WHILE facilitating workshops about community resilience in the newly merged tribal districts of KP, I heard many interesting albeit ironic statements from the participants.
For example: ‘we have become so weak that we can no more set the house of a criminal on fire. Nor can we banish a thief family from our region, as we used to in order to eradicate crime from our area’. They lamented that ‘criminals now run free, the youth have become addicted to drugs; their energies have been expended on dealing with poverty, militancy, unemployment and uncertainty, and they feel helpless’.
Just as one was trying to make sense of such proclamations, another individual asserted that it was difficult to allow their women to lodge complaints in police stations against their husbands.
Another man complained: “I still have bullets in my body, which were fired while we were fleeing as our homes were being razed to the ground with heavy bombardment by the military on one side and indiscriminate firing and explosions by the militants on the other. To us, there is no difference between the two”.
Editorial: Deprived of funds
Yet another person said: “The new courts are not effective for us; our people have tried them and failed. They cannot resolve our issues. This system has never delivered justice in other parts of the country. The jirga system works much better in our areas. Our traditions are precious and have worked well for us over successive generations. We need protection from our protectors.”
They poured their hearts out. One has to respect the clear articulation of the otherwise largely uneducated tribal elders and youth who had participated in community resilience activity workshops this year in a UN collaborative project.
Though angry with their lot and destitute in most cases, they were extremely courteous — but frank. Serious and sympathetic engagement is needed here; they must be listened to with patience as they describe their situation. Their trials cannot be dismissed.
The impression that people in the newly merged districts of KP are against the merger is an incorrect one. One has to dig a little deeper to understand that most of their anger is an expression of disappointment and desperation at not getting the promised allocations, support, facilities and infrastructure they expected to have after the merger. It is more like a feeling of betrayal at not having promises fulfilled.
The impression that people in the tribal districts of KP are against the merger is an incorrect one.
Some of the sentiments that have been described here might also seem primitive and retrogressive from the modern perspective of how crimes should be tried and their perpetrators punished, and how gender equality should be ensured.
It is true that many talk of the older system, as the workshops revealed. But if people living under conflict-ridden conditions and facing unending threats of violence, abject poverty, dismal educational and health facilities, and almost non-existent employment opportunities express such views, we can also think of those living in far better conditions and yet advocating harsh punishments and voicing demands to hang a few dozens to free Pakistan of all corruption. As if that is the panacea for the country’s problems.
The majority of participants from the newly merged tribal districts showed a strong desire for peace, education and progress in an open and tolerant society and exhibited a willingness to cooperate with the government or whoever guaranteed them a better future.
Editorial: No funds for Fata
The federal government had promised an annual sum of Rs100bn for a decade during the transition period to expedite development in the war-torn tribal region. However, from 2018 to 2020, only Rs112bn was released, about 37 per cent of the Rs300bn pledged funds. Moreover, none of the provinces except KP provided their promised share of 3pc of the National Finance Commission award for development.
The government needs to accelerate the development process in these districts by providing the promised funds. Allocation of more financial resources, provision of the necessary equipment for different line departments, and capacity-building of government staff are badly needed.
The rehabilitation of internally displaced people or IDPs remains a big challenge. The government had announced a meagre amount of Rs400,000 for rebuilding a demolished house. But even that amount has not been given to all the people who have claimed it. There are strong allegations of corruption and inefficient utilisation of these funds. People are demanding that their destroyed homes be surveyed again. It has already been four years since the government first conducted its survey. Many among the displaced had yet to return from Afghanistan at that time.
Donor organisations may also focus on skill training and awareness-raising programmes, the provision of equipment, and small loans to jump-start small businesses. As the youth would have productive activities to occupy themselves with, they would not have the time to indulge in violence. The people in the newly merged districts have the right to be engaged constructively and listened to seriously for any development plan to make sense for the region as they are the main stakeholders.
The TTP is adamant in its demand for the reversal of the tribal areas’ merger with KP. Noor Wali Mehsud, chief of the TTP, stated during a recent interview that the Pakistani Taliban’s demands were clear on this and that they would not back down from them.
Against this background it has become all the more important to focus on development of the tribal districts and make all efforts for constructive engagement with the local populace.
The writer is a consultant and researcher working on social issues, including building resilience and cohesion in stressed communities.
Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2022