Report Prepared and Circulated by Khalid Hashmani, McLean, Virginia, US
Highlights from Washington DC Seminar on “Causes and Consequences of Extremism in Pakistan”
Washington, DC – February 8, 2009: Last Tuesday (February 3), United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) organized a seminar on the “Causes and Consequences of Extremism in Pakistan” at Washington DC offices.
The focus of the seminar was the spread of militancy in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan. Panelists included Faiysal Ali Khan, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Integrated Development Action, an NGO promoting good governance and democratization in Dera Ismail Khan and South Waziristan); Shuja Nawaz, a political and strategic analyst and author, and Director of South Asia Center; James Bever, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator at USAID; and Frederick Barton, Senior Advisor for the International Security program and co-director of its Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project. The session was moderated by J. Alexander Thier, Senior Advisor with the Rule of Law Program at USIP.
Faiysal AliKhan used slides to make his presentation on the problems created by Taliban and other extremist groups in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). His presentation was titled “Challenges and Opportunities in FATA”. He pointed out several techniques and propaganda that extremists are using to recruit youth in Pakistan. He said in addition to the US drone attacks, poor economy of the region, lack of political representation, the extremists are using the new tactic of presenting themselves as custodians of Pushton rights and promoting “nationalism”. They are professing that the USA is targeting Pushtuns and their survival as a people is at stake. Mr. AliKhan recommended that initiatives and programs aimed at youth be started to create jobs so that youth will see a viable alternative to joining Taliban. He advocated technical and vocational training for the indigenous population to bring economic improvements. He emphasized the need for police reform and administrative overhaul to inculcate strengthening of “ownership” among local people. He called for establishment of a proper “justice” system so that people will not need to go to Taliban for securing justice for their grievances. He asked that rights of migrant Pushton workers be protected and old Hawala system of money transfer be restored. He said that FATA and other regions in NWFP be seen as one area. He counseled US authorities to engage in a dialogue with Taliban in order to delay and divert their efforts from militancy.
What jolted me the most from Mr. AliKhan’s presentation was that except for the “religious militancy” aspect, the problems and deprivation of the local people were the same as faced by the people of rural Sindh. Their plight is increasing each day due to economic deprivation and lack of educational opportunities and lack of a system of justice that gives them refuge from their grievances. The same administrative reforms and programs that Mr. Faiysal AliKhan advocated for rural areas of NWFP, were needed in Sindh also. In Sindh, terrorists in the shape of economic and political exploiters rule their lives. Indeed, there is an urgent need for Sindhis to have an effective NGO on the lines that Mr. AliKhan and his friends have created for good governance and democratization in NWFP.
Shuja Nawaz talked about the long history of the local people dealing with foreign invaders and occupiers. He said that the view of local people that the current turmoil is similar to what they have seen throughout their history and will come to pass sooner or later. He counseled US decision makers to take into account this history when forming policies to deal with the current situation. Another aspect that he pointed out was that a majority of Pakistan Army engaged in the troubled region does not speak Pushto. He said that British required that soldiers stationed in NWFP learn Pushto and the same policy should be instituted now. He added that such a move will open lines of communications and demonstrate a sign of cultural respect. He said that educational level in the region was almost half (One-third for women) of what it is other regions of Pakistan. He mentioned that 3-4 million Pushtons live in Karachi and have even elected two Assembly members from there. He added that a large number of Pushtons were also working in the Gulf region. He acknowledged that there is a lack of national debate in Pakistan on what kind of country Pakistan ought to be (I suspect, Mr. Nawaz meant centralized” vs. “Decentralized” form of government). In conclusion, he emphasized the need to incorporate FATA into greater Pakistan.
James Bever talked about how USAID was helping people in Pakistan and Afghanistan in general and NWFP in particular to improve their conditions. He said that the US Government has recently formed a Afghanistan- Pakistan Taskforce to support USAID missions in these countries with staffing and funding to help collaboration. He acknowledged that the budget requests of the Pakistan Government have come under intense pressure He said that USAID has been active and will increase its efforts on improving education, health, economic reform, and democracy including good governance. He informed that in assessing the needs, USAID will study at various factors including increasing Hepatitis cases to identify priority areas that need assistance. He mentioned that future challenges involve food and energy shortages in Pakistan.
Frederick Barton said in order to resolve the problems of the region, it is mandatory for the USA to gain real knowledge of the area and have a common understanding on one goal that both Pakistan and the US would agree. He added that it is not helpful when the Pakistan Government shows lack of ownership of what is happening in the NWFP. He advocated an active partnership between the two countries in order to gain trust of each other. He recommended direct assistance to people including incentives for helping to achieve peace in the region.
Note: It appears that a critical debate is taking place among the leaders of various stakeholders on whether Pakistan continues its centralized character or takes a bold step of decentralization and restoration of provincial rights which were usurped by successive dictatorial and undemocratic governments. The debate also involves how US will provide assistance to strengthen the new set-up. As this is a critical event where the future of Sindh may be under discussion, it is imperative that all representatives of Sindhi people including sincere nationalist forces engage in a constructive debate and ensure that their views reach appropriate decision-makers and are taken into account in any major changes that are likely to occur in Pakistan’s constitution in upcoming months.