By C Andrew*
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) lies on Pakistan’s western border and covers an area of 27,220 square kilometers and inhabited by a population of 5,001,676 people (according to 2017 census). Its terrain is one of the most difficult in the world. Harsh environment and historical and cultural factors have made its populace one of the most rigid and toughest in the world. Love for independence and bravery are the identity of the area.
FATA is a traditional and tribal society where literacy rate is low, development is at infancy, and employment opportunities are rare. The society in FATA is governed by customs and traditions. Arms and weapons are considered as part of the dress of males. Revenge dominates all customs and traditions as it lasts for decades taking lives of people generation after generation. Tribal fighting, feuds and animosities are the normal business of the day of the people living in FATA. Despite these facts, FATA was considered as one of the most peaceful areas in the country just as Pakistan’s western border was thought to be safe for about 55 years since the independence of Pakistan. The authorities never felt a need to deploy armed forces either in FATA or Pakistan’s western border with Afghanistan since 1947.
However, the situation changed at the dawn of the 21st century. The events following 9/11 changed the situation in FATA as it did in other parts of the world. Under American pressure, the Pakistani government deployed its troops on its border with Afghanistan and also launched military operations against suspected militants settled in FATA. The successive attempts – both military and political – to clear the area from foreign militants did not succeed and various imprudent policies pursued by Pakistani government sowed the seeds of hatred in the area towards the state functionaries and institutions including the armed forces. The reactionary elements took arms against Pakistani state, formed various militia groups and militant organizations under different banners, Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) being the most prominent among them. These militant groups operate either in Afghanistan or Pakistan or in both countries.
Reportedly, US has claimed that FATA provides sanctuaries to Afghan Taliban fighting against the US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. The American government wanted a full-fledged military operation either by coalition forces or Pakistani troops in FATA to root out the resistance movement in Afghanistan. However, Pakistani government did not cede to this demand.
Alternatively, the US government launched, apparently with the help of Pakistani authorities, a campaign of drone strikes run by its premier spy agency, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which has taken the lives of over 2,500 people and left hundreds others wounded since 2005. On the other, hand they have also stated funding to the militant groups particularly TTP to start a war against the state of Pakistan which claimed around 50,000 lives and leaving many more injured in the country.
Another adventure of the CIA is the establishment of the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) in January 2015 with former TTP militant Hafiz Saeed Khan as its leader. Defunct militants from various terrorist organizations such as TTP, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have not only joined ISKP, but also pledged allegiance to ISIS and its leader Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi. According to the Story Maps website, during 2017 in Pakistan, ISKP carried out attack on the shrine of Sehwan Sharif and the Police Training College in Quetta, which resulted death of 150 innocent people.
There are several instances that reveal that the CIA is supporting terrorist outfits in FATA to carry out terror activities inside Pakistan such as, a CIA helicopter evacuated top TTP leadership into Afghanistan before the start of Pakistani military operation, terrorists from TTP enjoy safe havens inside Afghanistan with the help of CIA and RAW, satellite mobile phones from a Gulf state were provided to the terrorists of TTP and SWAT, the CIA helped RAW establish a base in Afghanistan, no CIA drones have ever attacked any of the TTP and SWAT terrorists, as they are freely called by BBC and western media and the Nuristan province in Afghanistan has a base run by CIA, RAW and NDS that provides full support to terrorists inside Pakistan. Recently, the CIA in collaboration with Ministry of Tribal Affairs Afghanistan through NDS is funding and patronizing the Pashtoon Tehafuz Movement to create disenchantment and ill feeling among the tribal and Pakistan government.
It was upon this background that after putting up with so much for so long, the chief of the prime intelligence agency of Pakistan ultimately confronted the CIA Director Leon E. Panetta with some highly classified and irrefutable evidence. Panetta was startled when Director-General ISI placed the facts before him in Islamabad on November 20, 2009. The deliberate leaks after the meeting of the spy chiefs of the two countries spoke of the mind of the ISI. The ISI chief had earlier conveyed the facts about the interference of CIA in acts of terrorism in Pakistan to the Government, but realizing that either the message was not strongly conveyed to the Americans or it had no desired impact on them, finally put its foot down and expressed serious concerns over the CIA’s crude interference in the country’s internal matters.
The proof about instances of covert US support to some hardened militant outfits and the terrorist activities they carried out over the past were presented to Panetta. It was indeed a startling revelation for the top US spy and a bold maneuver of ISI. This move had surprised Panetta as the evidence presented was categorically proof that the CIA officials provide assistance to perpetrators of some of the most serious and deadly attacks on offices and key persons in Pakistan’s security services. He was told that in the view of the negative impact on Pakistan’s efforts in its war on terror, the CIA must stop such activities. The clarity with which the information was meant to be a loud message to Washington and CIA headquarters at Langley that if they wanted Pakistan’s cooperation in the war on terror; it must give up playing a double game. Pakistan has publicly expressed concerns over the freedom enjoyed by the Indian intelligence agency RAW is operating from Afghanistan. RAW is not only involved in acts of terrorism in FATA, but also in Balochistan. India cannot undertake such wide-scale activities in this region without the approval and backing of the CIA. The question is: how did India develop such a huge presence in Kabul?
Peace and conflict resolution in FATA is in the wider interests of the people living in the area as well as those in the entire country and the world because of having contiguous border with Afghanistan which has become center of gravity for global terrorism. The American CIA, Israeli MOSSAD, Indian RAW and Afghani NDS have a joint base in Afghanistan from where their covert operation are not only being initiated, but monitored and controlled as well. So peace and stability is essential for socio-economic development and prosperity of the people and for that purpose meddling in FATA by foreign spy agencies particularly CIA must cease. Peace and conflict resolution in FATA would not only pave the way for socio-economic development of the area, but wit ould also contribute to the prosperity of the entire Pakistan, as well as the world. It is mentionable that Pakistan with the help of its Armed Forces has succeeded in bringing peace in FATA, but it is a challenging task to prevent foreign agencies, especially the CIA to cease their interference. It is a responsibility of new incumbent CIA chief Gina Haspel to ensure peace in Afghanistan by ceasing interference in FATA and other parts of Pakistan, including Balochistan and Karachi.
*C Andrew is a freelance journalist covering Afghanistan and Pakistan.