Under the debris

22 Oct 2018


The writer is a former bureaucrat and author of Cheegha: The Call.
The writer is a former bureaucrat and author of Cheegha: The Call.

IT’S been a while since the traders of North Waziristan organised a protest in Islamabad demanding compensation for their losses in Operation Zarb-i-Azb. They were promised early action by the DG ISPR, followed by meetings with Fata Secretariat officials and GOC 7th Infantry Division, Miramshah. The traders were satisfied and hopeful, but then other issues diverted the government’s focus. There were more important things to worry about, like the general elections.

A lot has changed since then: a new government has taken over in Islamabad; Fata is now part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Article 247 is gone and the writ of the superior judiciary stands extended to the area. Though a lot has changed on paper, nothing has changed on the ground.

The superior judiciary has yet to enter ex-Fata; no work on judicial complexes, police lines/stations has been initiated; the required manpower has yet to be recruited and trained. The dreaded FCR, which everyone (the tribespeople, political parties, human rights organisations, and nascent civil rights movements) was against, has been replaced with a worse law: the Fata Interim Governance Regula­tions 2018. The bureaucracy shrewdly made the extension of superior judiciary conditional on a notification to be issued by the federal government, undermining the Consti­tution and parliament. Reforms and livelihood programmes have yet to take off; the annual special package for fast tracking development has yet to be allocated.

In erstwhile Fata, nothing has changed on the ground.

The task force and apex committees still don’t have realistic representation from the tribes. One wonders why federal secretaries who have no knowledge or interest in the area are made members of the task force, while the real stakeholders are left out. The tribesmen saw some relief after the rise of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, but even that seems to have faded away.

This is the poorest area in Pakistan; its social indicators reflect 70 years of neglect. Militancy wrecked its infrastructure and traumatised its population. Returning TDPs were apparently better off in camps receiving at least some government support. Now that they have returned to their destroyed homes, they don’t know what to do. They even lost their livestock, having left them behind during the exodus. The government’s promised support for rehabilitation is taking too long. Projects funded by multi-donor trusts are not taking off, so there is no chance of more funds being allocated for existing projects, or of new projects being undertaken. It’s so unfair that even the Benazir Income Support Programme is not extended to North and South Waziristan. The government announced building five million houses, but even here, ex-Fata has been left out.

Instead of focusing on rehabilitating its people, the government is busy reviving the old colonial system of administration. Every high-level meeting with local elders covered in the media has the same old maliks. No new people — parties’ office holders, NGO/HRO representatives, retired civil servants, etc — can be seen. The new regulations are strengthening the jirga system, effectively sealing the fate of women, as there are no women jirga members, nor do women like to appear before their tarbur in a local jirga. All the talk of women’s rights, empowerment, representation and equality can be shelved for now. In such a state of affairs, no one is expecting an advancing, peaceful, happier tribal area.

The people of KP, including the tribal districts, have great expectations of the new government. The formation of the Fata task force by Prime Minister Imran Khan shortly after taking office and detailed parlays with ex-Fata’s MNAs and senators have given people hope for a fair share in development.

Before the complaining traders take to the streets in protest yet again, it is suggested that people of ex-Fata may be given priority in the 5m houses project and the 10m jobs scheme. Instead of ignoring them, they may be given a special package to rebuild their houses and shops. Akhuwat, a private organisation, is giving interest-free loans for small businesses. The government can partner with it to give such loans for construction of houses too. The organisation stated that ex-Fata has a 100 per cent loan recovery rate. Special projects to replenish livestock can also be designed.

Timelines are critical; the prime minister reiterated taking necessary steps for carrying out the merger during the last cabinet meeting. Without doubting his sincerity, this has been said for the last two years. It’s time the prime minister asked for progress on the ground.

In the long run, the government should create an industrial bank for ex-Fata and Balochistan, and give the people cheap or interest-free loans for businesses, with special tax holidays for industry. It’s hard to understand why these areas should be left behind, hurt and exposed.

The writer is a former bureaucrat and author of Cheegha: The Call.


Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2018