Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pakistan, FATA and "Our People": A Lively Debate

Just a quick unsourced post because I'm tired after a very busy day. I feel passionately about this so I had to reply immediately to a comment made by Anon1027 on Ahsan's preceding post titled "If 500 Militants Faced Off Against 500 Pakistani Soldiers, Who Would Win?" I have pasted the full discussion below. The discussion is then followed by my response.

Anon 1027 says:

what a stupid question. you ask it as if in a stand off between our people and our people, there can actually be a winner.

Ahsan replies:

our people? i'm wondering how uzbeks, al-Qaeda operatives drawn from the broader arab and islamic world, afghan and pakistani pasthuns who don't believe in the pakistan state, and others who (a) attack and kill pakistani soldiers, (b) attack and kill pakistani civilians, (c) attack and kill foreigners (chinese, americans) on pakistani soil, and (d) aim to establish their writ on the territory of the state of pakistan can be described as "our people". they may be your people, but they are certainly not mine.

Anon 1027 replies:

heh. dude, save the jingoistic polemic for another day...

'your' soil is defined by where some english gentleman drew the line on a map. if his hand had slipped, you'd be blogging about india's amazing cricket feats and the bjp/congress tussle all day...

and your point (d) 'aim to establish their writ on the territory of the state of pakistan' - what state? what border? that same one the englishman drew that nobody west of islamabad, multan, shikarpur and karachi (if you draw lines between them) EVER recognized. you cant just create states and say 'ok, now you are under our rule.'

i'd reverse your point (d) and say that pakistan is trying, for the first time, to extend ITS writ to the ALWAYS independent FATA.

why after all these years do they do this now? does it really have anything to do with shariah law? hah, no - shariah has been there for many many years.

why then? because they're killing pakistani soldiers and we can't let this go on? - hah again. no pakistani soldier was being killed three years ago.

really, honestly. why now? as cliched as it is, its true that the only reason we're there now is because america told us to be there.

i consider both sides 'our' people and its sad to see either side die (hardly any foreign fighters at ALL have been involved in this fighting - even the army admits that much).

and i guarantee that any of your beloved political leaders (any bhutto, altaf hussain, sharif, anyone!) are responsible for more pakistani deaths, pakistani crime, pakistani murders and the general looting of the pakistani nation than some guy trying to run a valley in NWFP.

(anon 1027)
It should be noted that to his credit, Anon 1027 apologized for his tone in the post. As I wrote my post before he posted his apology (because i wrote it in the comment box and it took some time), my tone is equally abrasive. For this I would like to apologise, and I share Anon 1027's hope that future discussions are carried out amicably. Even though this is a touchy subject, Pakistan really needs people to retain its civility, so we should try. Anyway, Ill get off my high horse now; below, is my response to Anon 1027:

It is agreed that the remaining 7 agencies that comprise FATA have historically had high levels of autonomy, but how exactly did FATA become an independent country at partition? And as for that autonomy, it was stripped from Dir, Swat, Chitral, Malakand in 1970 when those agencies were incorporated into the province of NWFP and were given adult franchise. The independent entity of 'the Tribal Areas' didn’t object to (what according to Anon 1027 would be) the appropriation of their territory by a foreign state.

I don’t recall Indian or Afghan state political agents operating in FATA. Or Uzbek or Tajiks for that matter. I do recall that the Federal government of Pakistan having its agents on the ground, that too in an administrative and executive capacity. Please tell me what the source of their authority is. Because it seems to me that their mere presence (if not their authority) is a tacit admission of an obvious fact, namely that FATA is part of Pakistan.

A very good friend of mine in Karachi is from Malakand and he considers himself a Pakistani, as does his extended family. Frankly your idea of FATA as some kind of independent state is alien to them.

The fact is that there is no independent country of FATA, with its own budget or currency or foreign policy. They claim to have an independent judicial system, but really its a series of unrelated mediations which may occur under a standard template, but which lack any unifying structure. Pakistan’s judicial system is probably just as half baked, but what is relevant here is not efficacy but rather any sign of central authority and statehood. Jirgas are sporadic, ad-hoc and not administered or regulated by any overlying authority, and don’t meet any modern or historical standard of structure. And before I have to address any arguments as to western standards etc, that includes the standards of any pre-colonial Muslim society, wherein the Qadis were appointed by the Governors of the respective provinces and the writ of the court was binding law enforced by a unified police force. It was not a privately mediated settlement.

That said, the tribes in FATA are quite keen on retaining their own potent military capacities. Particularly as this enables them to slaughter each other senselessly and in large numbers, whenever the mood possesses them. However there is no unified military command or army in FATA.

So if Anon 1027 is suggesting that FATA is part of some other country that no one in Pakistan recognizes or is even aware of, then where is the proof? Perhaps this is one of those occasions where the feeling is more important than the facts, in which case I’ll understand.

The remaining bit of FATA (post 1970) is what it looks like. A collection of tribes and families within Pakistan, each with their own stockpile of weapons, who have been left to their own anachronistic and destructive devices for far longer than they should have been, and that too for ALL the wrong reasons.

America’s insistence is not the reason Pakistan ended up going into FATA, it is the catalyst. It was always in our interest to establish the Federal Government's writ. That interest became both apparent and immediate when America went and parked in Afghanistan, and when parts of FATA rose in armed opposition to Federal policy.

If a part of the country has been without governance for some time, the solution is not to leave in that state, but to govern it. Particularly as the tribes of FATA have only wrought destruction with their autonomy. There is a reason why Chitral and Malakand, both ex-FATA, contrast so much with Bajaur and Wana. And that contrast was there well before America came to Pakistan. 'America-is-to-blame' is not a cliche in this instance, it is a blindfold, or alternatively the pile of sand that one might stick one's head in.

Finally a question poses itself. Why do you, Anon 1027, consider the People of FATA to be ‘our’ people, if they were never part of Pakistan? What is the basis of the kinship? it a shared faith or a shared homeland or a shared culture?

If either is the case, I will simply point out to you that the Militants in FATA do not stop to ask the religious persuasions and birthplaces of their civilian victims before they bomb them. The boundaries of their community, as they choose to define them, are laid along ethnic, tribal and ideological lines, and include the implementation of a bastardized version of the Shariah and dogmatic, blanket Anti-‘Westernism’. Consequently, regardless of what you may think, the militants in FATA have decided that you are not one of them. I hope that they are correct.

Ahsan adds: I don't know what it says about me, but I actually found the tone of both Anon1027's original comment and NB's retort perfectly amicable and not at all catty/pissy/abrasive. Actually, I know precisely what it says about me, but I'd rather not say here. Be that as it may, I think both Anon1027's and NB's apologies are unnecessary - I think this debate was conducted in a perfectly courteous and friendly manner.

Anyway, NB has covered most of the ground here. Maybe I'm biased, but I think this debate was fairly one-sided and there's not much left for me to add after NB's impressive debunking of Anon1027's thesis. I do have one thought, however.

Your point about the arbitrary nature of decolonization is a bit of a red herring. Saying if an Englishman's hand had slipped, I would be blogging about the BJP and the Indian cricket team is a little like saying that if I hadn't been born to my parents but some other random couple, then their lives would be of little concern to me: it is a tautological statement that happens to be true, but that has little informative, analytical or normative content. The point is that an Englishman did draw the borders the way he did, and if nationalism is to mean anything in this world, then I must identify with those within the same borders that I happen to have been born within.

Is it arbitrary? Absolutely, which is why I feel patriotism is a bit of wasted emotion. But patriotism and nationalism are two distinct forms of identity politics, and one makes a helluva lot more sense (to me anyway). In other words, I refuse to put a Pakistani flag on my car or house just because it's August 14, but when people ask me where I'm from, I say "Pakistan" and not "An amorphous entity that has no ontological basis to it but exists solely as a result of the contingent nature of decolonization." Now you are perfectly well within your rights to subscribe to a separate set of identity politics - you may choose to see yourself as a Sindhi, or a Muslim, or whatever - but to impute those same preferences to others is taking an ill-advised leap of logical faith. I, and many others, choose - or have imposed on us, depending on your epistemological view of the agent-structure relationship - the identity of a Pakistani. That means other Pakistanis are Like Me in a somewhat indecipherable way and non-Pakistanis Are Not. What this means in concrete terms is that those who choose to identify themselves not just as opponents of the Pakistani state, but that refuse to recognize its authority over territory that it purports to possess simply cannot be "my people". It is an interesting question, however, why I think of Balochi nationalists as my people. That's a puzzle I should perhaps spend some more time thinking about.


asfand said...

I also think anon1027 stepped over his own feet when he said that west of isb, multan, khi and co the 'englishman made boundary' was effectively never recognized and then goes on to state that he considers them to be 'our people' or 'his people.'

If that remains the case, your people are killing your people, and vice versa.

It's interesting because my law teacher goes on to state how some nutties in Khyber Agency have started charging people Rs.500 for every cassette found in their car, and a Rs. 500 fine for not praying 5 times a day is completely the fault of Musharraf.

Yeah, because he deliberately and single-handedly sowed the seeds of fundamentalism.

Plus, I want to know as a muslim where in the Quran is it stated that I can be punished by MAN for not praying 5 times a day?

These really aren't "our" people, in only so many ways. Sooner we get that through our skulls as muslims or the 'ummah' in general, the sooner we'll be able to address it proper.

I'm probably paraphrasing some of NB+Ahsan there also, so...

Anonymous said...

hmmm… interesting thoughts (this is anon1027), clearly i don’t know as much about pakistani history as you two but i don’t see how the argument has moved forward or how anything I said has been ‘debunked’…

the first six paragraphs (over half) of NB’s reply are misdirected and something I quite agree with in most parts. i never argued that FATA was an independent entity in and of itself, i simply argued that it was independent of pakistan’s writ – it always has been and always will be. the pashtuns are the largest tribally organized group of people in the world. there is no source of authority because the people of FATA choose not to recognize one, and if you believe that just because pakistan has federal agents there, it has authority, then it is a fallacy on your part.

regarding your malakand friend, i have friends from nwfp region too, and they too would say they are pakistani if asked – BUT they only mean it in a nominal sense. if i turned around to any pashtun i know (from FATA or NWFP) and said ‘hey you’re pakistani and the writ of pakistan’s government actually extends to you and your homeland’, they’d laugh sarcastically and tell me to get real. its one thing to support umar gul bowling for the pakistan team, but quite another to accept alien sovereignty to your land which has always been independent. THAT is the basis from which FATA originated – a NOMINAL and tacit agreement to be considered part of pakistan geographically, not from a governance point of view. this was, and is, in pakistan’s best interest: these people don’t like being ruled over. period.

the latter half of NB’s reply is more relevant. i maintain that it is only and only on america’s insistence that pakistan entered FATA. if it had been in pakistan’s interest, pakistan would have done something even slightly substantive dealing with FATA in its 60 year history – it hasn’t:

article 1 of pakistan’s constitution places the people of FATA within pakistan. article 25 of the same constitution which declares all citizens of pakistan equal before law does NOT apply to FATA. i repeat, the article of pakistan’s constitution which says all citizens are equal does NOT apply to FATA (look it up)… so not only do you arbitrarily draw lines and place people within your borders, you tell them they are NOT equal within those borders (for 60 years and counting!). dude, if someone tried to impose that on you, you’d bloody fight to the death as well – so don’t give me this militant bakwaas.

you’d think that if pakistan wanted to extend its writ to a people and govern them more, a good starting point would be to remove their second class and subservient status in the constitution.

pakistan knows this and that is why it had exercised a ‘live and let live’ policy until america told it to do otherwise. the result over the last 4 years has been a REaction by the militants rather than affirmative action and i’d like to point out that key factors influencing the revolt of these tribes was joint american and pakistani bombing of civilian targets (the armies have been responsible for far greater civilian deaths on the pakistan side in the last 6 years than the militants).

i could go on about the draconian laws that are actually applicable under the constitution ONLY to FATA, but the point has been made – these people never considered themselves part of pakistan and pakistan never considered them part of it, except nominally or for completely trivial reasons of mutual convenience. for the government to suddenly u-turn on this position (for anyone including america) is not only farcical but also futile – hence my sadness.

lastly (wrt NB), i accept your points that they have done little of constructive nature with their autonomy, but who cares if they shoot each other. they are independent by nature and by history. its not like pakistan has been incredibly constructive with its autonomy – i don’t remember the state of pakistan asking bengalis about their pakistani citizenship before they killed a million of them, or the balochis before they banished them to the state dumpster or the mohajirs or anyone really that doesn’t belong to the small elite running the nation. i think pakistan’s ‘justice’ system is just as (if not more) likely to dish out an unjust/biased/influenced/plain wrong verdict as the ‘bastardized version of shariah’ in the frontier… (unless of course you have the money and/or know the right people in pakistan)… both systems are flawed and totally wrong. i also think people like benazir have been responsible for far more death, destruction, corruption and looting of the pakistani state WHILST purporting to support and instead abusing the writ of pakistan – and yet you would give them your vote(?). the whole notion smacks of hypocrisy...

i’m at work so i’ll respond to ahsan’s points as and when i get the chance… (it’s a real pain to read this in comments – any chance it can be added to the main arguments page)


Ahsan said...


if you click on the title of this post (i.e. pakistan, fata and "our people"), the comments will appear as part of it on one single page.

also, do you really want to be known as anon1027? just leave a name for god's sake. even if it's not YOUR name and your anonymity must be guarded at all costs, just call yourself something. like, i don't know, amjad. or ralph. or something.

ali mate said...

HAHAHA!! AMJAD!!! hahahaa

Ahsan said...

ali mate:

what's so funny? i didnt realize the word "amjad" is cause for outrageous laughter. ok, hussain then. or perhaps ali (it's muharram, so let's make it a shia name). how bout it, anon1027?

Ahsan said...

also, as an aside to our other readers, we would appreciate if you leave a name when leaving comments. obviously we're not going to enforce a hard-and-fast rule here (i.e. you can leave comments as "anonymous" as many times as you please) but i think our small rs.5 community would be better served if you leave a name - any name, even a nickname or a pseudonym - with your comments. many thanks.

ali mate said...


i thought you said "amjad" because of NB's joke.......i.e. amjad....pantshirt.....etc....
that's why i found it funny. i thought u may have known of it too.