KP’s Governor-CM tussle pushes tribal region to quagmire of problems

Islamabad: The tussle for powers between Governor and Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa not only causes inordinate delay in mainstreaming of former tribal districts but also alienating people of these troubled regions from central and provincial governments.

Last week, both the governor and the chief minister held separate meetings about the administrative and financial management of seven tribal districts, merged into KP, sending mixed signals about the fate of freshly introduced reforms package.

On January 29, KP Governor Shah Farman called a meeting of all civil officers posted in merged tribal districts to discuss the region and implementation of federal government’s reforms agenda. The civil officers advised governor against introducing police and judicial system, recommending deployment of levies and strengthening jirgas for dispute resolution.

On January 31, Chief Minister Mehmood Khan, to counter the governor’s move, held a cabinet meeting in the tribal district Khyber and decided to rapidly induct police and judicial officers in the coming months.

Prior to the merger of tribal districts, the KP’s governor was the administrative head of the tribal region spread over 27200 sq km with a population of over six million. However, after the landmark constitutional amendment and abolition of article 247, governor lost his authority as chief executive of FATA and now had no significant powers concerning these districts.

After merger with KP, the entire tribal districts fall under administrative domain of chief minister – a fact that is yet to be digested by the incumbent governor.

The Prime Minister Imran Khan – no doubt seems serious in development of these areas; however, the entire confusion has also been created by Prime Minister himself. Since taking over the office, prime minister has only formed committees after committees. Likewise, the promised annual development package of Rs 100 billion a year for the tribal districts is yet to be fulfilled because of which the region is still without development packages and economic activities.

The only change that had taken place so far is the renaming of British era political agents and assistant political agents with those of deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners and erstwhile tribal agencies as tribal districts. For day to day affairs of governance, FATA Interim Governance order was introduced. The old dispute resolution mechanism of jirgas was abolished promising immediate introduction of police and judicial system which seem far away.

However, on October 30, Peshawar High Court (PHC) declared Fata Interim Governance Regulation, 2018 in conflict with the Constitution, saying assigning all judicial, administrative and financial powers in the tribal districts to deputy and assistant commissioners was the violation of the Constitution. The court ordered for introducing normal laws by November 30 including the Police and judicial system.

This tussle for powers between the two mighty offices in Peshawar is blunting the basic philosophy of merging/mainstreaming tribal regions with rest of country. Basic philosophy behind merger of these troubled regions was to mainstream them with rest of Pakistan, enhance living standards of people, wean them away from extremism, and safeguard people from falling prey to designs of militants, extremists and terrorists’ networks.

To give people immediate relief and sense of ownership, Islamabad promised immediate administrative and social reforms, to be coupled with introducing local bodies and huge financial packages to create employment opportunities for youth.

Immediate History:

For decades the land and people here have been used by state and non state actors as launching grounds for their operations and extension of extremist ideologies. The state and non-state actors specifically targeted youth, who, because of being uneducated or less educated, easily fell prey to designs of the terror networks.

The fact is the entire tribal belt is the poorest of Pakistani regions. These areas have been suffering terrorism and military operations against militants and terror networks for decades. The continuous war-like situation has almost destroyed the region and its infrastructure. Roads, markets, educational and health institutions, population centers and agriculture lands have been steamrolled by both military and militants.

Additionally, people of tribal areas suffered innumerable human, psychological and material losses.

After the merger, the people’s expectations have been raised manifolds and they start looking towards immediate social infrastructure developments and establishment of local bodies.

However, at the movement the people’s livelihood is almost non-existent. Local trade is zero while border trade, the main source of earning bread and butter of tribal people, is totally at halt due to fencing of border.

Instead of making the region as bone of contention between governor and chief minister, the federal government needs to come up with immediate plan including introducing efficient civil administration, police and judicial system. Next is the establishment of local bodies so that local people get involved in decision making process related to the tribal districts.

According to population census report, sixty percent of tribal districts’ population is youth. Involving them in productive activities is also a major challenge. God forbids they may not fall again into hands of the unwanted elements.

Those who know the region and the people, suggest some small steps that can work as steroids for the inhabitants of the tribal districts. These steps do not need any legal or big financial packages as simple administrative orders are enough to kick start the process.

Don’t discriminate people of Tribal Areas

Let people of tribal areas enjoy same facilities with neighboring provinces of Afghanistan across the border as enjoyed by people of Gilgit-Baltistan, Jammu & Kashmir and Gwadar.

People of Gilgit Baltistan have luxury of visiting neighboring Xinjiang province in China without any visa or other international travel documents. Local administration grants permit (license) to them. They go across the border and engage in minor or small border business.

People of Jammu and Kashmir are allowed to visit the Indian held Kashmir without visa and other travel documents, with simple permits. Even trucks are allowed to enter AJ&K and vice versa for goods transportation.

People of Gwadar have such facilities to visit Oman without visa system, while people of Chaman too enjoy visa free border crossings.

Historically, people of these regions were dependent on border trades which have been completely suspended following military operations and fencing of border.

People of tribal districts should also be extended such facilities to visit or cross the border without visa documents to neighboring districts of Afghanistan. The local administration or NADRA – as like in Gilgit Baltistan- shall grant a permit that allows them to visit neighboring provinces for daily chores and small business activities.

The government should reintroduce the 2014 model of card facilities for bordering districts at border crossings.

In 2014, Government of Pakistan Muslim League (N) introduced smart card-swapping facility for tribal people at border points especially Torkham. Local administration used to issuing such smart cards with help of NADRA which were swapped at border point for entry and exit by local people. So those who were having businesses/shops or employment daily come and go without any hindrance. This facility is now suspended. It shall be reactivated so that those who have businesses or work across the border can go/come without any trouble.

Another step might be to open more trading points along border crossings so that trade, transport and business activities are initiated that would involve the locals in different productive activities.

North Waziristan has 18 crossing points. The main is Ghulam Khan. It connects North Waziristan with Khost province of Afghanistan. It’s a key trade route and crossing point for locals.

South Waziristan shares two passages with Afghanistan. Most important crossing/trade point is Ghulam Khan. Kurram district shares two important border crossings, Kharlachi and Tri Mengal that are used historically between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Likewise, Khyber, Mohmand ad Bajaur districts also share important crossing points which can revitalize business and trade for the good of the region.

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