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People of Fata



By Ishrat Saleem

July 05, 2013

A couple of weeks ago, Chief of Army Staff General Kayani inaugurated a 50 km road from Wana, capital of South Waziristan, to Angoor Adda on the border of Afghanistan. This road was built with the assistance of the UAE government as part of the larger reconstruction effort underway in an area that was once the headquarters of the Pakistani Taliban. In his inaugural address, General Kayani urged people to return to their homes and assured them all-out support until peace is completely restored.

 The people of South Waziristan had fled aerial bombardment, arrests and house demolitions because there was little or no advance warning of the operation that our military undertook in June 2009. After enduring expulsion from their homes for nearly four years, it seems they can finally look forward to rebuilding their lives.

 Earlier this month, it was announced that 1,564 families were being repatriated to their home towns in the agency. Rehabilitation and repatriation efforts are underway in other agencies as well. In a meeting with the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, IDPs belonging to Khyber Agency, who will return home later this month, complained against the rude behaviour of the political administration. These people deserve better treatment.

 Once back, security will be their most important concern. While the military is engaged in operations in other areas of Fata, it is necessary to prevent these rehabilitated areas from falling back into the hands of the militants. Last month, the army announced the clearing of the Maidan area of the Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency, but it has still to take any decisive action against militants in North Waziristan. This is where the infamous Haqqani Network is based, which has been a major bone of contention between the US and Pakistan.

 How the military will prevent these militants from branching out into other areas is a million dollar question. Just a day after General Kayani inaugurated the road in South Waziristan, militants fired at the Amin check post in Miranshah in North Waziristan. The retaliatory fire by security forces claimed the lives of college-going twin sisters in the Darpa Khel village, the only children of their parents. There is no escaping North Waziristan.

 The government has announced an All Parties Conference on July 12 to evolve a strategy to curb militancy, which has increased in the weeks since the new government took oath. If statements of major political figures and the outcomes of previous such conferences are any guide, dialogue with militants would be the overwhelming choice.

 However, this effort must go beyond that and propose a road map of talks to which everyone must agree. It should include options in case the militants fail to recognise the government and the constitution of Pakistan and lay down their arms. The government must not allow its citizens to be killed mercilessly. The conference must also take account of the situation in North Waziristan.

 The military cannot be expected to oversee law enforcement of the reclaimed areas indefinitely. The local administration of Fata should strengthen its law-enforcement arm and take over from the army eventually. Finally, the government must not lose sight of the broader goal of integrating our tribal areas into the rest of the country.

 The people of Fata have suffered immensely and for too long, not just at the hands of militants, but also by the neglect and ill-advised policies of successive governments, which have historically treated Fata as a strategic fault-line. The government must take steps to prepare the rehabilitated areas for integration into the mainstream political system.

Ishrat Saleem is a freelance journalist based in Washington, DC.