Sunday, August 12, 2012

Is There A Road To FATA

FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) has borne the brunt of US drone attacks. These attacks have been at the center of Pakistani political rhetoric and international attention. This escalated after the unprovoked attack at the Salsala checkpoint which left 24 dead and 13 injured. Pakistan decided to show some spine and actually took a stand against the attacks that result in tragedies on a morbidly regular basis. So much so, that during a conference in Geneva, Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions, suggested some of these attacks may even constitute "war crimes." Further, his report claimed that these attacks might even encourage other countries to overlook long-established human rights standards.

Every time there is a drone attack, facts and figures are made available about the almost fantastical accuracy of these drones and the number of terrorists it takes out. But the question remains: is anyone in Pakistani intelligence privy to this information? Does the US make the Pakistanis a part of this decision? Does it share information as to the whereabouts of these dastardly terrorists? Is a unified decision reached by both US and Pakistani authorities about the validity of the location of these miscreants as well as the gravity of their guilt to justify summary execution? And please don't tell me that action is taken at such a fast pace that the window of opportunity does not allow for communication, because with the speed of technology and the establishment of combined task forces, this excuse just doesn’t stick. Unless a life is not worth the extra few seconds of thought, if that.

And what happens when these drones hit funeral processions and marriage ceremonies. What goes wrong then? In the few seconds that it takes the drones to reach their destinations,  do the terrorists suddenly replace their terror jam-sessions with a house full of innocents? Then again, the news is quick to report that a terrorist was killed and the other dead, dying and maimed were justified collateral damage. After the usual posturing and huffing and puffing by the Pakistani government, everyone settles down as if the problem is resolved. The people of FATA hold their breath for the next onslaught -- and are never disappointed.

Who protects FATA? Does anyone even care? Do our bearers of offices even know how to get there? The present government of Pakistan, so proud of completing a term in office amidst all the scandals, has yet to allocate time to visit the most ravaged part of its country. I guess their time was taken up by the all-important foreign visits and the trips to supreme court hearings.

The people of FATA have never been very high up on the food chain. It is home to about 2% of the population of Pakistan and out of that, only 3.1% live in urban settings. It is, thus, the most rural and the most impoverished region of Pakistan. Its economy is mostly pastoral and depends heavily on access to routes travelled on for centuries.  Now, on the whims of phantom invaders, these routes are inaccessible to them for various reasons. One of the main roads in Waziristan, which connects the residents to a main market, has been shut down indefinitely due to the fear of IEDs.

As a run-of-the mill citizen of the world it seems implausible to me that, in the world of today, there can be an area of ten thousand square miles in one of the most sensitive areas of the world, and the government of Pakistan can desert it. “Federally Administered” does not mean abandoned, but it sure feels that way. Its population of over three million proud citizen have been left at the wayside and at the mercy of ruthless militants and nobody cares. The void in leadership left by Islamabad was expediently filled by men with agendas of their own, who believe that serving Islam is best done with cruelty and violence. And true to history, Islamabad subjected FATA to the never-succeeded but oft-repeated military operations in 2008, which led to further destabilization and skewed the people's sympathies towards the militants. It also led to the rise of Al-Qaeda leaders like Farman Ali Shinwari, who was a reactionary product of the fate of his family in the 2008 operations in Landi Kotal.

As if that was not enough, the most innocent citizens of FATA are being subjected to yet another threat. There is an active campaign by the self-proclaimed flag-bearers of Islam against the Polio vaccines. Lancet, a British medical journal, reported the highest number of Polio cases in Pakistan in the past decade. So, not only are the people of FATA subjected to death, disfigurement and disability by incessant drone attacks as well as military operations, their young are denied protection from a disabling disease as well. I would like to ask the clerics, like Maulvi Mangal Bagh, to quote one ayah of the Quran which condones such a decree. Why would a religion like Islam allow the propagation of a disease?

This is, ultimately, a failure of Islamabad. The entire region is controlled by proxy with all power given to the Governor of the KPK province who never ventures into FATA. After all, he follows the example of the Federal Government he serves, a government guilty of negligence in the worst possible way.  And thus, the population of FATA is condemned to be the land of the doomed, putting another brick in the wall of Pakistan’s reputation as a failed state, rather than a shining beacon of tolerance and morality that it was envisioned to be.

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