Political Empowerment & Violence – Lessons from Pakistan’s FATA

Presented to WANA Forum, Amman, Jordan, 9th May 2011

(by Khalid Aziz)


I will discuss issues related to identity formation in period of turmoil as is occurring in WANA region and submit some lessons learned from similar transitions that have happened in Pakistan’s FATA at different periods of its history. Instead of building on the traditional strengths of the region we mistakenly opted for using Jihad for ousting the USSR. This radicalized the region destroyed the traditional society in FATA and created a millenarian conflict threatening global peace. Let us learn from our errors.


Before examining other factors let us look at ourselves in a frank manner. In intra religious comparisons regarding the incidence of violence the following conclusions were drawn by Samuel Huntington

He found that there was a relatively high use of violence by Muslims in resolving disputes than others; he found that:

  • US used violence in 18% of its disputes
  • The USSR used it in 28.5% of violence in its disputes
  • Muslim countries used violence in 53.5% of their disputes
  • UK used it in 11.5%
  • The Chinese used it 76.9%

The following are multiple explanations given by experts for existence of violence in society;

  • High birth rates & a youth bulge  – if 20% or more of the population is in the 15-24 years age group then a society will be prone to violence. Experts have identified this as a major cause of the current instability and violence in the WANA region
  • Others have argued that the Quran contains few prohibitions against violence and a doctrine of non-violence is absent in Islam.
  • The Muslims conquered many parts of the world and this brought them in contact with others who were dispossessed or retained their former religion, that caused conflict
  • In other cases for instance the Muslim invasions of India led to violence against non-Muslims; it led to grievances and violence
  • Domination of Muslims by Imperial powers led to violent reaction. In the 1857 War of Independence the British massacre of Muslims of Delhi ended any chance of a future friendship and fixed hatred for Britain & Christianity in India
  • Even more than Christianity, Islam is an absolutist faith and non-Muslim lands are considered Darul Harb, creating another identity hook of US Vs Them;
  • West’s sponsorship of a Jewish homeland in Palestine laid the basis for the ongoing Arab-Israeli violence that created a united Muslim identity against Israel and their supporters the West
  • The West’s neo-colonial attitude towards states in WANA  based on their appetite for energy resources and strategic location created multiple negative identity factors against the West and rulers who are friendly to it
  • Entwined in the larger struggle against the West exemplified by the use of terror by al-Qaeda and kindred groups, lies the struggle between the Sunnis and Shias supported by S. Arabia and Iran respectively as well as between Takfiris and other sects. It has become a Wahabi struggle for supremacy that is in conflict with other regional Muslim religious identities
  • However we have seen some hope in the positive behavior apparent in the recent movement of the people who are demanding freedom, liberty and democracy in WANA & the Middle East. It shows:
    • The rejection of violence by the demonstrators except in Libya where a full scale civil war has erupted
    • The acceptance of religious diversity by a majority of demonstrators
    • Communities and people have been brought together by electronic social media that is a positive development.
    • There is an acceptance of the principles of human rights and freedoms in these movements

Findings from Terrorism

Two central tenets of the theory of terrorism states:

  • Societies that suffer from dis-enfranchisement  will witness political trouble and consequent lack of cohesion and national direction
  • Where suppression prevents protest and consequential reform in government, a large % of the population will become alienated. Alienation leads to terrorism as extreme-politics. If a state also suffers from an ethnic and a religious divide then alienation will lead to war and separation. Examples are:
    • Dysfunctionality of state in Somalia
    • Creation of Bangladesh
    • Demise of Yugoslavia
    • Pressure on Lebanon on numerous occasions
    • Division of Sudan
    • Tensions in Bahrain or Yemen

Special Position of FATA

The Pakistani tribal areas have a population of 3.5 million and are the size of Belgium. It straddles the border with Afghanistan, a country kept as a buffer by the British Imperial power against expansion of Russia towards India. The British used the tribal areas as a strategic “prickly hedge” in case the Russians advanced through Afghanistan.

  • To understand FATA, picture a huge castle that represents India, an Imperial possession and called theJewel in the British Crown and construct a deep ditch to its North West – that will be FATA – please tell me whether it is possible for someone to lead a normal life in such a strategic ditch? To avoid any qualms of conscious the British developed a legal fiction and said that the “tribal areas though a part of India are not a part of British India!” Thus they were left under-developed.
  • Pakistan since 1947 has continued to keep FATA in this position because its space was used for strategic agendas. Pakistan’s voluntary involvement in great power rivalry in this part led to massive underdevelopment of the people. For instance in 2011, FATA’s literacy rate is an embarrassing 17.6%. Its abused population is alienated and now fights the state. FATA was used in the following conflicts:
    • Since 1947 as provider of proxy warriors in Kashmir and India
    • From 1978-88, as base of Mujahidin War against USSR
    • 1996-2001 as support base for servicing the Afghan Taliban
    • Sept 2001 to date as a safe haven where OBL and his supporters stayed & launched terrorists acts
      • This abuse has led to the creation of an indigenous insurgency against the Pakistan state that threatens global peace and security
      • It has caused huge discredit to the Pakistani state
      • More than 30,000 civilians, more than 5000 soldiers have been  killed many hundred have been injured and a huge economic loss imposed on the people who roam the country side as internally displaced persons.

Situation in WANA

The following to my mind are the main factors causing distress in WANA and the Middle-East:

  • A high birth rate and bulge of the 15-24 years old
  • High levels of poverty, nepotism & corruption
  • Ineffective political participation leading to disempowerment  and alienation
  • Poor economic conditions leading to unemployment, a factor adding to alienation
  • Neo-colonial pressure for resources and support of Western powers for Israel

Lessons from FATA

Pakistan also witnessed upheavals in the region before FATA became a generator of violence in 1978, these were:

  • Tension with Afghanistan/India – 1947-54 (Those who fought in Kashmir in 1947 considered themselves as Pakistanis – thus a positive identity was created)
  • Creation of the Pashtunistan separatist movement – 1954 (Another negative identity that of a separatist state was introduced)
  • Afghan interference 1970s
  • The Mujahidin War (1978-88), a new globalized Islamic identity was created; Pakistan was infected too and Islamized its laws; the motto of the army was changed to “Jihad in the name of Allah.”

Before 1978 the following methods based on traditional power structures were used to obtain cohesion and retain previous identities:

  • Tension was neutralized by the use of traditional methods of exploring common grounds, defining core local identity and identifying factors that could encourage the feeling of a common community
  • Use of strategic messaging through the traditional leaders and electronic media was undertaken
  • Identification of heroes in communities and building them as icons of unity and relevant models was encouraged
  • Introduction of a layer of local government to liaison with the State and thus empowering communities; adult franchise was extended in 1996
  • Creating an ethos of respecting diversity and encouraging development of positive discrimination for the minorities was encouraged
  • Creating new secular identities and relegating religion as an individual’s personal equation with Allah.
  • However, after President Ziaul Haq Islamized the state in 1977-88, there was no scope left to prevent the slippage of Pakistan towards violence and medievalism. Thus the lessons learnt from FATA can with modification be adopted to the WANA region to good effect.


I would like to end with the wise remarks on statecraft uttered by Alaudin Khilji the Turkmen ruler of India 7 centuries ago. He said that he made decisions in matters of state that he considered fit. He did not look to Shariafor guidance. He said that he did not know how God will judge him on the Day of Judgment.

What he left unsaid was how God would judge a ruler who acted according to the Sharia but then caused immense suffering to his people?


(Two poems read in WANA Forum)

The Extent of Our Pain
(by Changez Sultan)

No diesel in our buses, no oil in our cars
Only hardened faces with battle scars
No justice here, no human Rights
Only endless fear, restless nights,
No water in our taps, no electricity
Lies galore and duplicity

The leader’s cronies amassing wealth
Mullahs track us with uncanny stealth
Suicide bombers are running amuck,
Drones zero in on sitting ducks.
Can’t we unite can’t we be one
One, like orbs that orbit our sun
Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Musalman
All who believe in Pakistan.”

Couplet by Sahir Ludhianvi in Urdu & its Translation
“Kaisey Bazaar Ka Dastoor Tumein Samjahon, Bik Gaya Jo Wo Kharidar Nahin Ho Sakta.”

English Translation:
[How shall I explain to you the practice of the market place? He who has sold himself, cannot become a buyer]














Gomal Zam