By Rehmat Meshud
WANA, PAKISTAN: The reason behind the resurgence of the Taliban and their growing strength in Pakistan can be put down to recent and long-term conditions in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA. First of all, the continuence of a political administration system that dates back to the British colonial era gives sweeping power to a few individuals appointed by the federal Pakistani government, but denies the average citizen in FATA his or her democratic rights. On top of that, the education system is the worst in Pakistan, with literacy rates below 10 percent for men and almost zero among women. In the absence of decent public education, many families send their boys to Islamic seminaries, known as madrassas, many of which fill young minds with ideas of jihad and violence, thus fueling the Taliban. Thirdly, there is a lack of legal economic options in the FATA, creating high levels of unemployment among young men. Most young tribesmen are working abroad, mainly in Gulf states, to eke out a livelihood and a single person is often the breadwinner for a large family. The complete absence of jobs, industry, education and health facilities at home cause many to turn to the region’s one viable trade, gun smuggling, which grew when there was a great influx of weapons for the jihad against the Russian invasion in the 1980s. More recently, the community has been decimated by a wave of killings of tribesmen, both those assassinated by the Taliban and those killed in Pakistani military operations or aerial strikes by the American forces. Along the porous, 2400-kilometre Pak-Afghan border, Pashtun tribes are being sandwiched in the “War on Terrorism” regardless of whether they support it or are involved. And this has been the case for decades. People living along the Durand line have bore witness to unending upheavals, clashes, turbulence and tragedy. Now caught in the middle of a raging battle between Taliban, Pakistani and U.S. security forces, FATA tribesmen are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. The primary factor fueling the Afghan resistance is the poor knowledge by US and NATO forces of the local norms and traditions. It mystifies many local observers why US and Nato forces continually resort to aerial bombardment of Afghan wedding parties or funeral ceremonies, which they claim to be gathering of al Qaeda or Taliban leaders. These attacks prompt youngsters of the bereaved families to join Taliban ranks in order to seek revenge. “We are very much concerned about our own future and we are trapped in the wrangle between the Taliban and Pakistani, Nato and US forces. If the tribesmen on either side of the border offer Taliban with food then the Pakistani, Nato or the US forces label them as sympathisers of the extremists but on the other hand when the tribesmen even shake hands with the Pakistani security forces or the American troops then they are punished by the Taliban,” these are the common views of the tribesmen living in the Pakistani tribal region on the Pak-Afghan border. Many of these communities have straddled the disputed Durand Line long before it was drawn, owning territory on both sides of the fence. They share the same topography, geography, culture, language and beliefs, but now policy-makers on either side of the “border” demand them to treat the other sides as aliens. In the face of all of this, many inhabitants of the ill-fated border area believe the secret agenda behind the ongoing war is to eliminate their fiercely-independent tribes. With such a state of affairs, it will be necessary to make members of the community, even those considered Taliban, part of the government, or the resistance will continue to flourish and grow. Barack Obama’s election as the new American president has brought a ray of hope to analysts in Pakistan, who believe his statesmanship will usher a new era of peace and prosperity to the region. Mr. Obama has appointed a celebrated Foreign Service officer, Richard Holbrooke as his Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and indeed it will be a challenging job. Some say Mr Holbrooke should work out a multi-pronged strategy to deal with the spiraling violence on the Pak-Afghan border. As Holbrooke himself pointed out, having the knowledge and deep-rooted association with the people of the border region, only about 20 percent represent hardcore militants and the rest dubbed “Taliban” have taken up arms for a variety of solvable issues: joblessness, the FATA political administration system, the complete absence of education, and wanton killings of neutral tribesmen. Ends…………….