Fata has yet to see and experience governance of the area by the residents themselves. The area is administered for them by government servants sitting far away and policy matters are decided for them by others without bothering to consult any of them. That is the mother of all ills that leads to policy decisions backfiring – with grave consequences for the entire nation.

The recently held talks process with the Taliban is one such example. The people of North Waziristan were neither consulted nor included in the negotiations. What that achieved is before us and now the brunt of the military action will be borne by the poor inhabitants of the area and not the negotiators or the administrators.

Those supporting military action want the security forces to start the military machine and drive it ruthlessly from one end to the other in Fata (North Waziristan) to crush the militants as if they are immobile targets on a firing range. They conveniently forget that this military machine was driven through other tribal agencies but could not achieve the desired results. It caused more damage to the common people than to the militants as they (militants) move out of areas under attack and resurface again at will when it is over.

The general public in Fata are as much against militancy as anyone else but the way the situation has been handled is certainly not right; operations are conducted there the way one would in enemy territory. That is what makes it different. It causes more harm to the civilian population than militants.

Another important factor which needs clarification is the accusation that the people in Fata provide shelter to militants and are reluctant when asked to throw them out of their areas. This is not true. They are not powerful enough to challenge them without the wholehearted support and assistance of the security forces. It is a matter of record that till the dictator Ziaul Haq decided to become a tool of the US for throwing out the Soviets from Afghanistan there was not a single foreigner living in Fata. That clean and peaceful atmosphere was disturbed when he threw Fata open to all men, including criminals and jailbirds, from every country in the world willing to cross over into Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets there. That decision was taken by a dictator and not the people of Fata. It was taken without considering the effects of a blowback of such a move.

As far as militants being showed the door by the people. It is not possible simply because the militants are better equipped and financed by hidden hands than the poverty ridden tribesmen of the area. The people there are no match for the militants in strength or resources and are at their mercy. Whatever little resistance they could offer was taken care of by the militants through targeted killings while the government machinery watched on as silent spectators. This gave a very wrong signal to the locals, who perceived it all as having the tacit approval of the government because of lack of any action by the forces.

Like anywhere else in the country the militants live in Fata in populated areas to hide their identity. It thus becomes difficult to single them out for targeted killing through jet fighters, gunship helicopters and the use of long-range artillery. It causes too many innocent civilian casualties – ‘collateral damage’ in American doublespeak now also adopted by our spokesmen as it does not conjure up in our minds images of the innocent dead. Whatever the term used, such deaths create hatred and resentment against the government and its forces.

The use of indiscriminate force is the main bone of contention between the people and the governmental machinery in Fata. The difference is about tactics and not strategy. The locals want to save themselves from this collateral damage – not to protect the militants. This could have been done by working in close collaboration with people there. Opting for military operations, jet fighters and helicopter gunships negates any concept of collaboration and, in the tribesmen's minds, leads to only one conclusion which is that every resident of Fata is an enemy and must be punished.

The question that arises is whether Fata is the only place where militants live in populated areas. Are they not residing in other thickly populated areas? How were important places like GHQ in Rawalpindi, District courts and Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Mehran Naval base and airport at Karachi attacked? Were the militants flown from Waziristan in special aircraft to these places or they were already staying somewhere in and around these areas and only emerged for these terrorist activities? Then why was action similar to the one in Fata not taken there as well?

Another important point that needs clarification is the myth of joint tribal responsibility, a clause relating to which is incorporated in the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). The British had a specific reason for including this clause. Their forces were very thinly spread and only stationed in the main camps/check posts of each tribal agency. They had no presence anywhere else in the interior of that agency or on the border with Afghanistan.

Security for that area was made the responsibility of the tribes living there. Thus any activity against British interests taking place from the area of a tribe or by anyone from among the tribe was taken under the FCR as an offence committed by the entire tribe.

The effectiveness of this clause was there till the induction of security forces in Fata. With their stationing in the area and presence everywhere the onus of responsibility has thus shifted to the forces from the tribes as they are present near every village, at every vantage point, every hilltop and at the border with Afghanistan. How can the tribes be held responsible under these circumstances?

Again in this day and age in the 21st century, especially since we are no longer under the colonial yoke, how can the concept of collective punishment be justified? For these very reasons was this clause approved for amendment by the former president of Pakistan but for reasons best known to the security forces its implementation was stopped.

In such a situation holding the people there responsible for not stopping the militants from coming into their area or ejecting them from there is unjust and unfair. And if they are to be held responsible, despite the changed circumstances as stated above, then residents of urban areas elsewhere in the country including Karachi should be held responsible and asked to do the same or then get ready to face jet fighters and gunship helicopters. Why should Fata be singled out?

This is not the way to handle such complicated matters but since the operation has been launched it must reach its logical conclusion. But in case it is done on the pattern we observed in other tribal agencies in the last one decade it will have disastrous consequences.

We should also bear in mind that by engulfing the whole area of North Waziristan in this operation we will be stretching it too far and taking it to the border with Afghanistan where there are many waiting to stab us in the back.

The choice is for us to make to conduct a truly targeted operation against the militants or go for a full-scale one – which certainly will turn many against us. It would prudent to listen to each other than imposing the wishes of one side only.