Pakistan: Campaign demanding an end to military operations in FATA

June 25, 2014

The undersigned demand an immediate end to the ongoing military operation in the North Waziristan region of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The operation follows an attack by militants on the Karachi Airport – which has been followed by Pakistani and American airstrikes in Northern Waziristan – and “peace talks” which failed to take on board the most crucial stakeholders .i.e. the people of FATA themselves. While we accept the reality of growing religious militancy, we do not think that this problem can be addressed through military means. For reasons elaborated below, we also do not believe that the Pakistan military can in any way be the agent of positive change on this issue. Indeed, it is an integral part of the problem.

We draw attention to the fact that this “decisive” operation is the sixth major military operation in north western Pakistan since 2001, Each of the five operations that preceded this were declared “decisive” in the same manner, but have tended to strengthen the Islamist militancy due to questions over the state’s seriousness in breaking ties with religious militants. In addition, US drone strikes, known to be the cause of massive civilian casualties, have continued unabated with the (secret) support of Pakistani state and ruling classes. Military methods have only succeeded in displacing millions of people and the undocumented killing of thousands of civilians. After each operation, the militants have simply relocated from one place to another.

It is not a secret that the problem of Islamist militancy in Pakistan is not limited to the TTP. Nor is it geographically limited to FATA or any other region. It has deep roots in several urban centers (and not just within ethnicised ghettoes in these urban centers). Yet we are supposed to accept the fact that an operation which specifically targets the FATA region, and only the TTP, is an operation against the roots of terrorism in Pakistan. Furthermore, both past precedent and current analysis make it clear that not only is there no military solution to this issue, the current operation will not even have the limited effect of undermining the organisational capacity of groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Newspaper reports have also made it clear that many TTP militants crossed the border into Afghanistan before the operation started. All that this operation is guaranteed to do is create more misery for the people of FATA and neighbouring regions.

While we recognise that thousands of people have lost their lives in Pakistan since the so-called War on Terror began, there has been no calculation of the immense suffering of the people of FATA, who have found themselves caught between various factions of the Taliban, the Pakistani military’s operations and US drone attacks. Over the last hundred years, FATA has found itself subjected to a state of exception, with both the British colonial government and the Pakistani state choosing to maintain a narrative that defined it as an “ungovernable buffer zone”: first, against the Russians (1880-1990), then, against the Taliban and other foreign militants (2000-now). The three consequences of this relationship to the state for FATA were: a history of aerial bombing, governance through the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and being used as a launching pad for the global ‘jihad’ franchise, supported and nourished by imperialist (such as the US) and sub-imperialist powers (such as Saudi Arabia).

It is, in fact, the Pakistani state and ruling classes’ continuing policy of supporting the ‘good Taliban’, i.e. religious militants favourable to the state, has resulted in FATA becoming a ‘safe haven’ for groups like the TTP and militants from Central Asia. in fact, the ability of these groups to mobilise militants has increased exponentially since the US invasion of Afghanistan. These former ‘friends of Pakistan’ (and the US) turned on sections of the Pakistani state once the Pakistani ruling classes joined hands with the US in its imperial ambitions in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani state and military apparatus have a long history of creating and nurturing proxy militant groups to serve its various ‘strategic ends’. Since joining the US/NATO alliance in Afghanistan, its policy/approach towards these groups has been opportunistic. It has taken a belligerent posture towards those (the ‘bad’ Taliban’) that had turned against their erstwhile masters while continuing to support and use those that it felt were furthering – or could further – its interests. These interests have always been fundamentally anti-people. One need only look at the free hand given to the the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the anti-Shia Laskhar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) in Balochistan, Gilgit Baltistan and the rest of Pakistan in order to quash democratic dissent and people’s movements and create an atmosphere of fear – indeed, terror – to grasp this fact. Moreover, these religious militant groups are allowed to exist in Pakistan’s urban centres with covert state support. It is against this backdrop that we question why FATA is chosen as the target of yet another military operation, and why civil society groups and ‘progressive’ individuals feel that they can hold their noses and support this particular military action.

We also assert that the current military operation does not represent a strategic shift in the rationale of the Pakistani state and army, but is deeply connected to receiving US funding, which recently linked $300 million in military aid specifically to carrying out operations in North Waziristan[ii]. The dependence of Pakistan’s political parties [iii] and certain so-called ‘civil society’ groups [iv] on US imperialism, coupled with the blind ‘revenge’ imperative articulated after the Karachi Airport attack has meant that space for opposing the military operation in North Waziristan and FATA has been strategically shut. The result is that Islamists, such as Hafiz Saeed, and ‘liberal’ civil society groups are together in supporting Pakistan’s most reactionary institution: its military.

All this needs to be juxtaposed against the fact that FATA has been a no-go area for civilians for almost a decade, with the Pakistani military tightly controlling the movement of people in and out of the region. A combination of the muzzling of the local press and media and a refusal to allow independent journalists to enter FATA has resulted in an information blackout. With local journalists under continuous threat from both the Taliban and the state’s intelligence agencies, there is no possibility of verifying the claims of the US/NATO forces or the Pakistani military when it comes to victims of drones or military operations. This situation is exacerbated by the self-censorship and obsequiousness of the Pakistani and international media who are content to parrot what they are told by the PR sections of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Pakistani military. As a result, news reports (which overwhelmingly reference military officials) repeatedly declare every dead person a militant, a claim which is not only patently absurd but obscene.

We believe that the problem of religious extremism is one rooted in the political economy of Pakistani state, its relationship to peripheral regions (such as FATA) and its continuing dependence on US imperialism. Our demands are as follows:

1. An immediate and unconditional halt to the ongoing military operation in North Waziristan and other parts of tribal areas..
2. It is the right of the people of FATA to decide what to do with the problem of militancy in their area. This process of consultation must include working-classes, peasants, women and minorities in FATA – with complete accountability, full access to independent media and without any coercion from the security establishment or militant groups.
3. Public disclosure of the names, details and any alleged militant linkages of those killed in the ongoing operation.
4. Immediate abolition of the FCR and steps to integrate FATA into mainstream Pakistan by providing guarantee of fundamental rights including rights of political association and the national penal code.[v].
5. Providing a social development policy to reverse the systematic underdevelopment of the FATA region[vi].
6. Ending the systematic discrimination against FATA’s internally displaced persons (IDPs), who have been denied entry into other provinces for safety.
7. The security establishment must end its policy of supporting militant groups for strategic ends, both within Pakistan and in neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan.
8. Cutting off sources of funding and support for militant groups operating in the country, especially from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
9. Cancelling all defence and unequal economic agreements with imperialist powers (such as the US) and institutions (such as the World Bank and IMF), which perpetuate uneven development and exploitation of peripheral regions like FATA.

We reiterate that the current operation in North Waziristan is nothing but a sham that will only add to the suffering of the people of FATA . What we stress is that the relationship between religious militants, the US and the Pakistani state appears to be unbreakable as it stands. The time is for a people’s movement against the Pakistani state and military’s continuing relationship with militant groups. Those declaring “full support” for the military operation choose to ignore history (and the present) at their own peril.

The fact is that what Pakistanis – ALL Pakistanis – need is a new social contract based on radical equality between all peoples. Progressives in Pakistan must remain committed to building a pro-people, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist political alternative without blinding themselves by expressing support for short term measures that only serve to intensify the contradictions bred by almost 70 years of subservience to imperialism and exploitative capitalist development.

Standing with the peoples of Pakistan means saying no to the wars waged against them by the Pakistani military and its proxies. Standing with the peoples of Pakistan means holding this military accountable for its criminal acts, not cheering it on’.

We say NO MORE WAR AGAINST THE PEOPLES OF PAKISTAN!

Sarah Suhail (Advocate, Lahore and PhD Student)
Noor Mir (Anti-War Activist, Washington DC)
Ehsan Ali (Awami Action Committee Convenor and Lawyer, Gilgit Baltistan)
Ashraf Kakar (Awami Workers Party and Faculty, Quaid-e-Azam University)
Sonia Qadir (Awami Workers Party and Student, New School for Social Research)
and others.

(For a full list of signatories see here).

Notes

[ii] http://www.dawn.com/news/1112121/us-congress-links-aid-to-military-operations
[iii] For an example of the links of at least one major ‘civil society’ NGO to American imperialism see page 1 of http://oig.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/audit-reports/g-391-13-002-p.pdf.
[iv] Over 60 per cent of FATA’s population lives below the national poverty line, with a literacy rate of 22 per cent compared to the national literacy rate of 56 per cent.
[v]http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-4-256409-Civil-society-organisations-back-military-operation,-condemn-terrorism
[vi] http://paktribune.com/news/Major-political-parties-approve-recommendations-for-FATA-reforms-269654.html