It is difficult to align the constant U.S. mantra that Pakistan is ‘not doing enough’ in the war against terrorism when we take a look at just what has and continues to be done. To say that the mantra is unreasonable and extremely disappointing is an understatement. So many lives have been lost in Pakistan in a long battle to defeat the scourge of terrorism, much of which has emanated from events in Afghanistan.
Operations across all seven tribal agencies, in Swat, throughout Karachi and the rest of the country, and now Khyber-IV to drive out the last remnants of terror groups in Rajgal Valley have cost many lives but cleared the areas and terrorist attacks have reduced enormously. Pakistan is fencing the border but, like so many other initiatives, this is facing resistance from Afghanistan.
Pakistan continues to both fight any pockets of resistance and at the same time move ahead with resettlement of displaced families, rehabilitate and reconstruct areas damaged by fighting. My recent articles have focused on North Waziristan, where the scale of peace building and progress in reconstruction and rehabilitation has been astounding. The work continues across the agency at a rapid pace and will continue for some time.
As North Waziristan transits from a humanitarian operation to long-term development, it is worthwhile looking at the most recent achievements, and the challenges that lie ahead that could hinder sustainable progress.
In the past two months, the Army has opened Razmak for local tourism and it has been hugely successful. The long term potential, assuming the tranquil and beautiful environment is managed sensitively, is limitless. The weather changes throughout the year and this small hamlet enjoys four seasons; though sometimes in the course of a few hours. Sitting at an altitude of just over 6,600 feet, and with mountains rising up to 11,000 feet, it is today an oasis of tranquility amongst the pine trees and lovely old buildings. A total surprise in Razmak was when I visited the new 'coffee shop' serving cappuccino, latte and assorted delicious treats. This for sure is going to be popular with visitors.
During the occupation and administration of the area by the British it became known as “Little London” due to the resemblance with an English village. When the British finally departed the area after partition and skirmishes with the local tribes, they left behind some lovely old architecture, and a cantonment that even today, maintains the style of an English village.
In more recent history, Razmak came under attack from the Taliban with rockets landing in the cantonment. Among the targets was the Razmak Cadet College, established in the old British barracks in 1978. These attacks, and the kidnapping of several students, led to a full evacuation of all students for five years until peace prevailed. Today, the students are back, living and studying in their beautiful campus amongst the pine trees and quiet calm on this old hill station.
The area around Razmak is rich in minerals that will provide extensive opportunities for future industry and prosperity for the local communities. However, I must add a word of caution. Mining companies will need to protect the environment to ensure that this magical place does not lose its charm and clean environment.
The drive to Razmak from Miranshah along the new road is scenic and provides glimpse of rural life as it gradually winds its way into higher terrain past hillside compounds, small farms and villages. A stop off at historic Alexandra Fort built by the British in the early 1900s gives a magnificent 360-degree view of the area. A hiking trail follows the road up to the top for those who feel energetic. Inspirational quotes to encourage hikers dot the trail and, for those who are feeling a bit weary, seats and tables are located at scenic points. This is becoming a popular visit point for locals who drive there from Miranshah and Mir Ali to enjoy a picnic. The area has its own microclimate and the weather changes rapidly. During my visit, within the course of an hour, the weather changed from bright, hot sunshine to approaching rain and a sudden drop in temperature. And just a few days before, snow had fallen on Alexandra Fort.
Unless realistic and substantial efforts are made across the border in Afghanistan to defeat terrorist groups there and bring sustainable peace, and to prevent terrorists from entering Pakistan, no matter what Pakistan does on its side, it will be like clapping with one hand.
Pakistan Army has constructed a new building for the Political Agent at Dosali, an area between Miranshah and Razmak, to replace one destroyed during the fighting. This will enable the government officials to provide more effective services to the communities in the area.
Over in the Tochi Valley, the new Golden Arrow Montessori School has been opened in Degan for some very excited children who attended the opening in their best and brightest clothes. This is such a significant step for the area and has received great support from the community. And nearby at Boya, a new Women’s Vocational Centre has been opened. When I met with women in Boya during my visit, they were extremely excited about getting a new centre soon. Word has it they are now very happy indeed and enjoying the opportunities the Centre provides. Pakistan Army has changed the milieu from terrorism to peace in North Waziristan.
And as another sign of the new normalcy, families were able to celebrate Eid in their own villages. Pakistan Army arranged five festivals in different areas across the agency with enthusiastic participation of local communities.
Recently, an education seminar was arranged by the civil servants in the region. This was a great opportunity to engage the local communities in discussions about building literacy and the importance of education. Parents are particularly keen to get their boys and girls into schools and are very supportive of education plans for North Waziristan.
Many other projects are under way and every month, a new facility, a road, an infrastructure component, opens for the public to make life easier. So things are certainly progressing well. But there are still development challenges ahead. The Army continues to do outstanding work, building on the massive achievements to date. However, the job is not theirs alone.
The Government needs to move forward on the FATA reforms and set a clear path for the future. To do this, they need to take the people along with the discussions so that they are comfortable with the process to integrate FATA into mainstream Pakistan, but without losing their culture. The transition period will be lengthy and complex so it should be started as soon as possible and with full engagement of all the stakeholders. More funds need to be ploughed into the area for facilities and upskilling of services to prepare for integration. But at the same time, the reconstruction and rehabilitation must continue till completion.
One area that has been sensitive is the matter of compensation for houses destroyed or damaged in the military operations. The Government promise was for PKR 160,000 for a damaged house, and PKR 400,000 for a destroyed house. This arrangement was not only for North Waziristan, but also for entire FATA. The Community Loss Compensation Program was originally envisaged as a more holistic program which would have provided a range of support and capacity building and training services to accompany the compensation. However, a change in the methodology diluted the additional benefits. The important issue though, is that all those who have suffered loss, are compensated as soon as possible.
While many have already received their payments, some are still waiting in parts of the FATA. This is an issue for the Government that should be attended to as soon as possible. The assessment teams, which include civilians and military personnel, carry out their work on the instructions of the FATA Secretariat once an area is de-notified. One thing that must be borne in mind is that basic facilities and infrastructure must be restored before an area is clear for families to return. The Army has made massive steps in fulfilling these needs and the majority of families have been able to return.
It is critical that the external assistance provided by UN and INGOs is aligned with the prioritised needs as determined by the people themselves, FATASecretariat, and the Army. It should be sustainable so that when the project funding runs out, the communities are able to continue with the progress envisaged in the project documents.
It is unlikely that PKR 400,000 will meet the cost of rebuilding some houses so the capacity building and training component would be an added benefit to assist in building back better. Donors are encouraging the government to include this additional benefit.
The international and local aid community has contributed to a number of programs to help the returning TDPs. The World Food Program (WFP), with the support of their donors, has provided returning families with food packages for a six-month period while they resettle.
The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) is coordinating the humanitarian assistance. OCHA Head of Office for Pakistan, Ms. Heli Uusikyla, visited North Waziristan recently to assess progress on UN funded activities and identify gaps where further support can be provided. On her return she spoke highly of the work being done by the Pakistan Army in the reconstruction and rehabilitation process. She also provided some insights into future UN assistance. Ms. Uusikyla noted, “USD 5.3 million have recently been released from UN funds for NGO projects to be implemented in the FATA, focusing on girls education, health, water and sanitation, and shelter support.” OCHA is also working with other UN partners, donors and INGOs to provide a coordinated transition to development.
There is one important need that is yet to be fulfilled; that of children who have lost one or both parents whose families are unable to properly provide for them. Because of the social environment, women-headed households find it particularly hard to earn an income to provide for their families. These vulnerable children must not be forgotten. It is a challenge for poor families across the country. Most find that they have no option but to send their children to madrassas mainly because they will receive free meals and accommodation. This places these children at high risk of falling prey to any fundamentalist ideas.
The Army has closed all madrassas in NWA and although this is a major step towards maintaining peace and defeating extremism, it leaves fewer options particularly for women-headed households who are unable to support their children, and for orphans. This is an opportunity for the people of Pakistan to show compassion and support efforts to meet the needs of these children through the provision of a safe and happy environment that will provide house, ‘parents’, comfortable accommodation, nutritious food, and health facilities, along with a good education. This will not only boost education and keep these children safe, it will give new hope to this area.1
Moving from the first phase – humanitarian assistance – to the longer-term development assistance, can be a slow process. While some donors are keen to support FATA, including North Waziristan, there have been delays in approvals. Even when the Army and other authorities are comfortable with the security situation, the internal organisational security processes for UN agencies, donors and INGOs can be a barrier. However, all the stakeholders are working together to find solutions and to proceed with assistance on a prioritised basis.
It is critical that the external assistance provided by UN and INGOs is aligned with the prioritised needs as determined by the people themselves, FATA Secretariat, and the Army. It should be sustainable so that when the project funding runs out, the communities are able to continue with the progress envisaged in the project documents. Too often, when project funding runs out and the aid agency departs, the situation becomes static or falls into disarray. This is not specific to Pakistan or FATA, it is a known challenge around the developing world.
But the biggest challenges ahead is a regional one. What happens in Afghanistan will certainly have an impact on Pakistan, particularly in the FATA.
A recent bipartisan high profile U.S. Senators' delegation led by the chairman of U.S. Armed Services Committee, John McCain (R) and including Lindsay Graham (R), Elizabeth Warren (D), David Perdue (R), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D) visited Pakistan recently. Senator McCain has been one of the more positive voices for Pakistan but following this visit, the signs have been less encouraging. During the visit, the delegation met with Foreign Affairs Adviser, Sartaj Aziz for what was reported as positive and engaging discussion. The delegation also met Chief of Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
A highlight of the visit was a trip to South Waziristan to view the progress in reconstruction and rehabilitation, part of which has been funded by USAID. Senator McCain is one of the few U.S. Senators or Members of Congress who has made regular visits to Pakistan and made an effort to understand the issues in the tribal areas. But this time, despite very positive encouragement when in Pakistan, once the delegation visited Afghanistan after leaving Pakistan, the tone changed. The “Pakistan must do more” mantra reappeared. On arrival in Afghanistan, Senator McCain said about Pakistan at a press briefing, “We have made it very clear that they will cooperate with us particularly against the Haqqani network and against terrorist organisations”. He went on to say that, “If they don’t change their behaviour, maybe we should change our behaviour towards Pakistan.” Senator Lindsey Graham was quoted by the Afghanistan Chief Executive Officer’s office as saying, “Pakistan will be rewarded if it changed its policy and punished if it didn’t.”
Despite almost a trillion dollars spent by the U.S. on their war in Afghanistan, and large amounts by its allies, the situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate across the country. The Taliban are in control of large swathes of the country and ISIS has moved in. It does seem that Afghanistan accepts no blame for the situation despite enormous corruption, unhealthy and shaky political alliances, and a failure of policies. That Afghanistan has failed to halt the spread of ISIS within its borders is of great concern to Pakistan. The proximity of ISIS in some areas of Afghanistan particularly in regions such as Achin, Nangarhar and Tora Bora near the Pakistan border is alarming.
India’s footprint in Afghanistan continues to grow and the U.S. National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2018 indicates that it may grow even more through the strengthening U.S.-India alliance. The NDAA sets a time limit of 180 days to develop a strategy for enhanced defence cooperation with India. Pakistan can only wait and see what that might mean. Also in the wing is the new U.S. policy for Afghanistan, which is believed to include a tougher stance on Pakistan. Another sign of a more aggressive U.S. stance against Pakistan is the recent announcement that the U.S. will not honour its commitment to reimburse Pakistan for the outstanding $350 million from the Coalition Support Fund. Of this, $300 has been reprogrammed elsewhere and the remaining $50 million will be withheld.
As Pakistan awaits the announcement of the U.S. intentions in the region, it can only be hoped that it will do nothing to destabilise the outstanding achievements for peace in North Waziristan and all the FATA. Unless realistic and substantial efforts are made across the border in Afghanistan to defeat terrorist groups there and bring sustainable peace, and to prevent terrorists from entering Pakistan, no matter what Pakistan does on its side, it will be like clapping with one hand.
The writer is Australian Disaster Management and Civil-Military Relations Consultant, based in Islamabad where she consults for Government and UN agencies. She has also worked with ERRA and NDMA.
Email: [email protected]
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