Dragging feet, to mainstream FATA, exposes the lack of wisdom of our political leaders and the colonial mindset of the Pakistani bureaucracy.
The Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) of Pakistan is not only a hotbed for extremism but also a battleground where the future political-strategic direction of the region and consequently of the world would be determined. FATA, though, historically, a backward area, was the safest in the country in terms of security. However, today, FATA is in ruins because of the flawed Afghan policy of the Pakistani establishment. Instead of the Pakistani army achieving strategic depth, by striving to have a pro Pakistan government in Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are using Pakistani soil to further their own agendas. As a result, established conflict resolution practices and basic institutional structures have crumbled and there is no hope to fill the void. Unless there is a holistic approach to bring political, economic and administrative improvements, the situation in FATA will remain volatile, having crucial global implications. While denial of fundamental human rights to the people of FATA is so obvious, delaying bestowal of certain basic human rights on its people is very hard to understand. The President of Pakistan’s announcement of 14 August 2009, to amend only 8 articles/clauses of the Frontier Crimes Regulations and extension of Political Parties Act, is not only inadequate but there is no follow up, and the much hyped development packages have yet to make any impact. Against this backdrop, even the gains made through the Pakistani security forces’ operations will ultimately become unsustainable, if not yet already so. Dragging feet, to mainstream FATA, exposes the lack of wisdom of our political leaders and the colonial mindset of the Pakistani bureaucracy. Whereas, the politicians fail to fathom the gravity of the situation and grab this historic opportunity to rectify past wrongs, the bureaucrats’ stakes dictate maintaining the status quo. Most unfortunately, international development actors also have a very disingenuous approach towards the whole affair. They routinely exploit the term ‘addressing root-causes’, but attending to the same seldom emerges in any of their remedial proposals. The fact is that while denial of fundamental human rights is the root cause, severe poverty, abysmally low literacy rate, poor health and most of all non-existent means of livelihood are the catalysts that have pushed FATA to become the most dangerous spot on earth. There is a dire need for immediate intervention. Any characterization of FATA makes it a natural part of the KPK Province of Pakistan. All the seven tribal agencies have their peculiar identities and have little in common with each other. A man from Khyber or Mohmand agency has much more in common with someone from Peshawar than with a Wazir or Mehsud from Waziristans or for that matter, someone from Waziristan has more in common with someone from DIK and Bannu than anyone from Bajur or Orakzai agencies. Similarly a person from Hazara and Derajats has less in common with the people from other parts of the KPK than what FATA as a whole has with the KPK. To mainstream FATA it must be merged with the KPK, and its people be represented in its assembly. Though the constitution of Pakistan guarantees fundamental human rights to all its citizens, the people of tribal agencies are at the mercy of one person, the Political Agent. He is the administrative head, in-charge of the development work, can prosecute anyone and pass judgments as he deems fit. The jurisdiction of the constitution of Pakistan needs to be extended, forthwith, to the whole of FATA, along with an extension of the local bodies act and jurisdiction of the High Court and Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Piecemeal development of FATA, in the present security circumstances, would never have the required impact. In order to win back the confidence and trust of the residents of FATA, the government and the donor agencies should embark upon building huge complexes in each agency just like the British built their cantonments in the subcontinent in a very hostile environment. There should be model health and residential education facilities in these complexes together with provision of input and know-how for the development of agricultural and other means of livelihood. The education facilities must be residential as one reason that most parents send their kids to madrassas is the all-inclusive package offered by these institutions. A major reason for non-performance of health and education facilities in tribal areas is the degrading living conditions of the staff expected to run these facilities. These complexes must have exceptional living conditions and additional facilities that could attract and retain the required staff there. Providing security to such complexes would be comparatively easier and most of all there would be less opportunity for pilferage of the development funds.
Primarily, the presence of extremists in FATA should be as intolerable as it is anywhere else in the KPK or the rest of Pakistan. How could one leave more than 3 million of its own people at the mercy of those forces that do not uphold the constitution of Pakistan and are bent on making Pakistan a failed state? The lack of the government’s resolve, to protect the lives of its citizens has encouraged militants and other forces to destabilize FATA, consequently raising levels of support for religious extremism.
Khasadars (tribal levies) are the first line of defense, on the western border, for Pakistan and number around 30,000. These Khasadars, as per the colonial era practice, bring their own weapons and ammunition to defend government facilities and draw a meager salary without any other benefits. In these adverse security conditions, it is a farce to expect them to provide security to either the government property or the agencies involved in the development of FATA, and not accept the lucrative packages offered by the Talibans or at least look the other side in the face of adversity. These Khasadars need training on modern lines and sophisticated arms and salaries equivalent to that of those having similar responsibilities in the settled areas.
A lot of money pouring in in the name of FATA is being pocketed by a few individuals and all those interested to bring to an end this ongoing tragic saga are duty bound to lobby with the Pakistani government, civil society and political parties, the UN, and all other important actors to begin a concerted effort to remedy the situation and bring FATA into the Pakistani mainstream, as a matter of priority.