A Bitter Harvest: Elections in FATA

Issue IV | اردو

Article: Mehran Wazir | Video: Umar Daraz Wazir

In an historic move, political parties have been allowed to function in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) for the first time under President Asif Ali Zardari’s Political Parties Extension Act. But, the Taliban has been quick to dampen the momentous occasion by threatening curfews across North Waziristan.

But, what the Taliban has threatened to do, Pakistan’s Army has gone ahead and has actually done: following an attack on Pakistani soldiers, North Waziristan has been under a 24-hour curfew by the political administration since early April, making the campaign process difficult if not outright impossible.

Between these forces—the militants and the security forces—residents of FATA are attempting to carry out a democratic, political process. The uncertain security situation has increased worries among locals here, with some backing away from the electoral process to focus on simply securing their live, property and dignity.

“It is a point of great worry that people are not sure about the security arrangements during the elections,” said Brigadier Asad Munir, a security analyst who has served in FATA. “If the military cannot secure its check posts from being targeted, then how can the crowds be secure on election day?” The attack in April left 20 Pakistani soldiers and 4 civilians dead in a suicide blast at a check post near the residential barracks of the military and the khassadars.

For ordinary residents of FATA, participating in the elections now means inviting the ire of the militants. That could result in forced migration, destruction of property, or even, physical attacks that make holding free and fair elections, highly unlikely.

Where we are
While North Waziristan suffers under a curfew, the Tirah valley in Khyber Agency has been devastated by clashes between Ansar-ul-Islam (AI), Taliban and Lashkar-e-Islam (LeI). Thousands have fled the area. Many of the refugees say that the security forces, including the Levies, have been making the situation more difficult for them. For these IDPs, the elections mean little.

Refugees from South Waziristan who are staying in neighboring Dera Ismail Khan also say they were brutally beaten by security forces for not maintaining order during distributions of food items few months ago. The incident deepened the distrust of the security forces among these IDPs. They, too, are uninterested in the upcoming elections.

Given the political situation across FATA, the upcoming elections will not be a genuine exercise in democratic politics. Take the case of Khan Nangy, a well-known social health worker in South Waziristan’s capital, Wana. Nangy supported secular political candidates in the 2008 elections. That had his price: this year, militants attempted to kill him as he made his way to visit a polling station to support a candidate ideologically affiliated with the secular Awami National Party (ANP).

In fact, the TTP’s spokesperson, Ehsanullah Ehsan, has threatened those who participate in the election campaigns and rallies of any of the secular parties, including the ruling PPP as well as the MQM and the ANP. The Taliban followed up on its declarations with a series of attacks on the offices of the latter two parties in Karachi.

Analyst Zulfikar Ali has observed that although FATA was among the first areas to begin preparing for the 2013 elections, the Taliban’s decade long presence in the region has “left little room for left-wing political parties to support their candidates.”

The leader of the secular Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PMAP), Mehmood Khan Achakzai has reportedly told his party workers to abstain from engaging in political campaigns in FATA for fear of militant reprisals.

For their part, the insurgents have shown their willingness to throw their support behind candidates they favor such as Maulana Abdul Malik, a Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) candidate in South Waziristan. Abdul Malik is a religious leader and hails from the Zilli Khel tribe, the largest in the area and one from which the militants draw some of their rank and file.

Such engagement by insurgents means that in some cases, at least, they are unlikely to interrupt the election process but, coupled with their policy of deterring candidates they oppose, some worry that the election process may be hijacked through both violence and election rigging.

The way forward
The Pakistani government must engage with FATA and develop policies that can allow for free, fair, transparent—and most importantly, safe—elections. This cannot be done without two kinds of agreements. The first must be a pact between the government and its citizens to reform the Frontier Crimes Regulations, a set of regulations established by the British in 1901 that are still in force in the Tribal Areas. The second has to be a series of negotiations between the qaum, that is, the tribal people as a nation, and the militants. Lashkars against insurgents cannot do the job of creating a stable FATA. They involve ordinary people in a war with militants that they should not have to fight without the government.
With or without the elections, it is time for bold moves to secure the future of the Tribal Areas.

Mehran Wazir is a researcher and analyst from South Waziristan.

Umar Daraz Wazir is a journalist based in FATA.

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One Response to A Bitter Harvest: Elections in FATA

  1. […] Source: http://www.tanqeed.org/2013/05/a-bitter-harvest-elections-in-fata-mehran-wazir/ Video: http://vimeo.com/65771219 […]

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