- ISI is using it to fulfil its nefarious designs
By Jai Kumar Verma
New Delhi. 18 December 2021. Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) which is the world’s most unruly region, is considered as the nucleus of the international terrorism, which not only imperils the peace of neighbouring countries but is also calamitous for the whole world. FATA is the home of several terrorist organisations including umbrella organisations like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Al Qaeda and Islamic State. Several small and unknown terrorist groups and sub-groups operate and take refuge in the area.
In May 2018 Pakistan parliament passed a significant legislation under which the semi-autonomous status of FATA was abolished, modern governance was introduced and the region became part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The draconian rules of British empire were obliterated under which the whole tribe was punished because of the crime of an individual of the clan. The inhabitants of the area were forced to guard the government property.
Pakistan army tried to curb the terrorism sometimes on its own and at times on the insistence of United States but failed due to stiff resistance by the terrorist outfits. The army initiated about 10 operations against terrorists. However, the latest was Zarb-e-Azb in 2014 under which about 500 Pakistani soldiers and about 3,500 terrorists were killed and about two million people were displaced, several homes, schools and hospitals were destroyed.
The merger of FATA in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) may also be good for the women. Although Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is also a backward area but the cases of atrocities on women and of ‘honour killings’ are much more in FATA than KP.
The FATA which is a mountainous bolthole for diverse terrorist outfits is bordered by Afghanistan, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It has two types of areas Tribal Agencies and Frontier Regions. There are seven Tribal areas including Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan while the six Frontier Regions consists of FR Peshawar, FR Kohat, FR Bannu, FR Lakki Marwat, FR Tank, FR Dera Ismail Khan. The area is sparsely populated and about 2 percent of Pakistan population reside in the region. More than 95 percent population lives in the rural areas and Afridi, Mohmand, Tarkani, Mahsud, Dawar, Bettani, Sherani, Turi, Orakzai, Bangash, Shinwari, Safi, Wazir, and utmanzi are the main Pashtun tribes. More than 99 percent population of the region follow Sunni Hanafi Fiqh. There are also 20 thousand Christians, 20 thousand Sikhs and 10,000 Hindus.
The former FATA region is one of the most neglected area of Pakistan and according to a 2010 survey the per capita income was only $663 and about 66 percent population was below poverty line. Although the region had 2.4 percent of the country’s population, but it comprise of only 1.5 percent of Pakistan’s economy. Smuggling of opium and other contraband is rampant in the region.
The region is backward, and residents are suspicious about the activities of foreigners including NGOs. It was difficult to provide aid by international NGOs and even the workers of Pakistani NGOs were attacked by Islamic fanatics. Ali Mohammad a Peace Committee member was killed in December 2017 by TTP, and a spokesperson of a terrorist outfit threatened that the members of Peace Committees would be targeted. In November same year TTP killed five peace committee members and two were wounded. The terrorists also killed the civilians sympathetic to security forces.
Pakistan government spends minimum money in the region and the literacy rate of the region is 28.4 percent while the national average is 57%. However, the condition of women is more pitiable as their literacy rate is only 7.8%.
Pakistan government instead of developing the area is devastating the region. Pakistan army has launched several military operations in which large number of locals were killed and uprooted. There were widespread human right violations, and several persons including members of terrorist outfits took refuge in Afghanistan.
Pakistan alleged that Afghan government is assisting these terrorist groups especially Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and they are involved in terrorist attacks in Pakistan. The United States Department of Defence claimed that in 2019 about 3,000 to 5,000 terrorists of TTP were living in Afghanistan.
Pakistan which emerged as an epicenter of terrorism and created several terrorist outfits and sponsored terrorism in several countries especially in India and Afghanistan also suffered. A reputed Pakistani newspaper claimed in 2018 that the country lost $126.79 billion because of terrorism in last about 17 years. Pakistani security forces allege that India and Afghanistan assist these terrorist groups. India vehemently opposed this malicious allegation while Afghanistan accepted that it supported TTP. Pakistan’s Foreign Office released a dossier in November 2020 which contained concocted evidence about Indian assistance to diverse terrorist outfits including TTP, Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. In reality Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) used FATA region for recruiting and training of terrorists since 1979 when Soviet Union invaded and captured Afghanistan. Besides Pakistan defence forces the terrorists were also trained by The Central Intelligence Agency as well as other European security forces so that they can fight with USSR troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistani security forces claim that terrorism is considerably dwindled after launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb but neutral analysts claim that Pakistan army resorted to atrocities and there were blatant human right violations. Overtly peace was restored in the area, but the masses were infuriated because of mayhems perpetrated by the security forces. The continuous drone attacks by U.S. forces also caused resentment in the masses.
Pakistan government should also try to use the local tribal leaders to counter terrorism from FATA region. Jirgas and Lashkars can be used to resolve militancy from the FATA. The formation of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement (PTM) negates Pakistan’s army claim that they successfully crushed the terrorists in FATA region. The PTM claims that action should be taken against army for human right violations in FATA.
The merger of FATA region in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in May 2018 has also not given the desired result as terrorism is continuing in the region. The people of FATA persecuted by terrorists as well as by security forces. The government should control madrassas which are spreading terrorism on the name of religion and the Talibanization of the region should be curbed.
The ISI should also stop assistance to terrorist outfits which are carrying out terrorist activities in India and Afghanistan on its behest. Because of Pakistan’s assistance to various terrorist outfits United States have stopped financial assistance and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has put Pakistan in grey list. As ISI is continuing its support to terrorist organisations, the possibility that Pakistan is downgraded to black list cannot be ruled out.
The residents of FATA area are very religious minded hence the ISI should stop exploiting them by making them suicide bombers and Jihadist on the name of Islam. ISI considers them as ‘strategic assets’ and help them clandestinely. The terrorism cannot be wiped out from FATA till ISI continues assistance to the terrorists.
The terrorist problem of FATA is not only a law-and-order problem. Pakistan army launched several operations to eliminate the terrorists, but they failed because FATA needs overall development. The Punjabi dominated Pakistan army treats all other nationalities with disdain and crush them with brutality. The same thing they did in the then East Pakistan (Now Bangladesh) and at present Pakistan army is carrying out inhuman brutalities in Balochistan. The government should try to alleviate their living standard and should provide them education, employment, electricity, water, housing, and other basic necessities. The dominance of semi-literate Maulvis and assistance from ISI to terrorist outfits should be stopped then only terrorism can end from the region.
(Jai Kumar Verma is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org