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Give Fata a fair deal

June 05, 2014


LAST week’s high-level meeting on Fata was again characterised by almost total concentration on the region’s security issues and minimal attention to the socio-economic needs of the tribal community.

According to media reports, the meeting, chaired by the prime minister, was briefed by the chief of army staff on the security situation in Fata and Balochistan. The meeting is said to have taken note of the recent developments in Fata, including a split in Taliban ranks and the directive issued by a militant commander for evacuation of North Waziristan Agency.

The only reference to the socio-economic needs of the people of Fata in these reports was that the meeting was informed of the development funds that were to be allocated to the tribal area in the new budget.

All Pakistani citizens, except of course for diehard collaborators of the extremists, will endorse the governed-military resolve to target the enemies of peace everywhere by all means, “including surgical strikes”. There should also be no quarrel with the view that military operations should not accentuate the tribal people’s alienation from Pakistan.

The surgical strikes must be based on absolutely correct identification of targets and the principle of proportional use of force must not be violated. Besides, no security operations can have the desired result if the people’s basic concerns are ignored.

Unfortunately, the Fata population has a long history of its socio-economic rights being sacrificed to security considerations. Many members of the tribal society are now complaining that their woes stem from a resolve to perpetuate the status quo.

While proposals for bringing the people of Fata into the national mainstream, like the pledge to introduce the local government system there, are often put on the back-burner, measures that remind the tribal community of its inferior status, such as the Actions in Aid of Civil Power Regulation, are implemented with a zeal only nobler missions deserve.

While one hopes the finance minister has allocated as many resources to Fata as possible, it will be fair to demand an explanation for under-utilisation of funds earmarked in the past.

The militants’ call upon the population of North Waziristan to move out of the agency has raised quite a few distressing questions. This order, ostensibly issued to save the population from military operations, is not likely to strengthen the uprooted families’ loyalty to Pakistan. What steps, one may ask, were taken to allay the fears of the people involved?

Equally important is the need to guarantee security to the families that refuse to abandon their homes. In all conflict situations it is considered necessary to prevent or manage developments that could spread disaffection. In Fata that should be a priority.

Now that migration from North Waziristan has already begun, the authorities must be prepared to take care of a significant number of displaced families. Have a sufficient number of camps been established? There are reports that thousands of people belonging to North Waziristan villages have sought refuge in Bannu Frontier Region and Lakki Marwat areas and they are facing difficulties in finding living quarters at affordable rent.

The way the affairs of the internally displaced persons from Fata have been handled so far do not encourage confidence in the capacity of the authorities concerned to do their job satisfactorily. The registration of the displaced people is rarely correct or comprehensive, and little interest is shown in mitigating the ordeal of those who wish to stay out of camps.

The present crop of migrants from North Waziristan merits special attention. With about 50 of the 70 new polio cases having been reported from North Waziristan the possibility that the displaced families could be carrying the polio virus to the areas of their enforced sojourn is too real to be ignored. It will be necessary to scan all displaced children in particular for the virus.

Even otherwise the status of the anti-polio campaign in Fata needs to be reviewed at a fairly high level. There have been reports of efforts to recruit local elders in support of the anti-polio vaccination drive but their effectiveness is yet to be confirmed.

Quite a few religious leaders have issued edicts in favour of plans to save the next generation from the dreaded disease but it is not clear whether the fatwas one reads about in the media actually do reach the target audience.

The urgency of a sustained campaign to help the tribal people to accept their children’s right to a healthy life cannot be gainsaid. In this regard, care should also be taken to reduce the polio vaccination teams’ dependence on the military because the latter’s domination of the vaccination campaign could be counter-productive. The people’s voluntary and willing participation in this drive is the most essential factor of its success.

It seems the time has come to end deferment of Fata reforms till peace is restored and start viewing socio-economic development as means of securing tranquillity. Attempts should be made to put all state initiatives in Fata, the military operations as well as plans for the tribal people’s uplift and their empowerment at the local level, in a wholesome reform package. The reform agenda should be used to stabilise society in all those parts of Fata that are accessible to agents of change.

Above all, the view that the Fata people are incapable of contributing to their progress has to be replaced with confidence in their ability to help not only in designing projects for their betterment but also in implementing them.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2014