Challenges Facing a Counter-Militant Campaign in Pakistan’s FATA

Challenges Facing a Counter-Militant Campaign in Pakistan's FATA

by Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema
August 1, 2008

This paper outlines the challenges and opportunities facing the Pakistan government in its fight against militancy in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Following the seismic events of September 11, Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) shot into global prominence. [1] After the Taliban regime was ousted from power in 2001, remnants of Taliban forces found a safe haven in the FATA region, where these forces were warmly welcomed by co-ethnic Pashtun tribesmen. The Pakistan Army’s attempt to rid the area of foreign militants and Taliban forces has resulted in a strong and violent backlash against the government. Militancy and terrorism in the FATA are by-products of the current situation in Afghanistan. Many in Afghanistan perceive that their homeland is under occupation of foreign forces by the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and that Pakistan is acting as a “front line” state in support of the Western occupation. Until these perceptions cease, militancy and terrorism in the FATA are likely to continue. Whether militancy can be managed depends on Pakistan’s ability to adopt imaginative, robust, and sustainable political and socio-economic measures instead of relying only on military force.

This essay describes the nature of Pakistan’s military operations in the FATA. The essay first outlines the variety of militants operating in the FATA and discusses the battle for the hearts and minds of the local Pashtun population. The essay then highlights the successes and failures of Pakistan’s counter-insurgency operations and suggests effective political and socio-economic measures to counter the Taliban and Islamic militants operating in the FATA.

Military Operations in the FATA

Due to Pakistan’s counterterrorist operations, both the backbone of hardcore militants and the organizational structure of al Qaeda have been weakened—though both groups are far from being eliminated. It is now very difficult for al Qaeda elements of Middle Eastern origin to operate as freely in the FATA as before. Taliban elements and their sympathizers, however, have resurged, mainly following Pakistan’s controversial 2007 military operation against militants lodged in the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque). Tribal militants strongly opposed this operation—especially Baitullah Mehsud, who vowed to take full revenge. The government action was seen as an affront to Pashtun ethnic and religious sensibilities. The recent spate of suicide attacks on military personnel and installations in the country testifies to this strong reaction.

For the first time in Pakistan’s history the government is trying to extend its writ in the country’s peripheral northwest regions by sending armed forces and undertaking ambitious developmental work. These actions were precipitated by developments…

[1] The FATA comprises seven tribal agencies: Bajaur, Khyber, Kurram, Mohmand, Orakzai, North Waziristan, and South Waziristan.