FATA after Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Perform the Reforms to Build on Successes

FATA after operation Zarb-e-Azb

Pakistan has been engaged in fighting resurgent terrorists and rampaging militants for more than a decade now. Over these years, some specific anti-terrorism and counter-militancy operations have been conducted in the terror-infested tribal areas. During and/or after these operations, particular peace accords between the government and terrorists were also signed with an aim to bring about  lasting peace in the region. Despite these agreements, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other outlawed terrorist outfits blatantly kept targeting religious places, educational institutions, army installations, airports and the people at large. Such an incident occurred on 8th June 2014, when 10 terrorists attacked Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, killing 28 people and wounding at least 18. At this critical juncture, both the civilian and the military leadership of the country decided that enough is enough and they launched a comprehensive counter-terrorism and counter-militancy operation codenamed Zarb-e-Azb.

While Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been going full throttle, some shocking and most heinous terrorist attacks have also occurred. First, on 16 December 2014, some lethally-armed TTP terrorists ambushed Peshawar’s Army Public School killing 145 people, including 132 schoolchildren aged between eight and eighteen years. Later, on 20 January 2016, four terrorists wielding AK-47s stormed the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda; killing 20 people, including a professor. After these brazen attacks, the army expanded the scope of Zarb-e-Azb to the tribal areas.

According to ISPR, the Operation has successfully achieved its main objective by rooting out the hideouts and training centres of the TTP in the terror-ravaged tribal areas. This claim is corroborated by Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) which says that prior to the Operation, militant attacks had peaked to 154 a month in Pakistan, but this count has now dropped by more than 50% — to 71 attacks a month. In order to reinforce the achievement of fall in terrorism, militancy and extremist incidents, the civilian government should come forward and craft requisite policies to empower the tribal people on political, economic and educational fronts. If these much-needed reforms are not introduced at the earliest, there is all the likelihood that the tribal areas would, God forbid, again become the breeding ground of terrorists and militants as they would find enough space to regroup and resurface. Some major lingering issues faced by the people of FATA are explained hereunder:

Dismal State of Education

Despite the paramount importance of education in this globalized world, the government has thus far turned a blind eye to providing free, compulsory and quality education to the people of FATA. The area still lags far behind other parts of the country in terms of education. Regrettably, there is not a single university in FATA, and the literacy rate in the region is around 22% — far below the nationwide rate of 58%. According to a report by the Shaoor Foundation for Education and Awareness (SFEA), the literacy rate among women in tribal areas is low and stagnant at a mere 3%. The report ascertains that factors hampering the process of education are inaccessibility to schools, poor quality of education, low retention rate, militancy, displacements and local traditions and customs.

The government has hitherto neglected the tribal areas by depriving the youth of FATA of quality education and modern technical training. The army has taken up this task by building educational institutions and training the war-weary people of the area aimed at hindering them from joining terrorist and militant outfits. Lack of proper education has brought about economic issues, because a large number of people in the area lack technical education so as to be employed somewhere in the country.

Political Issues

Apart from educational problems, FATA is also beset by some formidable political issues. Within the meanings of Articles 51, 59 and 247 of the 1973 Constitution, the region is represented in the National Assembly and the Senate with 12 and 8 seats respectively, but still it remains under the direct executive authority of the President. FATA is administered by the Governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) who acts as an agent to the President of Pakistan. The administrative head of each tribal agency is a Political Agent. It is highly astonishing that laws framed by the National Assembly do not apply there, unless ordered by the President, who is also empowered to issue regulations for the peace and good government of the tribal areas.

Each Frontier Region is administered by a Deputy Commissioner (DC) of the respective settled district, who exercises the same powers in the FR as a Political Agent does in a tribal agency. The politics is patriarchal because cultural, traditional and social practices have kept FATA women at bay from decision-making processes. If the women of these areas are denied representation in politics and administrative affairs, the area would miserably fail to develop.

It is a pity that hand-picked, incompetent political agents have been appointed to govern terrorism–stricken FATA without proper checks and balances. As a result, maliks and sardars with considerable wealth and lands bear sway on the unworkable administration, which is bound to result in widespread corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and misappropriation of large sums of money. If requisite political reforms are delayed by the incumbent political setup, the costly operation may fall flat, thereby helping terrorists to re-establish their bastions in FATA.

Economic Backwardness

The economy of FATA is relatively underdeveloped than other parts of Pakistan. It is the most impoverished and least developed area in the country. Persistent economic deprivation has pushed the tribal people toward terrorist and militant outfits such as TTP and foreign spy agencies e.g. the RAW, to acquire money in order to make both ends meet. Despite being home to 2.4% of Pakistan’s population, it makes up only 1.5% of country’s economy. According to a recent study, 60% of its population is living below the poverty line and the unemployment rate ranges between 60% and 80%. As per available statistics, only 7% of the total land of FATA is cultivable, while the remaining 93% is dry, mountainous and unproductive. Of this cultivable land only 3% is irrigated whereas the remaining is totally dependent on rains. Most of the land belongs to the local khans and maliks and more than 50% of the people have no agricultural land.

The spectre of corruption is a major cause behind the faltering economy of FATA. The political administration enjoys unchecked financial powers which result in swelling embezzlement of the development funds afforded by foreign donors, hence stunting projected developments. Ayaz Wazir, a former ambassador, writes:

“Had the money been utilised honestly and sensibly, Fata would have become the most developed and modern area in all of Pakistan.”

Moreover, millions of Afghan refugees, who had migrated to FATA from 1979, continue to create economic problems for the region. Despite large-scale repatriation , they are still mounting burden on the economy of FATA in particular, and Pakistan in general. Equally important, due to lack of economic opportunities and absence of economic regulation, the tribal areas have become a hub of black marketing and a pervasive arms and drugs trade. Menacingly, it has exacerbated poverty, which, in turn has been fuelling militancy and terrorism in the tribal region.

Legal Impediments

FATA has also been deprived of a legal system like the rest of Pakistan does have. The jurisdictions of the Supreme Court and Peshawar High Court (PHC) do not extend to the area. All civil and criminal cases are decided under the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) by jirgas. Due to the unchecked discretionary power of the jirgas and consequent gross human rights violations, this law is now known as the “Black Law”. It is unfortunate that British colonial law has been in force since 1948. No doubt, this outmoded law has been frequently employed under the influence of big landlords to take harsh revenge and settle political vendettas, and the ordinary people have hardly acquired true justice. Therefore, a large number of disgruntled people unwittingly opt for terrorist organizations to settle their scores.

About the aforementioned issues of FATA, the incumbent federal government seems indifferent as it is moving at a snail’s pace to introduce far-reaching educational, political, economic and legal reforms in the post-Zarb-e-Azb period, which could well steer the country toward more problems such as terrorism and militancy in the coming days. To inhibit the re-emergence of defeated terrorists in FATA, it is the need of the hour to fill the gap left by the fighting through bringing in comprehensive reforms in the war-torn area.

The Way Forward

If the government sincerely wants to close the doors of FATA for militancy and terrorism forever, resolving these long-lasting issues is indispensable. It is crucial to educate qualitatively the local populace so that they may realise their true worth, fundamental political, socioeconomic and legal rights, and also the nefarious designs of terrorists and militants. Proper mass education is the only weapon they can easily employ to change their life. FATA direly needs modern and state-of-the-art educational institutions. So, it is imperative to build enough educational institutions meant to impart modern education about democracy and liberalism, and also disseminate an effective counter- narrative against the existing Taliban ideology. Furthermore, it is equally important to fully equip and train the energetic youth of the same area with technical education and get them engaged in productive work so as to better their financial position.

It is also essential that the people are empowered politically by abolishing non-democratic traditions. Establishing a sort of representative assembly with members elected from the region would also be a prudent step. Thirdly, FATA should be provided with local bodies composed of their own elected representatives so that power is transferred from the few elites to the masses at grassroots level. For sustainable good governance, transparency, responsibility, accountability, participation and responsiveness ought to be ensured.

Besides, economic measures aimed at improving people’s lives are also needed. Former Chief Justice PHC, Dost Muhammad Khan, once said that, “the government could overcome terrorism by providing permanent jobs to the tribal youth, as they are falling into the wrong hands due to unemployment.” The government should take serious steps to regularize, document and institutionalize FATA’s economy. The war-torn tribal areas should be connected by rail and road to the rest of the country via the  China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Since the area contains commercially viable reserves of marble, copper, limestone, fine-quality coal, manganese, gypsum, chromites, limestone, iron ore and coal, the process of industrialization through a policy of public/private partnership would help tap, exploit and capitalise on these resources which would provide immense employment opportunities and economic benefits. As a result, it would assist tremendously in bringing the youth of the tribal areas at par with those of developed cities of the country; thus, diverting them from the primrose path.

Last but not least, proper legal reforms are also required to supplant the antiquated and draconian FCR. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that this obstructive law is scrapped as soon as possible and replaced by the common law of the country. In this regard, the government should take into consideration the recommendations of the Peshawar High Court to the Parliament (April 2014) about making suitable amendments to Article 247(7) of the Constitution so that the jurisdiction of the superior courts is extended to FATA.


John Seeley opines, “Democracy is a sort of government in which all and sundry have their due share.” The people of FATA need this democratic share in terms of guaranteed educational, political, economic and legal rights. If these reforms are not introduced at the earliest, terrorism and militancy will insidiously continue to haunt the region.

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