Islamabad: It was May 30th of the last year when Islamabad took a historic decision and the federally administered tribal areas – popularly known as badlands of Pakistan along Afghan border – were merged with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Then tall promises were made to rehabilitate and reconstruct the entire 27200 square kilometers regions badly affected by decades’ long militancy and scores of military operations. Bringing fast track administrative, judicial, police and revenue reforms in the regions were promised to fill the vacuum to be created following dismantling of old order of governance.
The merger of the region followed once the belt – infested with militants’ networks, extremists’ infrastructures, command and control centers of international terror syndicates – was cleared by security forces conducting scores of military operations using almost every weaponry ranging from small arms to heavy artillery, gunships helicopters to fighter planes.
These military operations and decades’ long militancy caused unprecedented human displacements coupled with deaths and destructions and dismantling of socio-economic and political infrastructures.
Restoration of peace in these volatile regions turned out to be too costly. Hundreds of jawans and officers of armed forces sacrificed their lives while chasing terrorists and destroying their hideouts located in most dangerous terrain of high mountains, deep valleys and dense forests.
The people of tribal areas also suffered a lot as thousands of men and women lost their lives while millions were displaced. Their houses were raised to the ground, markets and bazaars were flattened completely.
However, the federal government after merging the regions seems to have forgotten its immense responsibility lying on her shoulders. The government formed a dozen of committees one after the other doing little in practically ameliorating lives of the people. The unfortunate part is that every committee which the prime minister formed was replaced with another committee even without letting the preceding committee hold an introductory meeting. Interestingly, the major stumbling blocks in the way of reforms in tribal areas was no other person but governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who wanted to keep the regions under his belt to exercise unprecedented powers like his predecessors.
After wasting almost a year, government has taken a right decision and entrusted the job of introducing administrative and judicial and police reforms to a committee headed by Pakhtunkhwa chief minister with all members of national parliament elected form former FATA as its members.
Money makes the mare go:
The major responsibility of provision of funds and resources still lies on federal government. As said it’s the money which makes the mare go. No doubt, after constitutional amendments, there is no other option short of complete merger.
During an interaction with top political boss of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government it turned out that the major hurdle in reform implementation is lack of resources. A whole year is passed but the federal government has made no progress on provision of promised funds for rehabilitation and reconstruction. This needs to be done on priority bases.
The proposed plan provides for a three per cent National Finance Commission 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 earliest.
The biggest challenges to be taken on emergency bases are reconstruction of destroyed infrastructures and rehabilitation of millions of people displaced by militancy and military operations. Decades of militants/terrorists activities and military operations not only destroyed the physical and social infrastructure but have also broken down the centuries old social orders. It’s not only the physical infrastructure that need immediate attention but also rehabilitation of people.
The tribal people particularly youth have been used by both local and foreign terror syndicates. They are still susceptible and might be once more manipulated by vested interests, if the reforms are not fully implemented and taken seriously. Any delay on part of the government will benefit the anti-state elements both within the country and abroad.
As stated above the decades’ long militancy and security operations destroyed the established livelihood facilities leading to unemployment on the mass scale. Border trade, which remained the main source of livelihood for majority of 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 development of industrial and economic zones with easy transit facilities for trade and business. This will open big employment and livelihood opportunities in tribal districts. Specific grants need to be arranged on priority bases to support the reconstruction and renovation of basic social and physical infrastructures in tribal districts with a proper monitoring mechanism in place for 10 to 15 years to come.
Historical amendment was made when amendment was done in the Constitution leading to full merger of tribal districts with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It’s no doubt a big step decision. However, implementing the administrative, judicial, police and political reforms in a complex environment of tribal society is the real challenge to Pakhtunkhwa government.
People of tribal areas were systematically exploited and treated unfairly for more than a century under colonial regulations called Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR). Due to domestic and external dynamics, successive governments in Pakistan continued keeping the policy of treating tribal people here as subjects even after 1947, and failed to introduce any reforms or merge tribal areas with rest of the country.
Bringing changes to archaic administrative structures and police system are the important challenges in the implementation phase of administrative reforms. Soon after merger government no doubt changed the nomenclature of political agents with deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners however how they will rung the administration nobody knew. Because the interim governance regulations, which the government introduced soon after abolishing the FCR, were struck down by Peshawar High Court leading to a legal vacuum. The court asked for introducing the same laws and systems in tribal areas that existed in rest of the country. But that was not possible in the absence of functioning judicial offices and police force – which are yet to be done. No doubt the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has taken a decision and notified merger of Levies and Khasadars forces into the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police. However, much is yet to be done on ground and the decision has to pass the test of implementation.
Introducing police force without functioning local judicial system is of less use. People here were used to a different judicial system where localized conflict resolution mechanism existed. Progress on efficient judicial system is yet to be seen. The half hearted approach of appointing some judicial officers – with offices in neighboring districts – shows the government lack of confidence or interest in implementing proper judicial system.
Establishing offices of judicial officers in adjoining districts has further multiplied problems of litigants. Now the litigants have to visit other districts for resolution of their cases making justice more expensive and difficult for the poor.
Crucial part of reforms is engaging the people in policy formulation and decision making regarding developments 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 Jirgas system leading to socio-politico and administrative vacuum.
To give people sense-of-participation at each level – a must 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 representatives at village, union councils and 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 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, important decisions and policy making is now the responsibility of provincial government. It’s essential the regions are duly represented in Pakhtunkhwa assembly. Peshawar will exercise little control and sway over political and administrative affairs until representatives from the tribal districts set in the Pakhtunkhwa assembly.
Last but not the least, the governments – both federal and provincial – need to exhibit high sense of sincerity vis a vis tribal areas. We have to keep in mind the emerging security situation in the region particularly across the border in Afghanistan. One can’t afford closing our minds to the Indian interests in an unstable Pakistan. India will never waste opportunity to destabilize Pakistan and – mind it- tribal regions can prove Pakistan’s Achilles’ heals for the enemies.
Pakistan political and security bosses have to keep in mind the immense cost the nation paid for bringing peace and stability in the tribal belt. Extraordinary efforts are needed to fully streamline the tribal badlands as here lie the future of Pakistan. No action or less action is not an option.