As erstwhile FATA goes through polls, another chapter in the history of this region opens. Historically FATA along with Eastern Afghanistan has remained a conflict zone and an area for great game between major powers right from Alexander the Great to invaders from Central Asia, FATA remained an Achilles heel for all warriors.

In modern times, this area played a major role in shaping global and regional power; from Russia – British contest in 19th century to Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 80s to present day when US, along with regional stake holders, are looking for peace in Afghanistan, FATA has become a linchpin of international power play. More recently after withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan (when FATA became a strategic base of resistance in Afghanistan), FATA and Afghanistan was left as an ungovernable and free for all zones.

The birth of Taliban, which filled the power vacuum in Afghanistan in early nineties and their rise to power saw FATA become a hornet nest of Jihadi outfits like Al Quaida and Taliban. Despite efforts by Pakistan to manage the conflict in Afghanistan, FATA remained a transit zone for Jihadi groups where they had established a de-facto government.

With almost 5 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan during Soviet occupation to 1.6 million at present, it topped the list of refugees’ hosts in the world. Pakistan remained and is the main supplier of strategic food material and supplies for Afghanistan. Afghan transit trade is the only viable option available to Afghanistan; Karachi serves as the main conduit for commerce and trade.

Post 9/11, Pakistan joining the global war on Terror became a battle ground for one of the most vicious and longest wars in history. While Pakistan became a frontline state in this war and helped international community to stem the tide of terror in the region, she found herself subjected to Hybrid War with faceless and amorphous enemy supported by hostile agencies and their surrogates within Pakistan.

Although the whole of Pakistan was badly affected by relentless terror attacks, erstwhile FATA became the ultimate battle ground forcing massive internal displacements, casualties in men and material and creating a trauma on collective psyche of a whole generation. Meanwhile sophisticated information warfare was launched by enemies of Pakistan, especially India, with an objective of creating hopelessness and desperation in people of Pakistan.

Pakistan stood firm and through an epic saga of sacrifices and resilience (where people stood shoulder to shoulder with Army and LEAs) and started rolling back the scourge of terror, brick by brick. Main challenges of operations in FATA included:-

Pakistan was supposed to manage trauma and psychological impact of Drone Strikes, collateral damage and still convince the people of FATA, KP and rest of Pakistan that these operations were for the good of affected populace. There was also a need to keep strategic lines of communication open in Balochistan and FATA so as to help US and NATO forces in sustaining the war in Afghanistan.

Pakistan needed to spare forces from Eastern borders (with India trying to create a two front situation), raise additional forces, reorient complete training system from conventional to non-conventional mode, build up capacity of 2nd line forces and LEAs and conduct operations to clear each agency, one by one. Politically there was a need to develop institutional mechanisms like NACTA etc through Parliamentary endorsement and create new laws. Transform a conservative society and religions out look to sensitize general public that this war was not for anyone else but for survival of Pakistan.

By the time the nation and state of Pakistan meandered through above mentioned challenges (2003-2014) Pakistan had suffered billions of dollars in economy and massive casualties. APS tragedy in 2014 became Pakistan’s Pearl Harbor, the horrendous terror attack on innocent children and teachers and scenes of blood soaked class shook entire nation. Top Politico Military leadership concluded that enough was enough, and Pakistan had to go all out against the terrorist backers and surrogates. Army and LEAs with the help of people of Pakistan launched operation Zarb-e-Azb, before that, major operation like Rah-e-Haq, Rah-e-Raast, Rah-e-Nijjat and Khyber etc had been launched to clear terror networks from two main agencies, North and South Waziristan. Operation Radd-ul-Fassad was launched in 2017 under leadership of Gen Bajwa.

Since 2008, Pakistan has suffered more than 50000 civilian casualties, LEAs and Army lost more than 5900 officers and soldiers. Economic loss is estimated to be over 200 billion dollars (including 130 billion in direct cost and 80 billion in-direct costs). While Pakistan suffered huge losses in men and material more than 15000 terrorists were killed and 5000 captured, millions of dollars of foreign currency of was recovered and their IED manufacturing enterprise and factories were dismantled.

Pak Army started a grand project of fencing 2611 kms of Pak Afghan border and should be completed by the end of the year 2020. Till now, 643 kilometers fencing on border including 462 kilometers in KP and 181 kilometers in Balochistan is completed. With fencing of Pak-Afghan border, cross border movement of terrorists, drugs and smugglers has reduced to almost 5% of what was happening before.

More than 800 kms of roads have been constructed in the tribal districts as part of communication network thus reducing the traveling time to one third. A total of 493 projects were initiated benefiting three million people including: Pine Nut Processing Plant, Wana Agri Park, Wana Education Centre, and three functional Cadet Colleges. Major contributions also include APS Parachinar, Cadet College Wana, Govt College of Technology, Khar (Bajaur), while a total 42 health projects were launched including five major hospitals creating 5,384 Jobs, benefiting 1.3 million people.

As part of military strategy and especially after APS attack , a major drive was launched to win hearts and minds of the people. Some of the important ones are listed below:-

Re-settlement of displaced population back to cleared zones, out of 3.68 million displaced people, 95% have been rehabilitated. Development of infrastructure including communication networks has begun, rebuilding of affected towns and villages including homes and markets as well as building an entire fabric of Social System including schools, Cadet Colleges, hospitals, dispensaries, water supply schemes, social welfare centres and Mosques have been completed.

Greater Pashtun wisdom has prevailed as the people have rejected the narrow ethnicity based slogans being sponsored from abroad and are showing resolve to stand with the state on road to peace, development and hope. With the grace of Allah Almighty and a long hard fight by Govt of Pakistan, Pak Army / LEAs, supported by resilient people, erstwhile FATA is back to normalcy and is becoming a thriving hub of economy , political activity and tourism.