Continuing to bleed Pashtuns, Pakistan inflicts fresh stab by merging FATA

As if continuously bleeding Pashtuns and taking their historical territories away was not enough, Islamabad officially ended the semi-autonomy of a huge chunk of Pashtun territory called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas– the main area of Pakistan’s manufacturing of suicide bombers against Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s National Assembly in Islamabad Friday passed the Supreme Court and Peshawar High Court (Extension of Jurisdiction to Federally Administered Tribal Areas) Bill 2017 after clause by clause reading. The bill was tabled by the Minister for Law and Justice Mehmood Bashir Virk which was passed by the House. Though Islamabad said the new law aimed at safeguarding their rights and providing them proper administration of justice in accordance with the constitution, it effectively ends the centuries old semi-autonomy enjoyed by four million, mostly ethnic Pashtuns.

“This merger will ignite more crisis. Pakistan military wants to take advantage of this without any consideration of the interest and will of the inhabitants,” said Ahmad Shah Katawazai, defense liaison at the Afghan embassy in Washington DC. “I see it totally a military move that will further put the people of FATA into more problems.”

He said Pakistan from 70 years couldn’t own the tribal people living in FATA. And Pakistani state, particularly military, has been using tribal belt a hot spot for training, harboring terrorists while on the other hand bombarding the innocent FATA people in the name of war against terrorism.

“One of the major objective behind this policy is to ultimately pave the way for merger. Through this way they want to have control on the controversial Durand line and these areas that belong to Afghanistan, in fact,” said Katawazai.

Afghan feminist Habiba Ashna, who lives in the Washington DC suburban area, was incensed over Islamabad’s unilateral takeover of FATA and echoed Katawazai’s view. “People of FATA should have decided the issue not the Pakistani government,” she said, adding, “They should have involved the Afghan government in it and have let the people decide.”
Last month, Pakistan’s GeoNews reported More than 500 tribal elders had held a grand jirga on December 14 and rejected the possible merger of FATA with Khyber Pashtunkhwa.

The FATA has seven agencies– Khyber, Kurram, North and South Waziristan, Mohmand, Bajaur, and Orakzai. Says Katawazai, “These are the least developed, poorest parts of both Afghanistan and Pakistan with a literacy rate of only 17.4 percent overall, while just three percent among women.

The Afghan diplomat says the residents of the FATA normally owe their loyalty to the maliks, or “tribal elders,” who have great authority to represent their constituents and tribesmen. All its inhabitants speak Pashto language, and for centuries have followed a unique social code of conduct known as Pashtunwali, or “way of the Pashtuns,”– a set of tribal virtues that reflect the fierce independence of the Pashtun male, and four key values of freedom, honor, revenge, and chivalry.

Katawazai regretted FATA was turned into a blood theatre, with the arrival of Al-Qaeda and other foreign terrorists in the area, pushing the actual Pashtuns to the fringe. “Whoever among the tribesmen that rose against the terrorists and extremists was shot dead by the militants; elders, influential people, and local leaders of the Pashtun tribes are deliberately targeted,” Katawazai wrote in the prestigious SAIS Review of International Affairs.

Pashtuns inside Pakistan agree with Katawazai’s view and say hundreds of Pashtun maliks were systematically targeted by the ISI for paving the way for their proxies in FATA and easier attacks on Afghanistan.

As a state policy, Pakistan used FATA to breed an army of suicide bombers. According to Rohan Gunaratna and Khuram Iqbal in the book “Pakistan: Terrorism Ground Zero,”  “Social prestige enjoyed by a suicide bomber in FATA is another important motivational factor. Most young suicide bombers tend to become fascinated by the booming Jihadi atmosphere in FATA where Mujahid (Holy Warrior) and Shaheed (Martyr) enjoy social prestige, status and pride.”

Blood-soaked Afghanistan’s overall response to the FATA takeover was muted. Dawn newspaper last month quoted Afghan consul general Mohammad Moeen Marastial as saying at a news conference in Peshawar, “Our government has no reservations over the merger, but the opinion of the people of the area is paramount before taking such a major decision.” There was reason for Kabul’s quiet. “Afghanistan fears that Pakistan will send suicide bombers,” says Khan, “Also Pakistan has the largest number of agents in the Afghan bureaucracy and the political set-up,” said Najeeb Khan, a Pashtun patriot based in Albany.

A huge chunk of the Afghan territory, the Pashtun areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,  was taken away from Afghanistan by the artificial Durand Line during the British rule more than a century ago. According to the treaty, those areas were to revert back to Afghanistan in 1996, but in stead that very year Pakistan’s ISI installed its favorite Taliban regime in Kabul under the one-eyed Mullah Omar. Another huge tract of Pashtun areas that historically belongs to Afghanistan, called southern Pashtunistan, is administratively part of Balochistan province.

“The issue is not only of FATA. the whole stretch of land up to Margalla near Islamabad, belongs to Afghanistan,” says Khan Arif, vice president of the Pashtunistan Freedom Movement who lives in the Netherlands. “Merging the autonomous  FATA with Khyber Pashtunkhwa badly affects the Pashtuns,” adds Khan Arif.

Saner Pashtun voices had been warning Islamabad merging FATA will be fingerin the hornets nest. During a debate on FATA in Pakistan’s parliament, Pakistan’s newsline Mahmood Khan Achakzai of the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party warned against any change in the status of the region, particularly its integration into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). He argued that FATA was historically a semi-autonomous area and  must retain this status.

However, Islamabad did not pay any heed to Pashtun voices; Pakistan rulers were calling Afghanistan a fifth province when its proxy Taliban under one-eyed Mullah Omar was ruling in Kabul 20 years ago. The Taliban regime was dismantled when the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom after the 911 attacks, which many believe was a wrong war as the main guys pulling the strings of the Taliban were at the Pakistan army GHQ and Aabpara headquarters of Islamabad.

Pakistan continued to support the Taliban and Haqqani network even after the US invasion and provided a safe haven to top Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.

This year President Donald Trump froze aid to the rogue nation. The president’s first tweet of the New Year said: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”


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