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CRACKING THE FATA CODE

  • Pervaiz Asghar
  • Dec, 2017
  • 70
  • National

It is also time for Pakistan to get on with the job of bringing FATA into the mainstream, thereby creating a distinct Pakistani identity amongst the tribesmen on its side of the border instead of leaving them in the lurch.

The Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (better known by its acronym FATA) had been created in 1849 to serve as a buffer between British India and Afghanistan, while Afghanistan itself was being softened by the British through invasions, brutalities, subsidies and diplomacy to keep Czarist Russia at bay. Having entered into a joint agreement with the Afghan Emir for the demarcation of the international border, the British also managed to persuade Russia to follow suit, resulting thereby in bifurcating the Pashtun tribes on the British side and the Turkmen, Uzbek and Tajik Territories on the Russian side of the demarcated Afghan border.

And so life went on till the events leading to the independence of India and Pakistan as two separate states in mid-August 1947 reignited Afghanistan's passions and ambitions. While it had willingly acquiesced to the Durand Line as a de jure and de facto border between Afghanistan and British India in 1893, reconfirming it during the Anglo-Afghan Pact of 1905 and the Rawalpindi Pact of 1919, Afghanistan viewed the departure of the British as an opportunity to extend Its territory till the banks of the river Indus, a throwback to the glory days of Ahmad Shah Abdali, who, on founding the Kingdom of Afghanistan in 1747, had expanded it this far west through conquests. A number of historical antecedents were however conveniently ignored whilst pursuing this agenda. First and foremost, the Eastern portion of Afghanistan at the time formed part of India’s Mughal Empire, while the rest was under control of the Safavids of Iran. Afghanistan as a Kingdom had again fragmented after the death of its founder in 1773 into tribes and city states. By the 1820s, the Lahore-based Sikh empire of Ranjit Singh had reversed the Abdali gains and even brought some areas of present day Afghanistan under its sway. As the successor state to Ranjit Singh’s empire, British India’s unease about the territorial ambitions of Imperial Russia caused it to recognise Afghanistan as an emirate and formalise the border painstakingly drawn up by a British diplomat Sir Mortimer Durand and the Afghan Emir Abdur Rahman Khan.

The Anglo-Afghan treaty of 1919, also referred to as the Rawalpindi Pact, signed after the third inconclusive Afghan war, resulted in Britain creating a new administrative unit, which it aptly termed as the North West Frontier Province. For ease of governance, the tribal areas, which also included the princely states of Dir and Swat, were divided into political agencies, each administered by a  Political Agent, whose immense devolved power was exercised through local Maliks, carefully chosen on the strength of their loyalty to the crown. While ostensibly displaying respect to Pashtun tradition by allowing trials by jirga(a jury of local influentials), the Frontier Crimes Regulation Act, allowing for massive collective retribution, was also brutally enforced to snuff out the slightest sign of rebellion.

And so things continued till Pakistan attained independence from British rule. Apart from Pakistan Army regulars being withdrawn from the tribal agencies, nothing much changed in terms of governance. Each Political Agent, appointed by the Centre, has now under him a special force of around 2 to 3 thousand khasadars and Levies force of irregulars to enforce his writ, while the border is being looked after by the Frontier Constabulary (headed by Army officers). FATA is colloquially referred to as ‘ilaqa ghair’(foreign territory), a local version of the wild, wild, west. Since the Political Parties Act never got extended to FATA, the tribal influentials who were normally elected to parliament as independents, invariably sold their loyalty to the highest bidder. Left to their own devices, the free-spirited tribesmen, for whom the bearing of arms was a way of life, sought recourse to smuggling, hijacking vehicles and kidnapping for ransom in mainland Pakistan as a means of sustenance. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan catapulted FATA into the vanguard of the resistance movement. The massive influx of Afghan refugees and freedom fighters from all over the Islamic world led to the establishment of a record number of Saudi-funded madrassas for religious indoctrination and camps for military training. It was through the porous borders of FATA that the mujahideen used to foray into Afghanistan for carrying out debilitating strikes. Pakistan in turn came in the crosshairs of the notorious Afghan spy agency Khad, having its major cities wracked by an extensive bombing campaign.

Once the var...

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