Hearts and minds

21 Feb 2019


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

RECENTLY, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched a health insurance scheme for the people of the former tribal areas. Considering there aren’t any good hospitals in these areas, and the doctors, instead of treating patients, ask them to go to Bannu or Peshawar for treatment, the gesture was poignant.

No political party or leader after Z.A. Bhutto had given any importance to Fata. Imran Khan is the first prime minister to give so much attention to the tribal areas. His commitment can be judged from the fact that he formed a task force for former Fata immediately after coming to power; he held numerous meetings with stakeholders and visited Miramshah. For the first time, the tribal people feel they are being treated at par with people in other areas.

The year 2018 will be remembered by the people of the tribal areas as the year of change, the year the Constitution gave them equal rights. No government has given such a share to KP in the federal government. Imran Khan somehow strikes a chord with the people of KP.

But one is disappointed that the prime minister’s commitment is not translated into benefits for the tribal people. All his efforts go to waste when those implementing the recommendations of the Directorate of Transition and Reforms or the task force on Fata are unable or unwilling to do the job. It’s no secret that the deputy commissioners were instigating the maliks to protest against the constitutional amendments for a merger and demanding a separate province instead. They instigated the people to agitate against an independent police and to recommend levies under the DC’s command. Meetings of the DCs were held to revive the Frontier Crimes Regulation in some form and retain the old jirga system.

Tribal people must be embraced as part of the Pakistani family.

The reforms didn’t come easily. Great efforts were made to compel the government to bring them about. Now that the federal government has done its job and amended the Constitution as per the aspirations of the people of former Fata, it is unfair that the provincial government should drag its feet on implementing the reforms. In fact, instead of conspiring to undo the reforms the provincial government should be demanding the promised amount of Rs100 billion for the tribal districts from the federation. This can only happen if the provincial government can show expenditures from the already allocated amount.

One hopes that all disputes are being resolved, including the one leading to the exit of the IG Police and chief secretary, KP. Rumours of a tussle between the chief minister and governor seem to have died down since. On Feb 9, KP approved the establishment of session courts in the tribal districts, sanctioning some 100 positions. A cabinet meeting in Landi Kotal and ministers’ visits to the tribal districts are cosmetic steps but in the right direction.

Erstwhile Fata’s social indicators are the worst in the country. Around 70 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. Literacy is less than 30pc. For females, it is less than 10pc. Without education, they don’t qualify for decent jobs. Pakistan is expecting huge foreign investments but without education, the tribal youth will miss the opportunity coming their way. In order to enable them to compete for jobs other than those of chowkidars and drivers, education and training needs to be planned. Established organisations with expertise in education can and should be engaged for the job.

In keeping with the prime minister’s desire for rapid development in the tribal districts, the provincial government should move fast. As initially planned, a senior grade-22 officer needs to be appointed as chief executive, Tribal Areas Development, reporting directly to the chief minister and looking after all development activities in the tribal districts. The

Fata Development Authority offices and resources can be used for the purpose.

The Temporary Displaced Persons Secretariat in Islamabad needs to be strengthened and moved to Peshawar, and report directly to the chief minister. Relief and rehabilitation activities are inept and in need of oversight. The decision to open the Torkham border crossing 24/7 should be extended to Ghulam Khan and possibly Chaman crossings, and movement across the border facilitated. The unannounced closure of crossings for political reasons has made businesses nervous; they need to be assured the borders will not be closed unannounced.

People of the tribal areas should not be made to suffer any more on account of inefficiency or incompetence. They need to be warmly embraced and given the assurance that they are an important part of the Pakistani family. Their grievances have yet to be resolved but the concern that the prime minister has shown towards them is one way of winning hearts and minds.

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


Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2019