The FATA

October 21, 2010 § 1 Comment

This post is mostly to draw your attention to a fantastic new resource I’ve found. Pakistan survey is the first attempt I am aware of to find out what people are actually thinking inside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas – and it is very comprehensive. It has been commissioned by an American think tank: the New America Foundation; and much of the groundwork was done by a Pakistani NGO.

The FATA are the unincorporated areas of Pakistan along the Afghan border:

FATA

As for what they are thinking: it will come as no surprise that support for US drone strikes is virtually non existent, support for the Taliban is low – but higher the more drone strikes there have been in the area (it is of course debatable which way causality can be established on that one) and support for external fighters (Al Quaeda in popular parlance) is very low – but again higher where there have been many drone strikes. Bread and butter concerns such as the lack of jobs and schools are seen as the main concerns and trump religious or geopolitical concerns.

What is particularly interesting to me is the question of governance. The FATA has always been federally administered, by the centre, in a hands-off way via political agents. There are some MNAs elected from the FATA, but these elections tend to have been captured by local elites – and are not held in some areas for security reasons. The FATA has no real say in its own governance and many have attributed the rise of the Taliban to this – and suggested that governance should be normalised and autonomy increased.

Firstly, the public perception in the more peaceful areas is that the political agents of the federal government are only as powerful as the local leaders (the Maliks and the Muftis). However, in the more violent areas neither group are seen as being as powerful as the Pakistani Army – who are felt to be the real power. Interestingly, the Army are not that unpopular.

There is less support for normalising governance in the sense of making FATA more integrated with Pakistan – but an extraordinary level of support for local democracy and an accountable autonomous governance structure: either an independent Pashtun state or – even more popular – an independent elected autonomous council.

However, perhaps the most valuable thing about this research is that it is being done at all. For nearly a decade the FATA has obsessed the international media. Yet in all the debate over What Is To Be Done, the voice that has been missing is the voice of the FATA residents. It comes as no surprise to me that they want what everyone else wants: investment and a degree of self government, but I am delighted that somebody has finally bothered to ask them.

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