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Story Publication logo October 21, 2011

Peace in AF-PAK Region: Talk to the People

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The Taliban has fallen in northwestern Pakistans Swat Valley, but for the three million displaced...

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Media file: 5013866669_ef25e760de_b.jpg
Swat Valley along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Image by isafmedia, Flickr. Pakistan, 2010.

In the wake of strained US-Pakistan relations, each side is blaming each other for not taking action against militant commanders who have taken refuge in the mountainous areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The US has put pressure on Pakistan to eliminate "terrorist safe havens" in North Waziristan and to dismantle the notorious Haqqani Network, while Pakistan wants US-led NATO forces to take action against the chief of Tehrik-e-Taliban Swat, who has re-organized militants in Kunar and Nuristan provinces of Afghanistan and is now carrying out attacks in the Dir and Chitral districts of northwestern Pakistan.

It seems the US has lost patience with Pakistan's policy of "strategic depth" in Afghanistan, while the Pakistani Army has joined hands with media and religious parties to oppose US pressure in the region. TV anchors in Pakistan pose as the real defenders of the Islamic State. A new narrative is being constructed with the US as the enemy of Pakistan.

The Chief of Pakistan's Army, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, while talking to members of the parliament's defense committees in Islamabad, said, "We have long-term interests in Afghanistan, others might have short…For short-term gains, we cannot lose (sight of) our long-term interests."

While the military and civilian leadership of both countries have embarked on a series of allegations and cross-allegations, extremist religious groups are once again strengthening their positions, not only in the Af-Pak border region, but also in the main trade and commercial hubs in Pakistan's Punjab and Sindh provinces.

There are reports that militants arrested in the military operations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the tribal areas are being released from lock-ups by the security forces and that hundreds more have been freed by the courts due to lack of evidence. Religious parties have planned a series of rallies, study circles, religious congregations in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Punjab where special attention has been paid to ensure the participation of youth. Recent reports of extremists' interference in Rawalpindi, close to the military headquarters, and protest demonstrations against the court decision in Mumtaz Qadri case are glaring examples of renewed religious frenzy. The militant groups once used for Jihad against the USSR have emerged as the enemies of both Pakistani society and the US. And the people of both Pakistan and Afghanistan are the major casualty.

The 40 million Pashtuns living on both sides of the 1,500 miles Af-Pak border may find it hard to differentiate "long-term interests" from "short-term gains." They only know that Haqqanis, Fazlullahs, Baitullahs, Mullah Omers and their affiliates must be punished for all the destruction in the region and for jeopardizing global peace. It is not enough to mention only the Haqqanis; there must be a strategy to counter state and non-state groups that support any militant/terrorist organization from Karachi to Waziristan and from Peshawar to Kabul.

To achieve this goal there is need for enhanced cooperation and coordination among Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US. It is time to view the crisis in the context of restoring peace to the region with the participation of local communities and not promoting the so-called strategic interests of the respective countries. They must find a common ground where all the conflicting issues are resolved, and the decade-long war is brought to an end.

Along with a comprehensive peace process, the international community and the respective governments also must work together to rehabilitate thousands of families displaced from their homes by the conflict.

It is a huge task. These are the communities that were displaced by the military operations, and the majority of them are still living as shattered families. Militant groups get their strength from the frustrations of these traumatized people who lack basic facilities for health, education and clean drinking water. Until now, they have been living under a draconian law with no guarantees for fundamental human rights. Their houses and mosques are occupied by people of different ethnicities and different socio-cultural background in the name of global Jihad.

It does not matter how many conferences you hold, or in which Western or Asian capital, sustainable peace cannot be restored unless Pakistan institutes a major pro-people shift in its policy of strategic depth, and the international community ensures participation of the genuine leadership of the local tribes on both sides of the Af-Pak border.

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