The first step towards ending for good the dispute over the Durand Line is not by sealing the border with Afghanistan or militarily defending the physical divide that Pakistan believes is the actual boundary line between the two countries.
These steps would only add to the bitterness of a people who naturally cannot bring themselves to accept a line that divides houses, families and tribes.
What is needed and urgently is to make the other side mentally accept the irrelevancy of DL and treat the dispute as nothing more than a difference of opinion needed to be resolved through dialogue rather than mutual acrimony.
How do we do it? Simple. By creating a social order across the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) that would set the region clearly apart from life on the other side. Extending the writ of state and by improving governance at the grassroots in frontier region.
Before continuing this line of argument it would not be out of place to recall here a couple of pertinent excerpts from an article (Life in FATA amid Ongoing Conflict) contributed by Abdul Basit (He holds an M. Phil degree in International Relations from Quaid-i-Azam University and specializes in terrorism- related issues with special focus on the on-going militancy in the tribal areas) inDynamics of Taliban Insurgency in FATA, a book published in 2013 by Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS):
“Initially, the militants had seemed keen to ensure speedy justice for the disillusioned masses of the tribal areas against the strong criminal and tribal elements. However, once people accepted them as their messiah and an anti-dote to a corrupt and defunct political system, the Taliban showed their true colors. They created a state within the state by setting up parallel administrative and judicial systems in the tribal areas. They exploited the fragile tribal structure, the existing social injustices and the vacuum left by dysfunctional state institutions to increase their influence in these areas.
“The socio-economic indicators suggest that FATA is Pakistan’s most impoverished and economically backward area. No major development work has taken place here since the country won independence from British rule over six decades ago. This has resulted in political alienation, economic deprivation and fueled deep resentment and grievances against the center. The absence of an inclusive and participatory system of governance at the grass roots, a bias in favor of traditional feudal system of economy and a social hierarchy have created conditions for the perpetuation of a cycle of underdevelopment which is conducive for growth of militancy and religious conservatism”
As could be gleaned from the above the main challenge is to restore effective governance in FATA.
But an attempt to take the initial constitutional step towards this goal by introducing the recommendations of the Sartaj Aziz Committee which had suggested merger of FATA with the Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa province but to be governed under a Riwaj Act was foiled by the Pakistan Muslim League (N) government at the last minute on the advice of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the Chief of his faction of Jamiatul Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) and Mahmood Khan Achakzai of Puktunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP).
These two leaders as well as the PMLN have very little political influence in the FATA region notwithstanding their Parliamentary strength. Therefore, it is almost impossible to fathom what the three parties wish to gain from postponing the reforms.
Some quarters believe that since the PMLN and the JUI leadership are opposed to Pakistan Threek-i-Insaf (PTI), KP’s ruling party,they fearthat the merger would enhance manifold PTI’s political influence nation-wide if another four to five million people are added to the province. Besides, the Federal Government would have had to increase the share of the KP under the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award by at least three per cent if the merger had taken place before the budget which the PMLN was not prepared to countenance.
Another reason quoted by quarters close to the PMLN is that it wants to bargain a trade-off with the interested parties in Parliament in lieu of their support for creating a Hazara province carving out of KP. The PMLN has promised a Hazara province in its election manifesto but most other mainstream political parties are opposed to the division of KP.
Also, one of the members of the Sartaj Aziz Committee, Senator Lt. Gen (retd) Abdul Qadir Baloch, Minister of State and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) is quoted to have said that the Army is opposed to introducing the reforms at this juncture, therefore the postponement.
The postponement appears to be at least until after the next general elections. This is a long time for such an important reform to be introduced. And the delay in social transformation of the people of FATA and improvement in governance is likely to further deepen the bitterness of Afghanistan over the DL dispute.
If it is actually the Army that is in the way of urgent reforms then those responsible need to understand that it is on the strategic front itself that FATA’s inhuman set of laws has failed to deliver, as despite the existence of these harsh laws all these years, the area has remained a lawless, no-man’s land for criminals, and a safe sanctuary for the militants waging war against Pakistan. So it would only be strategically helpful if opposition to the reforms, no matter who is actually behind it, is given up forthwith.
Only a nation with a dead conscience could have lived with such an obnoxious law specifically meant for a group of its own citizens, without feeling guilty. We howl and bawl for the beleaguered Kashmiris under Indian occupation, for the Palestinians and for the Muslims of Myanmar. But for the agony and pain that we continue to cause to these four million Pakistanis –– whom we credit for winning us half of Kashmir way back in the early days of our independence – we show no feelings at all. Shame on us.
The FATA people in order to express their sentiments against the postponement of reforms are planning to stage a protest march from their homes all the way to Parliament. The FATA members in Parliament are also said to have decided to boycott the President’s traditional speech to the two houses at the start of the next parliamentary year. This would surely cause an international embarrassment to the ruling party already under domestic political pressure because of the continuing saga of the Panama scandal.