THE people of Fata have been the biggest victims of militancy over the last decade. They were thrown out of their homes (many displaced for almost a decade), their livelihoods were decimated and countless lives were lost.
The only silver lining resulting from this destruction was that the world’s attention turned to the urgent need for development in Fata, which has an opportunity to create a new system of governance that truly meets its people’s needs.
Unfortunately, this opportunity is about to be wasted. The latest Fata Reforms Committee comprises five individuals with no ties to or stakes in the area, and their ill-conceived reforms are about to rob this most vulnerable population of the opportunity to build a brighter future.
A third option was never given to Fata residents.
With the destruction of the previous system in Fata, the region is left with two choices — i) extend Pakistan’s institutions (via a merger with KP) and hope they bring development and prosperity, or ii) create a new governance structure based on indigenous needs while learning from problems of Pakistan’s institutions.
The wisdom of the first option is questionable since Pakistanis across the board — from judges, to party leaders, intellectuals, and the common man — realise that the underlying problem in the country is the failed institutions governing us. In development economics theory, leading economists from Paul Romer to William Easterly put institutional failure at the heart of why nations fail to develop.
However, there is hope where the second option is concerned. The example of the Motorway Police can be cited here. In 1997, a decision was taken to learn from the existing limitations of the police and create a department specifically designed to police the newly built motorway. They have been a tremendous success and are consistently ranked as one of the least corrupt and most effective institutions in Pakistan. Other traffic police departments in the country have adapted their operations to the motorway police system.
This success lies in the fact that those with the most knowledge and highest stakes, ie senior police officers, took the lead in drafting and executing the reforms. A similar approach is needed in Fata. Elected parliamentarians supported by qualified technocrats from the region and leading researchers/academics should take up this agenda and propose a comprehensive reforms package.
In the meantime, reforms that have broad consensus amongst Fata residents should be extended immediately. Foremost of these would be a share of the NFC award for Fata, liberating it from governor raj by installing a council of local elected representatives, ensuring accountability in the funds collected and spent in Fata, establishing local bodies to oversee community projects, removing barbaric collective punishment laws and separating judicial and administrative powers at the political-agent level.
Finally, it is important to point out that the notion that the merger proposal has the local population’s widespread support is wrong. Over the last few years, deliberately or because they were the locals with media access, proponents of a merger have been heard the loudest. Why that is so is another debate.
Another contributing factor is the way the reforms agenda has been presented to Fata residents. From the beginning, residents were led to believe their options were limited to choosing between the status quo and a merger with KP. A third alternative, that of the locals creating a system for themselves, which one would expect in a democracy, was never given to them.
Further, a false impression of what a merger would entail has been given to Fata’s people. The picture presented is that there would be swift justice through the court system, high-performing schools and hospitals in all parts of the region, jobs for the youth through massive industrialisation, a crime-free environment because of efficient policing and the availability of basic necessities like running water and electricity.
Is this really what other remote parts of the rest of Pakistan look like? Is there any reason to expect that Fata would not simply become another neglected rural part of a larger province that we see across the country?
Through some miracle, the slow actualisation of the reforms has meant a chance for reconsideration, and the needed steps towards actual development can begin. Alternatively, if the current agenda continues and the government fails to deliver on the promise of the reforms that are meant to accompany the merger, the frustration of the long-suffering people of Fata will once again make them a prey for extremists seeking to capitalise on their deprivation and grievances.
The writer is an Islamabad-based economist, who is originally from Orakzai Agency.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2017