Tensions have been running high along the Afghan-Pakistani border. On Tuesday, Afghanistan blamed a “foreign intelligence agency” for an assassination attempt on President Karzai in April – probably again referring to Pakistan. Recently, Karzai threatened to send troops into Pakistan to fight the Taliban there. US-led coalition troops have fired artillery and missiles on targets in Pakistan. Their concern is that the Taliban are getting stronger in the semi-autonomous tribal areas. In Pakistan itself, the question of how to deal with the tribal areas is also being debated hotly.
A Pakistani tribesman injured in a clash between Afghan forces and Taliban militants two weeks ago
Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani ambassador to Kabul, believes all negotiations with the Taliban in the tribal areas are useless as long as the government continues to support the US in the war on terror: "There is no militancy in the tribal area. Militancy in the tribal area has arisen as a reaction to the policy pursued by the government of Pakistan."
This kind of more or less open sympathy for the Taliban is common in Pakistan. There is a widespread resentment that President Musharraf, in particular, compromised Pakistan’s national sovereignty when he promised support to the US after 9/11. Asad Durrani is a former head of Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI:
"The basic mistake was that we did not conclude with the Americans the terms of engagement. Even a country like Guinea-Bissau would have said: This is the cooperation we will give and this is the one we will not give."
The majority perception in Pakistan is that the war on terror is not Pakistan’s war. Most who do advocate a harder line against the Taliban argue pragmatically that Pakistan cannot afford to ignore the US or NATO position – such as Shafqat Mahmood, a former senator and minister for the ruling Pakistan People's Party. He says that Pakistan needs to reach a new deal with the Americans:
"I think that any agreement which does not forbid the use of Pakistani territory for launching attacks across the border, is not something our government should negotiate, or will be acceptable to anybody else."
Reforms for the tribal areas?
The question remains how the state can enforce its control over the tribal areas. The army operation in past years is not viewed as a success. And the tribal areas have a semi-autonomous status, with their own laws. Many advocate the abolition of this special status and the introduction of full democracy.
Asad Durrani is sceptical. He does not think the tribals themselves will agree to give up their laws and their autonomy: "Tribal societies are old societies. This one is five hundred years old. Under the barrel of the gun you can not change the Pashtoon and the way he wants to do things. But with love and affection you can take a Pashtoon to hell!"
But for Shafqat Mahmood, this kind of talk is nothing but tribal romanticism: "Pashtoons are not different than any other human being anywhere else in the world", he maintains. "We cannot let things be stuck in time forever. What has the tribal area achieved? The female literacy ratio is the poorest perhaps in the entire South Asia. The treatment of women is abominable. Infrastructure is almost nonexistent. Half of the tribal area has moved out of the tribal area to go to Karachi and other places to find work!"
He supports the idea that the tribal areas should be integrated in the mainstream, including political parties and full democracy. The new government in North-West Frontier Province also wants this in the long run. But for the short term, a solution needs to be found that reconciles the sentiments of the majority in Pakistan with the American and Afghan demands - and also involves the Taliban to some extent. So far, the debate about this in Pakistan is still continuing unabated.