The centre holds

17 Mar 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.

PEOPLE ask why Fata is the most undeveloped area of the country. Normally, the slow development of a periphery region is blamed on its relationship with the centre, which develops at a faster pace as it monopolises globalisation’s many benefits and unfairly usurps the share of those on the fringes. If they complain, the centre uses force. The dominant group not only develops at a faster pace, it also promotes its culture and language — or rather, it imposes it.

Prof Akbar S. Ahmed discusses the relationship between the centre and the periphery at length in his book, The Thistle and the Drone. He gives examples of around 40 countries to prove his point, highlighting this unfair relationship as the root cause of terrorism. The gaps in the relationship between the centre and the periphery is very obvious in the case of Pakistan: the periphery has not only been left behind in terms of development, it has also suffered immensely from brute force used by the centre.

Today, there are two distinct parts of Pakistan: the developed areas akin to the centre, and the backward periphery. Society in general, law and order, and the attitude of the government towards these distinctive areas is vastly different. Some of the issues faced by the developed centre are: reducing the cost and ease of doing business; increasing access to credit; creating a more competitive economy by improving the quality and availability of cheap inputs (energy, trained manpower at cheaper rates, easy access to raw material, best practices); making the collection of taxes easier by simplifying procedures; and creating a positive sentiment in the international community towards Pakistan’s economy.

Former Fata is still being treated as a ‘special area’.

Meanwhile, the peripheries remain oblivious to these concerns. Under the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulation laws for 70 long years, Fata was retrogressive, repressive, and anti-investment, and hence anti-development. Under the law of ‘collective responsibility’, a political agent could order the arrest of an entire tribe, enforce closures and economic blockades, and attach and confiscate private property of ‘hostile’ tribes. There was no court a tribe could appeal to against the orders of the political agent. One felt shame and rage when respected people were rounded up for no fault of their own.

Of course, no sane person was going to invest his hard-earned money in the tribal areas, and be at the mercy of one individual, with no recourse to justice against wrongdoing. The political agent issued permits for imports and exports of all commodities to and from the agency. The permit had a price, which was a source of income, but more importantly, it was a means to manipulate the market and businessmen.

Similarly, bank loans and investment by institutions such as the Pakistan Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation were limited to one part of the country. The only time the centre invested in the periphery was during the unearthing of oil, gas and minerals — compounding the tribal people’s problems with the centre, which pursued the potential wealth for its own gains.

Fata never got its due share in the PSDP, banking laws were not extended, its share in GST and the Federal Reserve pool were denied, and illegal taxes like rahdaris and tiga were levied. So the questions raised in the districts that once constituted Fata are: when are we going to get our next salary? Are we going to be compensated for our lands occupied by the government? Will we get a share in the mining that is being done? Why aren’t levies absorbed in the police as promised?

While one part of the country is talking of controlling cybercrime, the other is begging for the extension of internet and mobile services. One part is discussing bullet trains and air-conditioned metros, while the other is seeking two square meals a day. One is discussing robotic surgeries, heart and liver transplant, while the other is waiting for a decent undergraduate college.

Fata was always backward in education in general, and girls’ education in particular, but once they became TDPs, an entire generation missed out on education. Furthermore, diversion of Afghan trade to northern and western Afghanistan in the last few years has impacted the livelihoods of millions of people dependent on border trade.

Now that the FCR is gone and the prime minister has mentioned tribal areas in almost every development-related speech, it is time to create better and more humane policies. Unfortunately, his provincial team is treating former Fata as a special area, despite the constitutional amendments stipulating mainstreaming. They do not understand the fact that kick-starting socio-

economic development is hindered by the non-implementation of reforms. The gap between the developed and undeveloped areas has gone too wide and needs to be bridged at the earliest. The resentment among the youth of former Fata is obvious. Any further widening of the gap will lead to a catastrophe.

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

Published in Dawn, March 17th, 2019