As a senior official of Pakistan's States and Frontier Regions Ministry, Imran Zeb Khan oversees Islamabad's political and administrative policies regarding the country's western border regions. Seen as a base for Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups, those areas are now the focus of much international attention. Khan talks to RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique in Berlin about some of the most critical issues in the region.
RFE/RL: How would you describe the current security situation in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)?
Imran Zeb Khan: It's known to all that we have this high degree of militancy in FATA. The writ (authority) of the government is being questioned by these militants.
We have the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, which is very active in FATA nowadays. And they are carrying out attacks against the interests of the government of Pakistan. It is also, then, posing a grave security threat to the rest of the country as well as the rest of the world.
One Step Forward...
RFE/RL: The Pakistani military last year claimed that they had decimated the Taliban insurgency in the Bajaur tribal region, but recent media reports suggest that it is coming back, why?
Khan: It was a correct statement at that particular time that the infrastructure was completely destroyed in the area. But if you look at the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and then its borders with Afghanistan, you would realize that it is a very porous border. And then these political agencies like Bajaur -- it has its boundaries with the Mohmand agency. Then you come down to Khyber, onwards to Kurram and on to the Waziristans.
So they are all interlinked. But I still feel that Bajaur at this time is still relatively under the control of the government and we have established our writ in that area.
RFE/RL: Why the numerous peace agreements with the extremists in FATA never worked?
Khan: There are a lot of dynamics that are at play in these areas. We did manage to get peace agreements with Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan also, and then recently you would have also heard about the one we had in Malakand Division (Editor's note: which includes Swat valley and surrounding regions) for enforcement of Shari'a and Nizam-e Adl there.
But somehow it looks as though these people that we are fighting against have other agendas. Their agendas are not what they claim to be. It's not just Islam or Shari'a.
It looks as if there are other forces behind it and they have other agendas -- and that is to weaken the very foundations of our nation.
RFE/RL: When the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government came into power last year, it pledged political reforms such as replacing the draconian, colonial-era Frontier Crimes Regulation laws and bringing economic development to the tribal areas. Why are we not seeing any meaningful movement forward on those pledges?
Khan: As far as the political infrastructure -- the administrative infrastructure -- is concerned, a very high-level ministerial committee has been formed to look at the Frontier Crimes Regulation (Editor's note: a colonial-era law still enforced in FATA). That committee is holding its deliberations and then it will come up with recommendations.
So there are a few options that this committee has to look at. Number one is to just do away with the Frontier Crimes Regulation. But if you just do it in haste, it will be very difficult to replace it by another administrative system in the agency presently. The other [option] is that you improve upon the FCR.
But I would still say that nothing final has been arrived at as yet. The committee is holding its deliberations [and] it will recommend [its conclusion] to the government. And then it will be placed before the parliamentary members of FATA and other members of the civil society and parliament. And I believe we will have an amicable solution for that....
As far as economic development is concerned, the fund allocations for FATA have gone over 8 billion [$100 million] now. But at the same time, we must understand the security situation in that area, which is very sensitive and really bad. So economic development is being hampered by the security situation over there.
RFE/RL: Do you think that the Pakistani political elite and the governing establishment have now realized the need of bringing FATA to the national mainstream?
Khan: Well, certainly I think that is something that we all vouch for. And that is something that the political set up, the government [and] even the people vouch for.
But at the same time, you have to understand that you can't do things in haste. You have to have another system in place [because] the people of FATA have lived with this system for a very long time -- [that is] the FCR. [Any change] has come through evolution, I believe. And steps a being taken but the final aim is -- the final goal would certainly be to integrate FATA and it should have the same economic opportunities, the same employment opportunities, [and] the same development opportunities as the rest of the country.
'Huge Leap Forward'
RFE/RL: How is the Afghanistan-Pakistan Peace Jirga -- [known as] "Peace Councils" -- process moving forward? In 2007, we saw a rather successful meeting held, but then the process perhaps died down?
Khan: The Peace Jirga was a huge leap forward. It was something very positive and it had an immense impact.
[But] right after the [first] Peace Jirga in [August 2007], we had this political situation in Pakistan. We had other issues that came up. We had elections that were held, and because of that it was really bad that we could not [keep it on track]. And the second session of the Peace Jirga that was to be held in Pakistan got delayed.
And I think that would have its repercussions. But anyway, I can tell you that we have also formed a committee of 25 members each from Pakistan and Afghanistan who are still deliberating and they are holding meetings and sessions in Islamabad and Kabul.
So I believe and I hope that very soon we will have the second Loya Jirga (also known as a grand council) in Pakistan.
RFE/RL: Do you think that Afghanistan and Pakistan finally look at extremism and terrorism as a common threat?
Khan: We have mutual interests, we believe; now we have mutual enemies and we have to work together. And as I always say, regional cooperation now is the call of the day -- it is the necessity of the day, and we have to cooperate with each other with the help of the international community to curb this menace.
So I think we have come a long way. But we still have differences of opinion on different issues which are there. But they are not something that cannot be resolved.
RFE/RL: How do you see the future of the Pashtun border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Do you see it as a battleground for proxy wars in the times to come, or is there any chance of it transforming into a bridge connecting regions in the heart of Asia?
Khan: If you look at the region, Afghanistan is our gateway through to Central Asia and Pakistan is a gateway through to the Arabian Sea and the other regions for Afghanistan. So I think we need each other as well as in the regional context there are a lot of resources -- there is a lot of economic potential; there is a lot of human resource potential. It can be certainly exploited.
But we have to, first of all, get rid of the menace of terror in this area -- the insurgencies in this area. For that, I think, now the will is there amongst all the stakeholders. And hopefully we will be able to overcome this problem, and then we could see an era where you will have economic development and more happiness in this part of the world.