IN his recent speech in Orakzai, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that, while he lamented their tenor, he not only agreed with the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) but had been saying much the same for many years. All of us suffered from terrorism but now it is time to move forward — to extend full support to the aggrieved, who have lost so much, so that their wounds may heal.
The prime minister reiterated his commitment to fast-tracking development in the tribal districts, issuing instructions to chalk out a 10-year development plan in addition to the redundant Sustainable Development Plan already prepared by the then Fata Secretariat. He has shown keen interest in rehabilitating the tribal districts, having visited each district in the last eight months (something never done before by any prime minister). The people of the tribal districts expected a lot from him, but are losing confidence as there is not much happening on the ground. Either the team responsible for translating hiss wishes into action is weak, or he is not serious.
The economy of former Fata has been destroyed by the long war against terror. Already the poorest area in the country, people have lost their dwellings and livelihood. Though major roads have been upgraded to meet international standards, people feel that the beneficiaries of this are down country. The fruits of reforms are not visible, as the courts and the DPOs are stationed in adjacent districts. The reforms process is stalled, and so the people’s sense of alienation and mistrust of the government is growing.
Whereas the committee for deciding the 10-year development plan will come up with a detailed outline, roadmap and timelines, the following are a few urgent measures that need to be taken to restore the people’s shattered confidence in the government. These measures can be implemented right away.
Showing sympathy is easy; taking tangible steps is the real test.
Now that relief operations are almost over, it is time to launch a fast-paced rehabilitation programme. As a first step, the promised compensation for destroyed houses and businesses should be paid without further delay. Talk of consoling the aggrieved is easy, but taking steps to rehabilitate their shattered lives is the real test. The government has occupied and encroached on private lands. People need to be compensated as a matter of right or their lands vacated forthwith.
To generate economic activity, which in turn will create livelihood opportunities, funds need to be pumped into the area. Once money comes into circulation, the economy will take care of the rest. Funds paid as compensation will kick-start the tribal districts’ cash-starved economy.
Despite being discussed on every forum, the Benazir Income Support Programme has still not been extended to North and South Waziristan. There is no one more deserving of any social safety net than these people. The Insaf Health Card has been introduced, but only a handful are benefiting. The BISP needs to be extended to the vulnerable people of Waziristan forthwith, while the Insaf Health Card should be extended to all the people of the tribal districts.
The livelihood of a great majority of tribal people depends on trade with Afghanistan. The government has announced that arrangements to have the Torkham border open round-the-clock for trade are under way, and pretty soon it will remain operational 24/7. Steps are also under way for better border management and support to businesses. The same facility needs to be made available at Ghulam Khan and Angoor Adda. Though trade has resumed on these border crossings, at times there are still unannounced closures, leading to losses for traders. The border crossing should be delinked from ongoing law-and-order issues so that business confidence is restored.
The government is also initiating projects for livestock and rural development. The tribal districts should be given priority and a larger share in these projects as they lost their livestock during the conflict. The major focus of initiatives like the Clean Green Pakistan Programme should be in the tribal districts. They have hosted millions of Afghan refugees for decades, leading to deforestation of the land as more plantation had to been consumed for animal fodder and energy. There are many national and international organisations that want to support the tribal areas, especially in health and education, but one fails to understand why the government takes ages to allow — or simply refuses — them to operate in these areas.
One can safely say that these solutions are simple and doable. But where is the will? Instead of giving them sermons on how to be polite, it’s time to embrace the tribal youth and make them feel that they are one of us. We are concerned for and care about them. Once we prove this to them through our actions, their tone and tenor will automatically change. Till then, let’s bear with them.
The writer is a former bureaucrat and author of Cheegha: The Call.
Published in Dawn, April 30th, 2019