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Pakistan. Military operation in South Waziristan unlikely to succeed without political reforms

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Islamabad/Brussels -The military operation in South Waziristan is unlikely to succeed in curbing the spread of religious militancy in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), unless the Pakistan government implements political reforms in that part of the country. 

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Pakistan: Countering Militancy in FATA, the latest policy report from the International Crisis Group, examines the Talibanisation in FATA, and argues that only reforms that encourage political diversity, enhance economic opportunity, and guarantee civil and political rights will address the problem. So far, short-sighted military policies have aggravated the conflict’s impact on inhabitants and fuelled Islamic militancy. The consequences are dramatic: over one million people, i.e. one third of FATA’s population, have been displaced, and the numbers are growing. Militancy and heavy-handed military force have destroyed an already deficient infrastructure and hi ndered business opportunities.

“FATA belies the military’s claims of successfully countering Islamist militant networks”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “The state should rather counter religious extremism by extending constitutional rights and expanding economic opportunity”.

FATA, a tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, has been tenuously governed since independence, due to deliberate policy, rather than Pashtun tribal resistance. The region is ruled by the colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulations. These are laws that allow the federally appointed political agent to arrest individuals or punish entire tribes for crimes committed on their territory, fuelling resentment among locals and hindering the region’s economic growth. Both the administration and judicial system rely on tribal chiefs, many of whom accept the authority of militant leaders. Thus, public sector development tends to be channelled towards local and religious elites. Poorly-trained, underpaid militias further undermine the rule of law.

On 14 August 2009, President Zardari announced a reform package that curtails the political administration’s arbitrary judicial and financial powers. While this is a step forward, further measures are needed to end the region’s ambiguous constitutional status. Pakistan’s government must repeal the Frontier Crimes Regulations, incorporate the region into the provincial and national justice system, and replace tribal militias with the national police. Economic growth needs to be encouraged by developing infrastructures and education opportunities.

The U.S. and the international community should combine aid with a robust dialogue on institutional reform. They may enhance the region’s development by supporting specialised economic zones that tap FATA’s indigenous resources. Finally, the military should be pressured to allow humanitarian access to the conflict zones, and to prevent the region from being used by extremist groups.

“The state’s failure to provide basic services and support economic opportunity is contributing to the growth of the insurgency”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “Only long-term political and legal reforms that extend the law of the land to FATA will reverse this tendency”.
© Crisis International -
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