Policing former Fata

Published April 29, 2019
The writer is a former IGP Sindh.
The writer is a former IGP Sindh.

WHILE the Mughals governed India through arrangements embedded in local conventions and traditions to address the needs of a multiracial and multicultural empire, it was the British who tried to make governance uniform in all of India, primarily for the purpose of establishing an effective revenue-collection machinery to meet the needs of an expanding empire.

The British soon realised that a uniform administrative structure was not economical, thus also opting for a variety of arrangements aligned to the local conditions of specific areas with a shared history of governance, race and culture. The Frontier region running parallel to neighbouring Afghanis­tan was inhabited by fiercely independent tribes invulnerable to conquest or integration within the empire which compelled the British rulers to seek recourse to novel ways to govern these areas.

While the plains with their mixed population were converted into regular revenue districts, the unruly mountainous border areas were categorised as tribal areas administered through local elders and harnessed through bribes and favours. Thus, at the time of Partition, Pakistan inherited a variety of structures, namely the federally administered areas (Fata), provincially administered areas (Pata) and the frontier region (FR).

Halfway solutions can only reproduce another lawless Fata, with ominous ramifications for Pakistan.

In recent decades, a series of questionable interventions by the then USSR and the Americans in Afghanistan catalysed serious security challenges in the loosely governed tribal belt of Pakistan. It became a base for militants who defied the state openly and committed widespread acts of terror in the entire country.

As part of a National Action Plan to restore the writ of the state, the army had to be moved into the area. After full-scale military operations spanning many years, the area has been finally secured and state rule reinstated. The operations also led to the displacement of the local population in the operational areas, thus creating extreme hardships for the local tribesmen. NAP also provided for the conversion of the tribal areas into regular administrative districts with uniform state rule like the rest of Pakistan besides the extension of all civic facilities and social services on a par with the rest of the country.

It was necessary to alleviate the sufferings of the locals and to replace the existing decayed and archaic system that had imploded when confronted with militancy in the region. To mainstream these areas, a committee was set up by the government in 2015 to examine all aspects of restoring the civilian governance structure. Although the committee examined the reconstruction/rehabilitation, socioeconomic development, political issues, legal reforms, land settlement and law enforcement, the report it published failed to evaluate the security aspect accurately and only recommended improving the levies through additional resources and some training.

While reclaiming this region at great cost and recognising the enormity of the problem in the area, the army has supported the extension of regular police in the region. During this period, Salahuddin Mehsud, then IGP of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and one of the finest officers in the police service, who happens to belong to the tribal areas provided vital input in persuading the government to agree to extending the police force in the entire tribal area rather than resorting only to the cosmetic upgradation of the levies.

The existing law-enforcement structure comprises roughly 10,000 Khasadars and 15,000 levies with the recruitment of Khasadars and levies amounting to political bribery, given that the recruits are nominated by the local maliks. While Khasadars are responsible to the local elders, the levies have no command structure and work under civilian political officers. The collective accountability of the tribe, communal punishments and vicarious responsibility has undergirded this law-enforcement structure, and the arrangement represents a blatant violation of the fundamental rights of Pakistani citizens living in the tribal areas.

This compromised administrative arrangement in any case proved inadequate for coping with the influx and influence of militants in the region, literally buckling under pressure and yielding the writ of the state to the terrorists. Ultimately, this had to be corrected through massive military operations and at great cost to the state.

It is unfortunate that vested interests including some politicians are obstructing the process in the name of transition and financial constraints, and they have proved successful in transferring officers, including former IGP Mehsud, who have strongly advocated the regularisation of the police force in the area. Although a hybrid arrangement has been introduced that retains these two forces through a legal cover for six months and skeleton staff from police (300) has been posted to the tribal areas, the plan is unsatisfactory as procrastination will only keep the armed forces tied to the region, thus preventing their deployment in more sensitive border areas.

The government has allocated a sum of Rs106 billion annually for the merger of Fata. According to senior police officers, out of this envelope, Rs9bn is required to integrate these irregular forces in police including an additional strength of 10,000 for establishing regular policing in this volatile area. As the allocation of resources for development without sustainable peace will render the entire funding meaningless, it is essential to ensure the deployment of a well-structured and properly commanded regular force on the ground to preserve the gains achieved by the army and to confront the emerging challenges in this region.

Learning from the Fata experience, it is time to consider the introduction of a uniform policing system in similar parts of the country like Pata (KP) and ‘B’ areas (Balochistan) that are prone, in the absence of proper administrative structures, to being transformed into lawless sanctuaries. The viability of any state and economic development in the area depends on the law-enforcement machinery that can guarantee peace and fundamental rights to the citizenry. Halfway solutions can only reproduce another lawless Fata, with ominous ramifications for Pakistan.

The excuse that policing cannot be introduced due to resource constraints is a fallacy perpetuated by vested interests bent upon prolonging a fractured and opaque system of governance designed for the rural society of the 19th century and which has proved to be responsible for the present-day woes of our country. Such arrangements only serve these interests.

The writer is a former IGP Sindh.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2019



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