Pakistan is reported to have adopted a carefully crafted counter militancy strategy in tackling the vexatious problem of militancy on the Western borders along the Durand line. The disturbed areas fall under what are traditionally known as Federally Administered Tribal Agency or FATA and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The FATA area comprises of the most difficult terrain and population dynamics in the World. The writ of the government runs through a complex network of official and unofficial channels. Thus the Government claims to have adopted a mix of political, development and military means to bring order to the region.
Large scale fighting which broke out in South Waziristan during March and April in which over 200 to 300 militants have been killed so far was indicated as a sign of success of the strategy by the government. Another area where reconciliation as a means of control has been adopted recently is Bajaur.
On 26 March 2007, tribal leaders after consent by pro Taliban militants are reported to have signed a peace agreement with the Pakistan government in Bajaur agency in FATA. Faqir Muhammad head of the Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM, or Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad's Sharia Law) is said to be the principal with whom the accord has been signed in Bajaur. Pakistan is perhaps accepting the limitations of armed force in such situations. Given the large and difficult terrain and the general culture of violence, the level of troops required to be deployed in this area for effective control would be thousands rather than the 80,000 deployed by the Pakistan Army in the past. The tribal culture has not yet adapted to norms of a modern society, thus most institutions religious, administrative as well as legal are based on tribal laws. While these seem antiquated by present developed standards, replacing these will be a time consuming process. Thus the problem goes far beyond issues of development and relate to restructuring an entire society by transposing it from a feudal to a modern structure.
The problems in Pakistan's strategy are in providing Taliban a free run in the area, which it exploits for launching forays into Afghanistan. Large bands of Taliban are routinely reported to be crossing over the Durand Line or returning after conduct of operations. Carlotta Gill of the New York Times has also indicated that there were grounds to believe that tribal areas of Waziristan had become a haven for varied bands of jihad groups waging battle in Afghanistan, Kashmir and now increasingly striking within Pakistan.
The commitment of the Taliban to these deals is also likely to be only partial despite it being a part of the written agreement. Militancy is not just a cause but also an industry in the region, thus Taliban is not likely to give it up easily. While there are reports of a possible rift between the Al Qaeda and the Taliban of late, these need confirmation. At the same time there are no guarantees that the Taliban will not allow Al Qaeda access to these areas. As these are one off deals, these elements have other areas in NWFP such as Mohmand and Khyber agency where foreign militants can seek temporary shelter till the situation improves in the North.
In analyzing Pakistan's counter militancy strategy in these regions some of the key issues which need to be discussed include its effectiveness, credibility and commitment of the Taliban and the broader implications of making peace with organizations which espouse not just violence but a typically medieval system of values. There is no doubt that there are serious objections to the latter while effectiveness and credibility can be denoted only as time goes by. Alternatives to the strategy would entail continued deployment of the military for counter Taliban operations. Given commitment of the Pakistan Army in other parts of the country, including Balochistan, with crucial elections slated for the current Year, other options have been limited.
The Pakistani government is justifying the same on the premise that the alternate model of neutralizing militancy exclusively through use of force is a Western, colonial way which cannot be used to resolve indigenous problems of violent insurgencies. In case the strategy is being employed with a larger perspective of gradually restructuring tribal society through a mix of force and political alignments it should be acceptable in the long run, however it may have deleterious effects in the short term particularly for the forces fighting in Afghanistan. How effectively Pakistan calibrates the policy to ensure that FATA does not become base for striking into Afghanistan or for indigenous militancy to take deep roots will determine success.