FATA, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, is burning. It is burning and bleeding for over a decade now. So far violence by both Taliban and the State of Pakistan has not led to any conclusive outcomes in military terms. The local population keeps suffering and, probably, will keep suffering into an indefinite future.
The purpose of this article is to highlight one critical point which I think has been overlooked by the people who support, and not sufficiently highlighted by the ones, who are against the State ongoing militant policies in FATA. This is about “not to acknowledge the responsibility” and the resulting miscalculation on the part of the population to understand what is going on in FATA. The question is, why is it all happening in FATA? Why Taliban and Al Qaeda were able to secure some support in the tribal areas? What motivated some people among the tribal population to support Taliban and the Al Qaeda? These questions, of course, fade into insignificance if one is to use culture to explain such support for violence.
Culture provides convenient explanation and allows you to dodge any sense of responsibility about any direct or indirect contribution to the conditions that facilitates or fuels violence. This is exactly the State and the political pundits have been doing. Al though most of the discussion about FATA in the media is of tactical nature but when there is a talk about the roots of the crisis, such queries are normally fed with explanations which are culturally inspired and distort the larger understanding of the crisis. The gist of the overwhelming explanation propounded in the media, by the politicians, policy makers and the scholars alike is that some people have gone mad and they are misusing Islam to justify their violence. They are not just causing trouble to the society but also leading to bad international image of Islam. Al though it may be true for the hardcore Taliban and Al Qaeda, but it does not explain anything about that why some local people have been willing to tolerate or sympathize with as ruthless an organizations as Taliban and Al Qaeda. There has been disturbing silence over such queries. Failure to isolate the motivations that lead some people to support or be sympathetic to radical groups such as Taliban among local population from the motivations of hardcore Taliban, and insisting to aforementioned cultural explanation, has an indirect result of doing cultural injury to the FATA people. Since Taliban thrives in their lands, and no entertainment is served to any socio-economic roots, this means that there must be something cultural that make local population prone to the perverted ideological package of the Taliban. Such a narrow and simple explanation and not considering socioeconomic reasons to the political turbulence in FATA fundamentally alters the understanding of the crisis.
It gives the story of terrorism in FATA a very ahistorical perspective where the reason of violence is not grounded in any historical circumstances but product of a culture of a maniacal minority inspiring majority with its ruthless ideology. Secondly, using the rhetoric of religion to explain violence in FATA, as if some people have turned into bad Muslims against all of us good Muslims, has served to confuse the society at large. Normally being too sensitive to the idea of religion, people normally find the idea of fellow Muslims doing violence in the name of religion unpalatable. People have remained reluctant and uneasy about making opinions related to terrorism emanating from FATA and rather find such conspiratorial ideas as India’s grand game against Pakistan or Israel’s machinations etc as easy explanation. Such a narrative could also prove counter-productive because when people are led to essentially judge between Taliban and Pakistan on the basis of good Muslims bad Muslims theory, some people finding State’s religious credentials unfulfilling may end up supporting the cause of Taliban, because from the perspective of Taliban as well as State’s the fight is religiously inspired.
The rational course of action would have been that State admits its historical grievances against people of FATA. This region is infested with poverty, with horrible dearth of social services, subjected to manipulation for State’s proxy wars, with absolutely no political rights whatsoever and ruled under draconian Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR) ordinance. People of FATA have been tormented with collective punishments, subjected to social humiliation and economic degradation. The merciless oppression that the State has historically subjected the tribal people to through alliance with the Maliks and Mullahs have provided motivations to other violence actors to emerge and try to substitute the State by winning the local population. The State has been unfaithful to its own citizens by not admitting its historical mistakes and its prime share in the development of conditions that led some people to support for alternative social orders.
This unforgiving reluctance to admit the historical injustice has hazed the understanding of crisis in FATA. Instead of explaining people the real economic and social roots that led Taliban to find support in FATA, State uses religio-cultural explanation to explain political violence in the region. It is not the understanding of the conditions within which Taliban were able to take root in the tribal areas, rather the religious gullibility and simplicity of the tribal people that explains it. Pakistani people would have been done a great service to, had State accepted its failure ten years back and explained the necessity of fighting the radical forces in FATA region because of the anticipated violence. This would have led to a relatively easy battle by first rallying people support against the militants. People living in FATA should have been given genuine and credible economic and political incentives to decisively turn their opinion against the Taliban and allies. And finally instead of using good Taliban against the bad one, the State should have empowered the local population to isolate the Taliban. The best way it could be done was through credible incentive, abolishing FCR and political and economic mainstreaming of the tribal society. By empowering the good Taliban, the State further alienated the local FATA population and increased the hold of religious radicals over the tribal people. The State can not isolate itself from its historical responsibility in creating conditions that led to present chaos. It is still suspected that ongoing operation is carrying the same legacy of letting the good Taliban goes free and hunting down only the bad ones. In all this violence and no matter whether it leads to any decisive outcome or not, the State is increasingly alienating the FATA people to the point of no return.