Pakistan ’s ‘Wild West’?
By Dr Manzur Ejaz
Washington , DC
Pakistan ’s core state is like a stubborn mule that seldom moves without a sound thrashing. Changes in the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), extension of the Political Parties Order 2002 and enactment of other laws to the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA), were long overdue. As a matter of fact, besides the US-Zia jihadi infusion, the essential problem was that the FATA region had outgrown the old traditional tribal mode of life and had started entering modernity in many ways but the politico-administrative arrangements were not reformed. FATA was in need of state institutions that should have been at least like that of India and Pakistan but no one was paying any attention to such badly needed changes.
It is ironic, rather disappointing, that other than some rare individuals, no one in the US’s think tanks was willing to see the deep down underlying problem. The US policy-makers have their own limitations but, except for a few, the attitude of the Pakistani academia, media and state players had no clue about this problem either. According to the universal narrative, used as an a priori truth, the tribal people of FATA were not prone to any change. Since they wanted to maintain their own so-called free lifestyle, according to the perceived truth, there was no need to investigate or entertain the possibility that maybe the FATA people were just like other Pakistanis who wanted a meaningful change.
Sadly, the attitude was that the FATA people were lesser or ‘different’ human beings who were fixated on a wild way of living and, hence, it was better to leave them alone. This narrative was maintained first by the British to keep a buffer zone between their empire and Soviet ambitions. Pakistan’s core state continued with this practice for reasons like assigning too many legislative seats to the area and then using the large elected group as leverage against genuinely elected governments. It was also maintained as a hinterland for raising free-of-cost lashkars (armed bands). It was believed that they could be used the way they were utilized in Kashmir in the early days of Pakistan. Making this area a center of jihadist movements was part of the ongoing scheme for the last many decades.
As human beings do not follow the wishes of distant controllers and always try to improve their living conditions, the FATA people kept going abroad and to the cities where job and business opportunities were better. Consequently, just like other rural populations, the FATA people were exposed to a modern way of life along with all its gadgets like television, radio, Internet, etc. Therefore, FATA was changing fast from within just like the rest of the world that has transformed with such speed in the past 30 or 40 years that it would appear as another planet to a person from the mid-19th century. But the state of Pakistan and its rules to deal with FATA never changed. As a result, a political and ideological vacuum was created that was filled by extremely primitive forces generally under titles like jihadists or the Taliban.
The supporters of this status quo have been faking and idealizing the FATA people’s traditions for their own crusades, opportunism and/or political hegemony. The FATA way of life and its primitive institutions, run by Maliks, etc, were presented as models by some leading politicians. One has to ask a simple question: if FATA life was so charming then why do these FATA idealisers not move there instead of building mansions in Islamabad and other big cities? If their alleged treatment of women (honor killings, etc.) was most befitting to the belief system of the Islamabad idealisers then why are their own offspring allowed to hold wild night parties and marry partners of their choice?
Any honest person can figure out that a young girl living a prison-like life would be yearning to enjoy freedom just like in other parts of the world. She would like to go to college and university, get a gainful job and live like people do in Lahore and Islamabad. She is no different from others and she is not a special creature brought into this world to be treated differently. One can say the same thing about her male counterparts but since the women are the ones who face the brunt of primitive cruelty, they are the test for how much a society is willing to provide space for individual freedom.
Surely, many pro-status quo apologists would contest the arguments given above and assert that the women and men of this area accept the norms of primitive society willingly. The question is: why do the people of FATA move out and not the other way around? Why do people who migrate from a village to a city or to prosperous countries never go back? Of course, the nostalgia for ‘back home’ haunts the first generation but that is a different discussion about human psychology. Generally, human societies move where economic opportunities and quality of life are better. The people of FATA are normal humans and they share the same ideals as the rest of the world.
It is time to bury the old narrative and provide equal opportunities to the women and men of FATA. The changes in the FCR have not addressed the core issues of the FATA people but it is a commendable beginning. Once the people of FATA are provided with appropriate state institutions and developmental initiatives are undertaken, they start looking like the rest of the people of this country and not special creatures. (The writer can be reached at email@example.com)