It’s almost a year now that the region once known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) – approximately 27200 square kilometers region along Pakistan border with Afghanistan – has been fully merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Merger of these troubled lands followed decades of turmoil, military operations, massive human displacements, and destruction of sociopolitical infrastructure. It took more than a decade for Pakistan’s security forces to clear these regions infested with militants’ networks, extremists’ infrastructures, and command and control centers of international terror syndicates.
However, the cost of stabilizing the volatile regions turned out to be too high – both in terms of men and material. Hundreds of men in uniform – officers and soldiers – laid down their lives while chasing the battle-hardened terrorists deep in their hideouts in one of the world’s most dangerous terrains dotted with unfriendly mountains and densely foliaged valleys. Equally, the sacrifices made by residents of tribal regions are immeasurable as thousands of men and women lost their lives due to acts of terror while millions were displaced during the operations.
However, both provincial and federal governments are now faced with much bigger challenges. These challenges lie in spheres of administrative, social, political, security infrastructures and livelihood opportunities to the people.
The British introduced a particular type of administrative structure with geopolitical and geostrategic reasons in tribal areas. People of these regions were systematically exploited and treated unfairly. A policy of people’s subordination was implemented through military operations, intimidation, bribery and the policy of divide and rule. The British introduced a law, the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), known as "the engine of oppression and subjugation".
Due to the tribal region's domestic and external dynamics, successive governments in Pakistan did not introduce reforms or combine tribal regions with neighboring districts. The policy of administering the tribal people through FCR continued even after independence.
However, after suffering enormous deaths and destruction with colossal losses to Pakistan as a state, the decision to streamline these areas was taken last year by the political and military leadership. This historical amendment was made in the Constitution leading to full merger of tribal districts with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. It’s no doubt a big step in the right direction. However, the biggest challenge for the government is to implement the administrative reforms package in a much complex, intricate environment facing numerous hurdles.
Important issues in the implementation phase of administrative reforms are bringing changes to the existing archaic administrative structures, civil armed forces including roles and responsibilities of existing officials, and various tribal forces like the Levies Force and Khasadars.
No doubt the KP government has taken a decision and notified merger of Levies and Khasadars forces into the KP police. However, much is yet to be done and the decision has to pass the test of implementation.
Responsive Judicial System
Introducing a police force to hitherto lawless regions without a functioning local judicial system is challenging and without much use. People here were used to a different judicial system where localized conflict resolution mechanism existed for centuries; though very much biased in favor of the powerful. Tangible progress on introduction of efficient judicial system is yet to be seen. The half-hearted approach of appointing some judicial officers – housed in neighboring settled districts – in turn manifested the government’s lack of confidence and slackness in implementing the reforms.
Establishing offices of newly appointed judicial officers in neighboring districts instead of mitigating the problems of tribal people has multiplied the same issue. Now – unlike the past – people have to visit adjoining districts, making justice more expensive and more difficult to access, especially for the poor. The government must relocate the judicial offices to headquarters of tribal districts as the excuse of lacking accommodation facilities is highly unreasonable.
Rehabilitation and Reconstruction
Years of militant and terrorist activities followed by kinetic security operations have not only destroyed the physical infrastructure and broken the social order; but have also led to a sense of alienation and deep grievances in segments of population – particularly the youth – towards the state and state institutions. The rehabilitation of people – both the displaced and others – and reconstruction of physical infrastructures, no doubt, pose a real challenge. This is coupled with the challenge of incorporating centuries old conservative social orders into the modern sociopolitical setup.
The tribal people, particularly youth, who have been used as playthings in the hands of foreign terror syndicates, might be manipulated by vested interests once more if the fusion plans are disrupted and the region is destabilized again. Any delay or dereliction will be definitely benefiting the elements in Afghan government who have already expressed negative reactions over the merger of tribal districts with KP.
Tribal districts have a great chance of developing at par with other districts of Pakistan as they are rich in natural resources and their people hardworking. Living standards of people can be improved only when natural resources in these regions are properly utilized.
Employment and Livelihood
As stated above, the decades-long militancy and military operations have destroyed the established livelihood facilities in tribal regions leading to unemployment on a mass scale. Border trade, which was mostly illegal and remained the main source of livelihood for majority of the tribal people, is closed and the regions are no more hospitable for businesses in guns and other contrabands.
The government needs to expedite work on the development of industrial and economic zones with easy transit facilities for trade and business with Afghanistan and Central Asian states. This will open big employment and livelihood opportunities in tribal districts. Specific grants need to be arranged on a priority basis to support the reconstruction and renovation of basic social and physical infrastructures in tribal districts with a proper monitoring mechanism in place for the next 10 to 15 years to come.
Local Government and Provincial Assembly Elections
The next crucial part of reforms is engaging people in policy formulation and decision-making regarding development of social and physical infrastructure. However, progress on electoral integration still remains the most pressing challenge thus far. Militancy has already broken down the old social order of Maliks and Jirga system leading to socio-political and administrative vacuum.
To give people the sense of participation at each level – which is imperative for social and political integration – the government shall immediately work on local bodies in tribal districts without any delay. Once the local bodies are in place, people’s representatives in villages, union councils and at tehsil levels will become part of decision-making and policy formulation processes.
In the same vein, elections for provincial assembly are also very important. After being merged with KP, important decisions and policy making is now the responsibility of provincial government. It’s essential that the regions are duly represented in KP Assembly. Peshawar will exercise little control and sway over political and administrative affairs until representatives from the tribal districts sit in the KP Assembly.
Get the 3% Allocation in NFC
As it is said, money makes the mare go. No doubt, after constitutional amendments, there is no other option short of a complete merger. This can’t of course be done if all other key elements, including administrative, judicial and security facilities, are not in place. The proposed plan provides for a 3% National Finance Commission award allocation, while the federal government will continue to pay the Annual Development Program bill for 10 years. It’s the responsibility of federal government to take all the provinces into confidence and pass this crucial post of 3% allocation in NFC at the earliest.
Time is short and the challenges bigger. The urgency of implementing the reforms package is further necessitated by the emerging security environment in the region, particularly across the border in Afghanistan. Pakistan can’t afford closing its eyes on the wicked and nefarious designs of its eastern neighbor – India – who will never waste any opportunity to destabilize Pakistan. These tribal regions can prove to be Pakistan’s Achilles’ heel for the enemies if not stabilized.
It’s high time to go beyond petty interests and implement the social, political and development reforms packages in tribal regions with utmost sincerity. It’s a must for safeguarding the hard-earned nascent stability in these regions by our valiant young soldiers and officers who have offered the ultimate sacrifice.
The writer is a renowned journalist and presently working with a private TV channel in Islamabad.
E-mail: [email protected]
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