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Tribesmen Must Be Given Right To Run Their Affairs

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Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been facing failure in the war on terror and this is the reason that they have been trying to persuade the Taliban and terrorists to stop fighting against them.

There was a time when Taliban and terrorists were the men of the ruling class of Pakistan, who are now being used for keeping the innocent in a constant state of terror. The war on terror has brought the issue into the limelight and Taliban and terrorists have been finding it hard to survive.

Neither the ruling class of Pakistan nor Afghanistan can find a solution to tribal area issues. The tribal area and Taliban issues can only be resolved by the people of tribal areas. Some of the leaders have been floating strange ideas.

According to an official newspaper comment, more than three weeks after the “kidnapping” of over 200 security personnel in South Waziristan, there is no sign yet that the government is anywhere near securing their release. Following negotiations with a jirga, the militants released a batch of 26 soldiers. But that gesture — our Peshawar bureau chief informs us — was a demonstration of generosity in keeping with the tribal tradition that interlocutors should not go empty-handed.

This situation makes one point clear: the government is hopelessly dependent upon the dubious goodwill of the moderates among the tribal chiefs, its own military machine being unable to compel the militants to release the kidnapped. This being the harsh reality, one wonders what is the purpose behind deploying nearly 100,000 soldiers in what is increasingly turning into a wild goose chase.

On Tuesday, the interior ministry spokesman said the government would not bargain for the soldiers’ release and that the militants must release them unconditionally. If the militant leadership does not choose to release them, what option does the government have? More force? More troops and more casualties without an end in sight? As the figures show, Pakistan has lost 730 soldiers in the war on terror in Fata, 229 since July 15 alone. Across the border, the US-led coalition forces have, since July 15, suffered only 69 casualties. Yet, it is the governments of these very armies which accuse Pakistan of not doing enough and urge it to ‘do more’.

Have the security forces personnel in Fata developed battle fatigue that is characteristic of all armies bogged down in guerilla wars? Or are they reluctant to fight and kill their own compatriots? One can understand a couple of soldiers being taken by surprise and kidnapped. But the very idea of such a large posse of well-trained and well-armed troops being kidnapped without a shot being fired defies logic. The deal the government made with the militants last September failed to produce results.

More ominously, the number of tribal maliks who could be called moderate if not pro-government seems to be declining. This is also an indication of the collapse of Fata’s traditional system in which the maliks commanded authority and acted in close liaison with the government to tackle the recalcitrant elements. Now the maliks’ power seems to have given way to that of the Taliban, who have gone on the offensive with a vengeance after the Lal Masjid crackdown.

It is futile to hope for a new, resulted-oriented strategy until the presidential election drama in Islamabad is over. But it is clear that the strategy so far followed has backfired. While the government must use force where necessary, it must have the wisdom to realise that one must also talk to the enemy. After all, Islamabad has entered into a dialogue with other parties with which it has had acute differences. So what is wrong in talking to the ‘enemy’ in Fata, especially because the forces so critical of Pakistan have themselves failed to contain the ‘enemy’ straddling the Durand Line?

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur District, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is (more...)

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