorists it supported and it was not a voluntary effort on the part of residents there. This should be up for debate but opinions I am sure are divided. Irrespective of WHO, the people of FATA I am sure gained financially from this arrangement with many joining hands in the criminal activities called fund raising.
    What you are saying is exactly what journalists like Farhat Taj have been claiming — that Pashtuns were exploited by the Establishment and those locals that opposed the Taliban were eliminated by the Rangers or their Taliban proxies. In short the Military and Taliban were in cahoots and equal oppressors. Mind you, she had to run for her life and settle in Scandinavia, with publications in Pakistan refusing to print her articles. Someone has something to hide but what is clear is that a few including a few innocent residents, have been thrown to the wolves. The extent of relief and compensation to be provided to the displaced people should therefore depend on which of the narratives is true.Recommend

  • Sami

    I am appalled when the writer used the Word “Martyred” for the Taliban Chief Hakim Ullah Masud?. Is he really a martyr in your eyes who was the killer of thousands of Pakistanis?
    Secondly this article never ever criticized the Taliban which are operating from those regions but simply the Respected author used the word Punjabi Constituency and Punjab based Sunni militants to put all the blame on them? It was more like a Punjab bashing than anything else.
    Also i want to tell you that Pushtoons live in each corner of Punjab with freedom to do anything and Punjabis never ever do any type of Racism and Pushtoons have an ease of Business and living here. But still unfortunately this Hospitality of Punjabis will never ever be recognized anywhere.Recommend

  • Sialkot wala

    Nawaz and his brother Shahbaz harbor and give a free rein to extremists in Punjab. In return Punjab is kept safe. Le J… Le T… Jaish M…Jundullah are all operating and
    are thriving in Punjab. With impunity. They are allowed to “collect” donations too. So Punjab has to be de- extremitized, de- sanitized from these outfits. For progress to be made. The Sharif brothers are the main hindrance or obstacles in Punjabistan. For any progress to be made.Recommend

  • Syedpk

    “No wonder the IDPs are migrating to Afghanistan where they are warmly welcomed and taken care of.”
    No wonder, when you play host to militants from Afghanistan and other Central Asian Countries, offcourse they would reciprocate. Compared to the generosity the people of FATA have displayed for them, and the way they act to the host cities in other part of the country, this was bound to happen. Karachi wellcomed the IDPs before from 1980s to 2010, and the IDPs stabbed the city in the back. They took over the land in outskirts, started stealing electricity from the main grid, created No Go Areas, where anybody whos is not pukhtun or is not accompanied by a pukhton are met with stones pelted by people from all ages from 4 year olds to 40. Not to mention the illegal Arms trades, and the take over of the city transport system. (The defac-to representative org of Karachi transport is PAC: Pukhtun Action Committee ).
    You have space in Kpk, you would feel more home in KPK stay there for now. you can migrate to Karachi or Lahore once the heat is off.Recommend

  • gp65

    The writer put the word in quotes. He is being sarcastic about what the JI chief said.Recommend

  • Big Fat Liar

    The issue with Gullu Butt mentality towards Pukhtuns is that it’s deeply ingrained into the psyche of Punjabi elite and a brute army. One has to be blind to not appreciate the apathetic and rude treatment meted out to dignified people of a great nation, and I m not talking about civil society alone. The article is at best, subtle regarding the bigotry of Punjabi towards smaller nations at large. The question one should ask is this: was It really a good idea for Pukhtuns to accede to Pakistan ( essentially Punjab) at Jinnahs call, or would they had been better off NOT begging resources from Maula Jutts at times of crises?
    The brute and uncivilized military is killing my daughter , mother and sister. I say it’s time to move away from this nation. Recommend

  • harsh

    let afghan taliban come to power after 2016 and then we will teach USA and India strict lessonRecommend

  • Lyari

    Well in 1947 when millions of migrants from India arrived in Pakistan,they were not allowed to settle in NWFP and their busses were turned back to Punjab and Sindh,creating a large humanatarian crisis, I know 2 wrongs do not make a right but history does repeat itself.

    To blame the conflict in Afghanistan and FATA only on Pakistan is disingenuous and biased, the conflict between Pakistan and Afghanistan started when Afghanistan voted against Pakistan’s creation in the UN and Afghan PM Daud Khan supported rebels in KPK as well as Balochistan under the guise of Marxism and ethno nationalism, if Pakistan hadn’t responded to Afghanistan’s interventionism in it’s land, Pakistan would have been embroiled in a bloody civil war so we just did what ANY country would have done to protect it’s territorial integrity, it’s not like Pakistan wanted to control A’stan or kill it’s people, it only wanted a government in place that would recognize the internationally recognized border between the two countries.

    The only way Pakistan & Afghanistan can achieve peace after the success of this operation, would be to resolve the border issue; Pakistan won’t let Afghanistan infiltrate with rebels.Recommend

  • Anoop

    Pakistan will never Bomb Punjab and Sindh, as it’s real Pakistan. But will Bomb Balochistan and FATA at the drop of a hat.

    Same reason why Drones were allowed over FATA, but operation to kill Osama evoked massive response from Punjabis.

    Similarly more Shias were killed in Balochistan on the same day as Karachi attacks, but hardly got news coverage in real Pakistan. Recommend

  • rafiullah kakar

    Dear Sami: When a word is used in “”, then it means that either it is a quote or is used in ironical sense….Martyred was used in ironical sense….This article was not about the Taliban….When I support military operation against them, it automatically means I strongly oppose them….You need to read the article again….Recommend

  • siesmann

    The author put martyred in inverted commas.So he means “alleged”, and does not himself believe in that.Recommend

  • siesmann

    While a few people might have benefited from the advent of terrorists,yet the common man in FATA is the sufferer,and that is the overwhelming majority. And exploitation is not only “financial”. As the author says FATA people have been exploited using their sense of hospitality, bravery ,history .honor and religious beliefs..Hope the leaders in FATA realize it,and stop being instruments in others’ hands to their own detriment.Recommend

  • Adnan Aamir

    @disqus_Rehman:disqus The author has used the word Martyred in Commas. Obviously you don’t know this but it means that its a sarcastic reference..

    Its a very well argued article. Kudos to the author…Recommend

  • Anoop

    Pakistan’s formula for fighting Terror : Bomb its own people(exception are people in Punjab and Sindh).

    Not ban all Madressahs, not arrest all important figures in Terror organisations like Hafiz Saeed, not stop inciting hate against minorities which leads to Radicalism which leads to Terror.

    But, Bomb its own people to the stone age(again except areas of Punjab and Sindh, which are real Pakistan).Recommend

  • Prashant

    It is very refreshing to see a person of Pakistani origin saying the above.

    I do not see too many Pakistanis agreeing with Rafi though. We might have a huge number of differences with a country or for that matter a community but would we make fun of them when they are in distress especially when they are getting displaced for their own country’s sake.

    Whether it is Tamils in Sri Lanka or the Pathans in Pakistan who might have been on the wrong side of the history for brief period of time, the entire population cannot be discriminated against as that would be sheer hatred which would be responded in kind and the Pathans are masters of pay back(whether good or bad).

    I am an Indian and I have not met the Pathans ever, I know them for attacking Kashmir to make it a part of Pakistan, I also know them for being a part of Taliban and I have heard they are fierce fighters. I would still empathize with the women, children and the men among them who are suffering for a lack of choice.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Sami, you remember the concept:

    ” Your terrorist could be my freedom fighter”

    Hafiz Saeed might have been declared a terrorist even by UN, he still remains a freedom fighter for you.

    What made you think that you would sell this concept to your perceived enemies but keep your own in the dark. This had to happen, it was just a matter of time.Recommend

  • Fyi

    Shah Rukh, Salman and Amir have pathan ethnicity.Recommend

  • rafiullah kakar

    Prashant: I have used the word “martyred” in ironical sense!Recommend

  • rafiullah kakar

    Exactly! Thanks a lot!Recommend

  • Lyari

    I see how you post comments everywhere to flame ethnic conflict;Pakistan has to carry out airstrikes in FATA because the militants and the terrain are really different and that is where terrorism is emanating from;even the Americans and Russians couldn’t,t defeat them so Pakistan has to step up their game, and you seem to ignore the fact that the Pakistan army has announced that they’re going to start ground combat within the next 48 hours.

    Pakistan did engage in ground combat during the Swat operation(in KPK) And succeeded despite losing many soldiers, so your attempts at playing the ethnic card are pathetic and ignorant, Nadeem F Paracha’s recent article ‘hypocritistan’ really explains your hypocritical behavior.

    PS being a Lyariwal, I am of baloch origin so don’t speak about what you have no knowledge about.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Agreed Rafi but I would have still made that point as I was addressing a particular mindset which believes in fighting terrorism at one place and supporting it at another. It was independent of the word used by you in the context you did.Recommend

  • Prashant

    I know sir. What’s your point then? I have clearly made a distinction between those who have taken to arms and those who have nothing to do with it and to tell you the truth, it does not matter whether you are a Pathan or Sindhi, eventually what is right is right.Recommend

  • نائلہ

    Stop this ‘real Pakistan’ thing you have started. Your hatred for my country has pushed you to extremes, and here you are trying to create further differences between the people of Pakistan- a nation already in turmoil.Recommend

  • Sami

    Quotation marks are also used for Emphasis and Direct Speech. Anyway leave the first paragraph. What about the rest then?. Am i wrong in it?Recommend

  • israr

    This is totaly unplanned operation. its not the matter of punjabi, pashtun or sindhi. But the point is that the poor innocent people are the victims of dire cruelties . They are foriegners in their own country. The writer is not creating any racial discrimination, but criticizing the unplanned policy of government…..!Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    good use of copy and paste my friend, good use of ctrl+C and then ctrl+V. this same comment you have made about three comments ago :PRecommend

  • Prashant

    Neither Pakistan not the Afghans would like to see the Pashtuns creating a country of their own. I am not going into what is right and wrong but it is just my opinion.Recommend

  • Prashant

    Have not you taught us a lesson already and in doing so you have taught yourself a much bigger lesson and the lesson is not over yet.Recommend

  • munis saraiki

    mr writer totally agreed with ur article but kakar sb its the fault of pashtoons that y they fell in da trap of zia ul haq,baloch have never b the part of dat trap even sindhis n saraikies also.. one question for u plz write an article about the situation of Dera Ismail Khan before and after IDPs from south waziristan..n also tell the people about situation of quetta before and after afghan refugees?? waiting for ur reply.Recommend

  • Visibly

    All these escaping people, from a very conservative and often extremist part of Pakistan.
    I do understand that other counties find it difficult to accept them.
    One possibility is to ask them “at the border” in terms of tolerance:
    1) are shias and sunnis equally good muslims?
    2) are muslims and non-muslims equally good citizens of Pakistan?
    3) do men and women have equal right to education?
    4) do you follow the law of the land, even if it is not in direct adherence with your religious belief?
    5) will you adhere to the local laws and customs, even if it is against your traditional laws/customs?

  • Anoop

    Difficult Terrain doesn’t mean India bombs Kashmir or Maoists. Both are regions with difficult Terrain. Stop offering dehumanising excuses. Bombing people should never be the option and it will eventually backfire(like IDPs running to other cities overwhelming the system).

    You are just trying to provide an alternative theory for this glaring inequality in treatment, which is quite conveniently convenient for you.

    Admitting that FATA and Balochistan are treated as secondary citizens is hard, even though you are from Balochistan(often people in Pakistan are very wrong about Pakistan and I have corrected them).

    I’ve been right in the past about IP Gas pipeline, North Waziristan safe haven turning into a nightmare for Pakistan, etc.

    So, I have a good track record of being on the dot!Recommend

  • Prashant

    Pakistan is a nation of more than 180 million people, I would be surprised if a few comments by Indians would create such differences among Pakistanis that you should be worried about unless my friends from across the border are already divided.

    Also, which nation on the face of the planet does not have internal differences?Recommend

  • Prashant

    If these questions are asked, the immigration of the Pakistanis to the west will come down a great deal.Recommend

  • Kulwnt Singh

    Teach a lesson really US Navy seals entered ur country killed OBL and you were sleeping, living on US aid for the past 67 years and talking of teaching a lesson and about India you already know how many lessons you have taught and how successful u were.Recommend

  • Asif bhatti

    you are right bro. When I see on the news killing of innocent people in lyari, children being shot in cross fire by mqm,anp gangs it pains me deeply especially when lyariwalas proudly host Pakistani flags and want to excel in sports n education despite no help from the state.
    compare this to fata where we are building brand new schools for kids who like to play Taliban vs army and praise suicide bombing.
    my blood boils when I see fata people getting top class development even though many areas in the country are even poor then that.
    how many fata people host Pakistani flags? how many are proud to say they are Pakistanis? afterall these people will destroy the schools once built anyway so why pak army wastes precious money on Pashtun areas is it because we are scared that Pashtun radicalisation will spread if we don’t cater to their demands?.
    whats changed anyway?! fact of matter is Pashtuns will never be loyal to anyone but their own greedy clan/families. they have no love for Pakistan they are afghanis and can cross the border anytime even if they don’t have relatives across.
    the sooner we Pakistanis can separate ourselves from these people the better it will be for whole Pakistan. we can put greater resources back in to Sindh, Baluchistan Kashmir and other deprived areas that at least appreciate sacrifices n development from pak authorities.
    Pashtuns will never be loyal to Pakistan as they always have an “Afghani” side to them. let them go their own ways and let us develop peacefully the rest of Pakistan without blackmail, intimidation, terrorism…
    keep your hopes up bro, lyari will succeed in almost any field as we saw in latest example of Pakistan street kids world cup lyari stars.Recommend